Monday 7 January 2013

Fado, the Portuguese Blues

Some people might say you have never really been to Portugal if you have not spend at least one evening listening to the local version of blues music. The Portuguese simply call it Fado.

It is pretty easy to find it in a random Lisbon café. Most of them are in the traditional fado quarter of Alfama and also Bairro Alto. Good places in both of those neighborhoods are usually pretty pricey - to find a more economical alternative, your best bet is to get a taxi out to the suburbs.
Surprisingly fado is not very common in other parts of the country (with the exception of the city of Coimbra).

It is pretty easy to find a place to get a taste of it, but getting a taste of the top notch performance is another thing. Cafés with present and potential future fado stars are usually reserved for fado connoisseurs, willing to pay 100 euros and more for the real thing. Usually food is also included in such deals, but do not expect too much - music is what you pay for.

If you ask me, as a first time visitor you will not be able to appreciate the difference between a really good, five star fado performance and a good touristy one. However, genuine local atmosphere could mean all the difference to some... in the end - the choice is yours.

If you are lucky you can also get a taste of the real thing for just a fraction of the price. The hostel we were staying in (Lisbon Destination Hostel), happened to have such a deal on their "menu" one night. You could get into one of the best fado cafés for a modest 10 euros.
Of course there was a catch - the hostel made a deal for a small group of their guests to arrive late and get a place near the bar (other guests were seated at proper tables). Also only tapas were included instead of a full dinner. If you do not mind being treated as a second-class guest and catch a strange glance or two from other guests every now and then, the whole idea might turn out just fine.

I think I could have actually enjoyed the performance in spite of everything if there were two or three of us. Unfortunately our group that night consisted of a dozen people and the place was already pretty crowded when we arrived. There was literally no way for all of us to squeeze next to the bar.

After a while the whole situation simply felt too awkward and some of us simply decided to leave the place. The hostel did not complicate a bit and gave us a full refund.

I actually could not say I do not recommend this whole thing but I definitely suggest you inquire about details. We were simply not told about the whole deal in advance and found it too far from our expectations.

However strange (or for some even unpleasant) this fado experience turned out to be, I liked the music. So afterwards I decided to at least buy a CD with some best of fado music.

I found a perfect place in the middle of a street on my way to the famous Elevador Santa Justa one morning (look for tips about that in one of the following posts).
There was an old car parked in the middle of a street, serving as a vending spot for fado CDs. The guy inside this little "music shop" was really knowledgeable and played music performed by a few different fadistas (i.e. fado singers) so I could choose my favorite. I chose Ana Moura and I really like her after I listened to the CD for a couple of times. Great stuff!


Cathy Kennedy 9 January 2013 at 18:48  

This is a beautiful photo!

Gnome de Plume 26 September 2013 at 14:04  

I'm sorry your fado experience was less than ideal. I had the opposite experience at a fado show in Coimbra, where I was one of only 5 guests. It was a very intimate performance. Glad you at least got to enjoy the style and grab a good CD, though.

Travel-PB 26 September 2013 at 15:03  

I did get a taste of fado, though. It was just enough for me to definitely want to revisit Portugal and give it another try. And that is only one reason why I wish to go back. ;)

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