Maria Severa, who lived in Lisbon in early 19th century was the first Fadista in Portugal to be acclaimed as a Fado performer. She is sometimes accredited with not just the popularity but also the origin of Fado music. She was a prostitute that sang fado and also played the Portugese Guitar. Severa has been uplifted to mythical proportions, and there are plays, musicals written about her life; including the first sound movie in Portugal in 1931. Severa died when she was only 26, and gave spirit to this new form of music in Portugal. To this day, a black shawl worn by a Fadista is a traditional feature of Fado Music.
Like many many kinds of music, Fado also started among the poor people in the cities. Sung by prostitutes, heard in taverns, late into the night on dimly lit streets. Maria Severa made fado popular among the rich, because of her romance with the aristocrat Count Vimioso.
This is from the Shaw Festival’s musical about Severa’s life.
It is not atypical for a man to sing Fado, but it is primarily a woman’s voice that really makes Fado happen. Trained female vocalists and the guitarra portugese and the black shawl are the ingredients of a traditional fado performance.
Another prominent figure in 20th century Fado is Amalia Rodrigues. Amalia, a performer all her life, is another towering figure of Fado. Amalia was called the Queen of Fado and had a 50 year long career in performance. Amalia not only gave her life to Fado, but was also accredited with taking Fado to the world. She enjoyed an acting career as well as a singing one.
Many like Mariza and Misia walk the fine bridge between making fado more contemporary and sticking to its traditional format. While Mariza has done a lot of work in taking Fado to the world, and making it popular throughout the world.
Maria da Fé, Hermínia Silva, Argentina Santos and Carlos do Carmo are some other prominent names in Fado.
Fado, like other folk forms is sung over the mic, and the vocalisation doesn’t reach up to the high ranges of the female voice most often. Stress is most often given to the expression of the beautiful poetry that evokes the duality of loneliness, and the landscapes of the cities this music came from.
Isn’t it true that as the cities of the world become homogenous, the music that was born in the same city, but 200 years back, that brings to us a strange nostalgia about our roots.