Imagine you have one tape cassette which you play over and over on a portable tape deck. The tape was recorded on this same tape deck while sitting as close to the gramophone as possible as a borrowed long-playing record of Amália Rodrigues singing the fado filled the air. At the end of Side 1, your mother speaks. She tells you what a great fadista Amália is, and because of her greatness, has become part of your Portuguese heritage. Your mother dies. Amália dies. Yet, still, you play this tape cassette. One day, you get a sound system of your own. You make two copies of this tape cassette. You continue to listen to it. Of course, you have a few other recordings of famous fadistas, but Amália is your favourite.
The above is João’s story. During all those years, I heard the fado, too. I did not understand much, but I was told to listen with my heart – with my soul. I did. We came on holiday to Portugal in 2006. We had the honour of meeting Amália´s younger sister, Celeste, at the Café Luso in Lisbon. We heard her sing; we conversed with this gracious lady who was every bit a true fadista (fado singer) as her sister. That is my feeling, anyhow! We went back to that same casa de fado on the last night of our holiday.
Today I was talking with someone about our parochial Church choir here in Portugal and mentioned that the sound collectively produced is a far cry from the music which King’s College choir borrows from Heaven on any given Sunday. I mentioned my passion for the fado. What is fado? Everything is fado. I cannot explain it.
Listen to this:
If you know no Portuguese, and this is the first time you are listening to this fado, you may well be wondering what all the fuss is about. Listen to it again, this time with your heart and soul. When you feel every emotion you are currently feeling to its fullest extent, then you know you have heard the fado.
There are some things which cannot be put into words, much less translate. Music is one of them; fado is the other.
I offer you below an excerpt from the 2008 doctoral thesis of Richard Elliott. Chapter 2 can be read for free on the Internet. I offer this merely to make the point that even an accurate translation (although by no means a transcreation) of the lyrics of this very famous fado can never hope to convey what it is to hear it.
The observant among you will realise that these are not the full lyrics (compare the lyrics on the clip from Youtube above), and therefore do not give you the full story. What a surprise it was to me that this fado was first recorded by Amália at Abbey Road!
It reminded me that I have to dash off to my own choir practice in a moment, which will not be populated by people anywhere close to Amália’s calibre. We’re just a notch or two above Eddie:
I strongly suggest you go back to the top of this post and listen to Amália again. At least an Amália earworm is a pleasant earworm.