Music in Portugal

In Portugal, music comes in various guises from traditional folk music to rock music, and there are also some important detours to fado and distinctive sounds from the former colonies. In international cities like Lisbon you can hear music from Brazil, Mozambique and Angola, and many African musicians have made Lisbon their base for the part of the year when they are not off touring around Europe. Look out for posters and adverts in the paper as the scene is constantly changing and there are always new exponents of Portugal's music landscape to hear in Lisbon.

The international rock scene is primarily an Anglophone community and, as such, any rock music you will know from Portugal is probably sung in English. Bands such as Coldfinger, Silence 4 and the Delfins are conquering the international mainstream as well as the Portuguese market. Pedro Abrunhosa is a famous rapper in Portugal and has paved the way for many other groups, with a slightly softer, jazzy vibe than you might expect, and the club scene is full of such music.

However, the quintessential example of Portuguese music is fado (from the Latin fatum or "fate"), a musical form that has come back with a vengeance and can now be heard in bars at night across the cities, especially the Bairro Alto in Lisbon. Its soul comes from long ago, when Portugal was at the height of its maritime explorations, and its spirit is called saudade, which is very hard to translate but roughly equates to 'beautiful melancholy' or 'heart-rending nostalgia', and the form emerged in poor communities during the 19th century. Usually a solo singer is accompanied by a viola de fado or guitarra and there are two main traditions: the male or female vocal-led one from Lisbon and the more instrumental form from Coimbra with predominantly male vocals, if any. The sound is quite enchanting even to a non-speaker but the poetical lyrics are the key to its sadness. Amália Rodrigues (1920-99) was the most famous female fado vocalist and has many recordings, her greatest hits or the double-disc O Melhor for example, which embody the fado sound. The contemporary performer Mísia is an experimental and dynamic musician who tries out new instruments and has lyrics commissioned by contemporary poets, with her CD Garras dos Sentidos (Claws of the Heart) illustrating her new sound. For male exponents of fado try Camané, one of the great male vocalists.


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