So, What’s Fado? Our Spotify Playlist Explains It.

The traditional Portuguese genre, fado, bleeds saudade.

Amália Rodrigues
FACEBOOK Amália Rodrigues

Saudade, a Portuguese word that can mean anything from longing to nostalgia is nearly impossible to define in English. However, its meaning is very apparent through music. For this week’s  #TravelFromHome playlist, we journey across oceans and back in time to the peak of Portuguese expansion. The traditional Portuguese genre, Fado, bleeds saudade. Fado’s true origins are unknown, but the lyrics and tune reflect the hardships of the lower class and of those at sea during Portugal’s maritime voyages. The word itself comes from the Latin word, fatum, which means fate and death. This alludes to the melancholic and gloomy ambience of fado. The genre is full of regret and sadness against the backdrop of a soothing Spanish-like guitar. I’d recommend listening to fado after a long pensive day in quarantine.

Although fado is typically slow and deep, there are some exceptions. Take note that there are two different styles of fado, one from Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, and the other from the city of Coimbra. The Lisbon style is very somber, while the Coimbra style expresses more feelings of hope. Fadistas (fado singers) are typically accompanied by a guitar and viola (a smaller type of  guitar). The Coimbra style has its own unique viola tuning and is usually only sung by men. It was revitalized in the 1950s as a form of resistance against the Salazar dictatorship. One Coimbra musician featured in our playlist, Jose Afonso, was also involved in a lot of activism. Afonso used album proceeds to support pro democratic groups and was often barred from performing venues. In the playlist, you can listen to his song, “Cancao do mar” (Song of the Sea).

Amália Rodrigues
FACEBOOK Amália Rodrigues

The Rainha do Fado (Queen of Fado), Amália Rodrigues, belongs to the more popular Lisbon style of Fado. During her lifetime, she recorded over 170 albums and popularized fado worldwide. Rodrigues started to create her legacy in South America when she first performed in the Copacabana Casino in 1944 and then later when she recorded in Rio de Janeiro. In her song, “Formiga Bossa Nova”, you can hear a blend of fado and bossa nova which makes her Coimbra style feel more upbeat and hopeful. Nowadays, there are many other modern fado musicians that continue the legacy of Amália Rodrigues. One fadista, Mariza, tours worldwide and also incorporates folk elements from her home country of Mozambique into her music. Her 2001 album, “Fado Em Mim”, was the first fado album to top the charts in Portugal. Most recently, in 2011, fado was also added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists and remains an important part of Portugal’s spirit.

Once it is safe, roam the streets of Lisbon and you may find someone playing fado in a pub, cafe, or just on the sidewalk late at night. Until then, enjoy this playlist and let that fado saudade flood your mind.

Vivian Bauer


Vivian is passionate about everything related to music, art, and language. When traveling, she loves to walk for miles, try all kinds of food, and visit every museum. She has lived in Singapore, Belgium, and Brazil while hoping to one day travel to Mongolia and East Timor.

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