Top 10 Facts About Fado Music


It’s standard practice to enjoy at least one fado music performance during your first visit to Portugal. Frequent travelers to the country actually seek out this form of entertainment  every time they’re in the country, particularly in the capital of Lisbon.

Here are 10 fascinating facts about this historic art form; I give you permission to use them as charming conversation starters whilst waiting for a performance to begin.

1. Fado Only Appeared in Lisbon Around 1830

Fado originated in Portugal, there is no doubt about that. But many people like to state that Lisbon was the birth city; unfortunately this is largely incorrect.

It is unclear as to where exactly in Portugal fado originated, but it was definitely around from the beginning of 1800. There was a lot of movement happening into and out of the country at this time, so pinpointing origins becomes tricky.

What we do know that sometime between 1820 and 1830, fado made its debut in the capital, and has thrived here ever since.

Fado – by Neva – Wikimedia Commons

2. There are Two Types of Fado in Portugal…

The two different styles of fado are known as Lisbon fado, and Coimbra fado.

Lisbon fado is rooted in marginality and transgression. It seeks to reflect the times when heavy reigns of censorship caused changes to urban entertainment, and thus was performed in bars that attracted sailors and prostitutes.

Coimbra fado could not be more opposite, and originated at the University of Coimbra. These songs are traditionally performed by men and are concerned with the wooing of female university students. It is far more up beat compared to Lisbon fado.

3. …and They Have Different Ways of Showing Appreciation

If you’re in Coimbra, enjoying a live fado performance, you should never clap your hands to show appreciation to the musicians. Instead, it is customary to clear your throat as though experiencing an internal cough — this is how applause is given in Coimbra.

Lisbon, on the other hand, loves a round of applause. Clap as and when you feel is appropriate, the performers love hearing audience feedback!

Fado – by Paul Arps – Wikimedia Commons

4. The Word Fado Comes from Latin, not Portuguese

The name fado comes from the Latin word fatum, which literally means “what has been spoken”.

The English language has also made use of this word, and is what we call fate. If you give it some time and thought, it’s easy to see how both languages made appropriate use of the original word, but from vastly different avenues.

5. Mouraria is the Birthplace of Great Fado Artists

Post 1840, being a fado singer became one of the most sought after professions in Portugal. These artists were met with great praise and esteem, and if you could make it, you’d be rich!

Many flocked to Lisbon and settled in the neighborhood known as Mouraria; and artists district that had the most affordable housing for penniless musicians. Over the decades, Mouraria continued to produce some of the most renowned fado performers of all time.

If you visit Lisbon today, you’ll find painted murals of artists who hailed from this region.

Tribute to fado legends in Mouraria – by Vernaccia – Wikimedia Commons

To read about the greatest fado singers of all time, click here!

6. Fado is Recognized by UNESCO

On 27 November in 2011, UNESCO officially recognized fado music as a form of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’.

This list involves practices, expressions and skills that UNESCO feels are crucial to a country’s cultural heritage. Fado is integral to the culture of Portugal as we know it.

7. Fado was Largely Improvised Up Until the 20th Century

The earlier years of fado performance were deeply rooted in personal expression. The genre itself was formed as a result of explorers getting drunk and singing together during their off periods, usually expressing the woes of being at sea and away from home.

Once the performances moved into the bars, few of them were rehearsed. The groups would merely gather and see what came through a collaborative effort. Overtime, the art became more refined and certain songs demanded repetition, thus a more rehearsed practice was adopted.

Fado – by Jimmy Baikovicius – Wikimedia Commons

8. Fado is Still Popular in Some Old Portuguese Colonies

Portugal colonized a lot of places; the majority of them in Africa. The troops that were sent in to these countries brought their culture and traditions with them from the mainland, and thus fado music was able to leave an imprint on new lands.

Fado music is still celebrated in some African regions today. Musicians regularly travel out to Angola from Portugal to give performances to the people .

9. Today, Fado is Customarily a Sit Down, Dining Experience

For many year, fado was a very informal kind of performance that could take place anywhere musicians could pull up their instruments.

Today, a lot of the fado performances take place in more formal, sit down environments, usually accompanied by dinner and drinks. The band will play while you eat, and a small fee will likely be added to your bill to cover payment for the artists.

In Portugal there are also bigger concerts in theaters where the most famous fado performers do shows for all who are interested.

Fado in Bairro Alto – by MollySVH – Wikimedia Commons

10. The Best Places for Fado in Lisbon are…

While Mouraria pays homage to the artists who hailed from this neck of the woods, there are no actual fado venues in this part of town.

The most popular spot for fado in Lisbon is in the Alfama and in Bairro Alto. There are a myriad of fado restaurants and bars here where one can enjoy this musical style at a small fee.

You’ll also find some fado in Chiado, particularly at the central theatre.

Click here for the top 5 fado venues in Lisbon. 

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