Everett True

Fado (“the saddest music in the world”)

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Jose Malhoa - Fado

by Everett True, Laura Witkowski and João Santos

A while ago this dude (Nirvana fan) contacted me on Facebook to ask if I was familiar with traditional Portuguese music.

Had to admit that I’m not exactly. So he sent me a bunch of links to a bunch of performances. I thought some of these were stunning. Absolutely stunning. So I thought I’d share them with you (see overleaf). The second song linked to in the first article, the one by Mariza, is the one that turned my world on its head. For a while, we would listen to nothing else every morning except a great Mariza compilation I’d found, Fado Em Mim (which includes a stunning second-CD live performance at WOMAD). It’s kind of like I always imagined opera should be, except opera always seemed to be too much of a rich man’s plaything and bombastic and stupidly formularised and too alien and everything: this fado music is formulaic in its own way, I can hear that, but it is so deeply, richly emotional. The article below has it down as “the saddest music in the world” and sure, I can hear why folk might hear that. But for me it makes me feel so wonderfully happy, so happy that I can exist in a world where folk can give extraordinary voice like this and, furthermore, that music still has the capacity to surprise and overwhelm me at the age of 50. So I thought me, João (the guy who contacted me) and Laura could share a little Fado with you: first an explanation, then some context and finally some links to some incredible music.

I know it’s not Collapse Board’s usual territory. But again, it makes me so happy that we can make it Collapse Board territory.

Here’s Laura’s article.


The Saddest Music In The World
by Laura Witkowski

The other day a person I love told me she was watching the video clip of Rebekah Del Rio singing Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’. Over and over. This hauntingly beautiful song appeared in the movie Muholland Drive in a creepy scene in which two lesbians sit in a dark theatre and cry. Or something. I don’t really know. David Lynch confuses me. For the uninitiated, here’s the clip:

Of course, the normal thing to do when somebody you care about confesses to watching an exceptionally sad and beautiful music video on repeat  is to, for instance, ask them if they are OK. But my reaction was to immediately send her a link to this song by Mariza. It is called ‘Primavera’ and it is Portuguese Fado music:

The response I get back for sharing this beautiful piece with her?

“Are you trying to make me kill myself?!”

Sigh. I am awesome at making people’s days better.

But this Fado music! That’s some beautiful sad bastard stuff, yes? Which I’m a sucker for. Do I like a little pain, tears and drama with my music? Oh, yes. Yes I do. The more the better! There’s a reason I love Guy Maddin’s 2003 film The Saddest Music In The World. And it’s not just because I long to be a beer barroness with a glass leg. It’s because I can’t think of anything more awesome than a worldwide contest to find the saddest music ever made. It would be like the Eurovision Song Contest meets American Idol and people would weep for days after each round. I would be in sad bastard heaven.

It’s safe to say that a Fado music piece would be a front-runner in this sort of contest. Whenever people describe music to me using the terms “gut-wrentching” or “overwrought” or “highly dramatic” I get excited. That’s how Fado music was originally described to be, and it easily covers all three. I am by no means an expert in this genre. I only know a handful of songs well, and language-wise cannot understand the lyrics. I can say for a fact that a lot of the lyrics are, in fact, sad. But if you listen to ‘Primavera’ and can’t figure out by the sound of Mariza’s voice that the song is not about pasta, I don’t know what to tell you. Other than your heart is made of stone and I am sad for you. Not knowing the language is better in a way. It lets you plug your own emotional discordance into the song. The emotion transcends the words. It is very cathartic. Unless it makes you want to kill yourself. But I don’t think the Portuguese want that to happen. I think they’d rather you cry your guts out and then get back out there to face another day. Even if your life is like one long goddamn Fado song.

[This following clip is … I can’t find the words. The world’s largest rock festival or something, and Mariza kills it absolutely dead. Whoa – Ed]

(continues overleaf)

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5 Responses to Fado (“the saddest music in the world”)

  1. Fa(n)do July 18, 2011 at 7:36 am

    CB could do with more posts like this and less snarkily negative ones.

  2. Everett True July 18, 2011 at 7:41 am

    If you like posts like this, you should follow the Song Of The Day section. 387 recommendations in under a year, and no end in sight. Ever.

  3. Johnny July 22, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Fado means Faith in Portuguese and it had its maximum exponential with Amalia Rodrigues…you should find lots of articles of her. Its a country culture…Mariza is nowadays the most recognized one around the world (even tough she was in a pop music band before doing back vocals uhuhu)

  4. André July 4, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    Johnny – “Fado means Faith in Portuguese…”

    That is not correct, Fado means FATE not FAITH… But yes, you are right about the rest!


  5. Jimmy McGee May 18, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    I spent an amazing night in Porto at a small Fado club.
    (Porto is not known for it’s Fado, it’s more of a Lisbon thing).
    As soon as I arrived into Porto I asked where I could watch some Fado, I was told “It’s Sunday, no Fado on Sunday” but as I stepped out my hotel there was a poster, a handwritten thing, on the very next building “Fado, tonight”.
    The building was a half empty little shopping centre. In the back corner there was a restaurant with sound coming out. The door and all the windows were covered in thick red velvet curtains and if it weren’t for the music and the door being ajar, I’d have guessed the place was closed.
    As I got to the door it opened and a little old, round man walked out mopping his brow with a handkerchief. He took a look at me and told me to come in…..

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