A divided Iberian Peninsula emerged into Portugal as an independent kingdom
in 1139. The poetry of the day, sung by troubadours, was songs of love,
friendship, or mockery. These songs were popular in the Portuguese court.
Portugal's' second king, D. Sancho I, was a poet, and Portugal's sixth king,
D. Dinis, not only wrote poetry, but was the first monarch in Europe to
remove Latin as the official court language. He made Portuguese the nation's
What happened next made the Fado more than poetry.
In the 15th century, Portuguese caravels began exploring both sides of the
Atlantic and eventually found the sea route to Asia. Hence, the Portuguese
sea borne empire reigned for two centuries, becoming the world's first
global trading model. The sailors, of course, were faced with shipwreck,
years away from their home and family and constant danger. They took their
songs along with them for comfort. Ships records of the day show that
sailors always brought their guitars, called banzas, and their songs became
nostalgic and full of longing.
The banza, today called the guitarra portuguesa, was a unique evolution of
the medieval lute. With 12 strings, it has an amazing ability to sound like
a human voice.
Fast-forward to the 1830s and Portugal is emerging from a ruinous Napoleonic
War and is in the midst of a Civil War. In Lisbon, these uncertain times
brought together gypsies, noblemen, artists and others to sing and listen.
One of the great voices and performers of Fado was Maria Severa.
By the 1950s, Fado was well established in its present form, with more than
a dozen "Fado houses" becoming late-night meeting places in the Bairro Alto
section of Lisbon. Celebrated in film and on records, Fado had arrived.
You asked me the other day
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.