Fado, a folk music genre, that originated in the 1820s in Portugal still exists in pockets of Goa and Rio de Janeiro. Sonia Shirsat is now bringing it to Mumbai
In a seaside hamlet in Coimbra, 195 km north of Lisbon in 19th century Portugal, teary women bade their sailor husbands goodbye as they set on a long voyage at sea. They would discover new lands, trade routes and foreign business opportunities. The wives would stay home, praying for the safe return of the menfolk and singing about their heartache, hoping it would carry over the oceans. Across the water, sailors would sing an ode to families that they left behind.
A man looks at Fado guitars at the Fado Museum in Alfama
neighbourhood, in Lisbon, Portugal on November 27, 2011.
Pic/ AFP PHOTO
"If we are to believe the theory, this is how Fado was born," explains Sonia Shirsat, a Goa-based singer who has been practising the genre since 2003. "Fado (pronounced fad-h, meaning fate) is a semi-classical folk genre that originated in Portugal and carries a lot of foreign influences because of the colonies that the Portuguese ruled. It's a form of music that still exists in pockets around the world but it isn't something that you can learn in a school," says Shirsat, who will give Mumbai its first dose of Fado at the National Centre for Performing Arts next week.
Traditional Fado songs like Barco Negro tell the tale of a young woman who sings about her lover at sea. Older women taunt her saying she is a fool for awaiting his return. But the singer is convinced that her wait will be worth it and she will be reunited with her beau.
Another popular song, Ave Maria, is a prayer of sorts to bless all those at sea. "While there are contemporary Fado songs, certain norms like phrasing and emotion must be followed. It is important for any genre of music to evolve in order to survive and be relevant with the changing times. So contemporary Fado isn't looked down upon at all, it's just an extension to the family," says Shirsat, who was introduced to the music as a child growing up in Ponda, Goa.
There are a few circles in Goa where Portuguese is still spoken and these families are familiar with Fado. "Portugese is not a widely spoken language in Goa. So though it started out as a mass folk genre, Fado is now seen as elitist, since the families that are familiar with it were the ones that dealt with the Portugese rulers at the time," she says.
Still, Fado manages to find its way in mass folk culture in Goa as Mando, a Konkani folk genre. "The essence of Fado is primarily melancholy and while the language may be foreign, audiences tend to connect with the emotion of the song. Every culture has a version of Fado. You could compare it to ghazals or Mando. You may not understand the lyrics but you will feel the projected emotion when you experience the music."
At: 7 pm, March 21, Living Traditions - Goa Gala Folk Music, NCPA, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point
Facts on Fado
Lisbon's mournful song and the most traditional music genre of Portuguese, was added on November 27, 2011 to UNESCO's list of World's Intangible Cultural Heritage. According to UNESCO, intangible heritage includes traditions and skills passed on within cultures. 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 12 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.