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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Fado Singers of Portugal

Fado singers are a bonus takeaway experience from my trip to Portugal. The troubadours sang their music in operatic style in public squares. I don't know anything about Fado so I had to rely on wikipedia to inform me. 
In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia.  - Wikipedia
Wikipedia also connects fado with the Portuguese word saudade. The word t has no direct translation in English but. the closest I found was that it expresses a deep emotion of missing something that you loved that is now gone. And historically speaking, apparently fado originated in Lisbon and Coimbra. 

My first encounter with fado was at the Cathedral in Porto - Sé as it is commonly called. There on the steps was a trio of young men. Their garb makes them stand out - black suits and ties, each with a dramatic cape flung around their shoulders and across their torsos. 

After drawing this trio, they asked to see my sketch. I had them sign it, but they hid their signatures in the black of their clothes. Later they contacted me to ask if they could use their sketch on their next cd cover. Again urban sketching leads to the most unexpected events. 

When I got to Coimbra about a week later I ran across a group of girls singing outside the 800 year old University of Coimbra. They were delighted as I was the second sketcher that day who chose to sketch them, Tina Koyama had been there before me. 

That evening I happened upon a square in the old section of Coimbra, just below the University. I could hear music so I followed the groups of people through an old stone arch over a very cobbled street.

The narrow cobblestone road opened up into a small trianglular plaza lined with small restaurants and even smaller bars, a few giftshops and bookstore. Two musicians played at one edge. I'm not sure it was fado but it was magical. 

On my last night in Portugal and only evening in Lisbon, I was determined to see a bit of the city. I walked from my hotel at the top of the hill down to the Alfama district. This is the oldest section of Lisbon and I knew it would have a depth of history and culture. It took me about two hours including a stop for dinner, walking on cobbled and stone streets - some very slippery.  I walked down very narrow streets finding breathtaking peek-a-boo views of slanted light bouncing off painted buildings. the bottom ...the winding streets opened up to large square. At least 12 young men in their black suits and capes strummed and sang their meloncholic tunes. At one point they picked out some women from the crowd, draped them in shawls and serenaded them with a wistful tune. I grabbed my blackwing and furiously sketched the group. No time for paint. 

Just as I was noticing the twilight darkening signaling the time to return to my hotel, I looked to my left where an older woman had set up a card table. On it was a bucket of ice and a bottle with a sign that said "Ginja". " I flipped out Google Translate. Cherry! Indeed it was. Cherry liqueur served in a chocolate cup. I sipped the liqueur and the cup melted in my mouth. The end to a perfect evening and an amazing trip. 

Ginja (cherry liqueur) chilling on the square

Here's the short video of the Fado Singers in Lisbon


  1. Your sketches and stories bring back all of mine, too! Wonderful post and memories!

    - Tina

  2. I really love your idea of uploading sketches in your blog! I have already applied for my visa to Portugal and I cannot wait to explore the beautiful land.