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Intangible World Heritage, UNESCO, nov. 2011
A shawl, a guitar, a voice and a heartfelt emotion: these are the ingredients of “Fado”, the celebrated form of music that captures what it is to be Portuguese!
“Fado music is the heart of the Portuguese soul. It is undoubtedly the oldest urban folk music in the world. Some say it came as a dance from Africa in the 19th century and was adopted by the poor people on the streets of Lisbon. Or perhaps it started at sea as the sad, melodic songs influenced by the sound of the waves by homesick sailors and fishermen (…)”.
The essential element of “Fado” music is “saudade”, a Portuguese word that translates roughly by longing or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. For Portuguese emigrants “Fado” is an expression of homesickness of the place they left behind.
“Fado”, Lisbon’s mournful song of loss and the Portuguese most traditional music genre, was added to UNESCO’s list of World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. According to UNESCO, intangible heritage includes traditions and skills passed on within cultures.
The UNESCO’s committee of experts, praised Fado as an “example of good practices” that should be followed by other countries.
On its website, UNESCO describes Fado as the “urban popular song of Portugal”, stating:
“Fado is a performance genre incorporating music and poetry widely practiced by various communities in Lisbon. It represents a Portuguese multicultural synthesis of Afro-Brazilian sung dances, local traditional genres of song and dance, musical traditions from rural areas of the country brought by successive waves of internal immigration, and the cosmopolitan urban song patterns of the early nineteenth century. Fado songs are usually performed by a solo singer, male or female, traditionally accompanied by a wire-strung acoustic guitar and the Portuguese guitarra – a pear-shaped lute with twelve wire strings, unique to Portugal, which also has an extensive solo repertoire. The past few decades have witnessed this instrumental accompaniment expanded to two Portuguese guitars, a guitar and a bass guitar. Fado is performed professionally on the concert circuit and in small ‘Fado houses’, and by amateurs in numerous grass-root associations located throughout older neighbourhoods of Lisbon. Informal tuition by older, respected exponents takes place in traditional performance spaces and often over successive generations within the same families. The dissemination of Fado through emigration and the world music circuit has reinforced its image as a symbol of Portuguese identity, leading to a process of cross-cultural exchange involving other musical traditions.” (In Portuguese American Journal, 27/11/2011)