Fado is a uniquely Portuguese style of music usually performed by a trio with a rhythm guitar, Portuguese guitar, and a singer. However, more recently more instruments have been used as part of the performance, an upright bass, violin, and other string instruments. The origins of Fado are murky but it definitely has Moorish and African influence.
The Fado is usually connected to the melancholic feeling. Nostalgia or yearning about the sea, sailors, Lisbon, life of the poor, broken hearts, and other life events. Even if you do not understand the lyrics, you feel the longing and melancholy through their performance enriched with facial and bodily gestures.
WHERE TO SEE FADO PERFORMANCE IN LISBON
There are two types of fado clubs: sit-down restaurants with dinner/show and tascas. The dinner/show experience is more formal and usually has standing performers as part of the staff. At tasca you never know who is going to show up and that often makes it a more exciting and less touristy experience. In either setting, you will be impressed by the talent of the performers.
During our time in Lisbon, we enjoyed three different Fado performances at three different venues:
O Faia – this is a formal dinner/show venue and quite a pricy one (€55 per person, and additional cost for drinks) in the Bairro Alto neighborhood. Food, wine, service, and performance are excellent. Lenita Gentil’s performance will capture your imagination and her vocal range will leave you speechless.
Clube de Fado – our Airbnb host suggested Clube de Fado in the Alfama neighborhood, next to the Cathedral. An old stable and olive oil store turned into a restaurant and Fado show. The pricing is not prefixed like at O Faia, you pay for what you order. During the performance at the Clube de Fado, an upright bass was part of the performance as well.
Tasca Do Chico – This venue is not for everyone. If you do not like sharing a table with strangers and being packed in like sardines, or if you need constant attention from service staff this is not a place for you. There are only two servers running the entire place, food is limited to tapas mostly, and drinks are beer and wine only. This is also, a cash-only establishment.
However, the performance was outstanding. Three different, incredibly talented fadistas with Portuguese guitar and rhythm guitar players. We closed the place down, just could not get enough of this mesmerizing talent.
There are many other places to see Fado performance in Lisbon. Reservations are required and/or preferred at most of the venues and performances usually do not start until 8:30-9:00 pm.
Fado is a live performance, like a musical in a theater and your silence is required. Or as the Clube de Fado website says, “Your Silence is a Part of the Performance.”
As the performers are about the enter the stage, the lights are dimmed, curtains dropped, and everyone stops talking. If you do not, someone in the audience or performers themselves will shush you.
During the performance, your meals or drinks will not be delivered. Usually, wait staff tries to time the orders perfectly so no one is sitting without a drink or food.
Taking a picture or two is ok in most places but no flash and be considerate of the performers and other guests. O Faia does not allow any photo or video taking, meanwhile, at Tasca do Chico some patrons recorded entire performances. All that to say, it varies what is allowed but try to be respectful to performers and other guests.
Fado may be considered ‘for the tourists’ or ‘older generations’ nowadays in Lisbon, but the feeling that it wakes in the listener is hardly something touristy or old. It is very real and everlasting. Fado breaks the barriers, it takes you in, it conveys the sentiment of longing and yearning as if you are part of the performance, and it takes unbelievable talent to capture the audience in that way.