Sometimes the easiest way to understand a culture or art form is by showing, not telling; since the impact of music is so immediate – short in length, but at its best deeply meaningful and resounding – I couldn’t think of a better way to start trudging the waters of Portuguese Culture and Society, one of this blog’s segments, with a fortnightly revue of Portuguese music (that is, every other Monday), with only a few notes to guide you to the context of the pieces.
There’s no better place to start than with fado, Portugal’s unique contribution to the musical world, and no better artist exemplifies the form than Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999), an artist so revered in life she’s now entombed in Lisbon’s National Pantheon, the first woman to receive such an honor (that says a lot about the treatment of women by the powers that be, but the honor itself reveals how much Amália was loved by the Portuguese people, who pressured the government to grant her that posthumous recognition).
Below, you’ll find three different songs that showcase both Amália and fado’s range: capable of being intensely emotional and/or downcast, sensual and passionate, and also playfully fun and deceptively aware of its surroundings (in descriptions of daily life and its inherent Portugueseness), all traits picked up in one way or another by fado singers and fado-inspired musicians nowadays. I’ve placed these and a few more songs by Amália on a Spotify Playlist for your convenience. Enjoy!
“Com Que Voz” (With What Voice) – lyrics and translation here
“Barco Negro” (Black Boat) – video with English subtitles (Portuguese lyrics here)
“Uma Casa Portuguesa” (A Portuguese House/Home) – lyrics and translation here