This weekend the Casa da Musica in Porto sponsored Cais de Fado, a series of concerts over three evenings by fadistas both new and established, entirely free. Many were in open air on stages set up along the waterfront or up at Serra do Pilar but six of the major Port producers sponsored performances in their lodges.
If you are not yet familiar with the term, Fado is a uniquely Portuguese music recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The excellent website Portal do Fado decribes the music as follows:
Fado songs are usually performed by a solo singer, male or female, traditionally accompanied by a wire-strung acoustic guitar and the Portuguese guitarra – a pear-shaped lute with twelve wire strings, unique to Portugal, which also has an extensive solo repertoire. … While its origin is unknown, historians believe Fado is a multicultural blending of songs by Portuguese homesick sailors, African slave songs and ancient Moorish ballads.
Over the course of three nights there were 27 performances by up and coming performers (though many perform internationally and have recorded albums) and each evening at 10:00 there was a concert at Serra do Pilar (the monastery whose distinctive round tower stands guard above the Gaia end of the Dom Luiz bridge) featuring established performers.
I enjoyed four different performances in three different locations, as it happened all female singers. First, Micaela Vaz on Friday evening on a stage outside Sandeman’s, and a little later Alexandra Guimarães on another riverfront stage near the cable car terminus. Saturday evening at the Casa Ramos Pinto I heard Joana Cardoso, who was particularly engaging, though the more intimate setting certainly helped – the tasting room even agreed to remain open a bit longer than usual to allow her to perform one last number specially requested from the audience.
And for the first time, I saw Mariza, probably the most well-known contemporary fadista, at Serra do Pilar. While the younger performers all had wonderful voices and performed with both passion and expertise, Mariza is simply a force of nature.
The concert opened as her instrumentalists arrived on stage and began to play. A minute or two later this magnificent voice surged out across the night like thunder. Only after the first few lines did Mariza actually physically arrive on stage. An absolutely spine-tingling and appropriately dramatic start to her concert, which lasted nearly two hours without break. Her backup team are all top performers in their own right: José Manuel Neto (Portuguese guitar), Pedro Jóia (accoustic guitar), Yami (bass guitar) and Vicky Marques (percussion).
Mariza utterly owns her performance space, striding, dancing and sweeping about the stage, but also drawing the audience into her world with her gestures, stories and invitations to clap or sing with her. At the end of the performance she disappeared, only to re-appear on the ground in front of the stage, to walk back and forth and greet her audience as she continued to sing.
YouTube is of course full of videos of Mariza’s performances, in fact there are already about 40 recorded (poorly) at Friday night’s concert. As I write, I am listening to a very high quality video of Mariza’s 2007 performance in London which has the advantage that she introduces the numbers in English.
Another video I recommend to give you an idea of Friday night’s performance is this one – a song called Barco Negro, performed at 2010’s Rock In Rio Lisboa accompanied by the same drummer who was with her Friday, Vicky Marques. The combined power of Mariza’s voice and Vicky’s drumming was nearly overwhelming when they performed this Friday night.
Music In Porto
If you are planning a trip to Porto and have an interest in music of any style, it is worth while looking at the Casa da Musica website to see what’s on during your visit. Cais de Fado is just one example of the hundreds of musical events they sponsor both at the Casa da Musica and around the cities of Porto and Gaia every year, many of which are free, but their prices for ticketed events are extraordinarily reasonable. On a quick browse, this year’s listings include concerts or events featuring rap artists, world music, jazz, big band, and monthly clubbing nights, as well as classical and fado performances.
Additionally, the Casa da Musica is worth a visit in its own right, as an architectural wonder. Designed by Rem Koolhaas there are a half dozen different performance spaces designed to accommodate different types of performances (chamber music versus full orchestra for example) and each features a different building materials and design to create optimum accoustics for its intended use.
Here is a short list of a few more places to hear Fado in Porto on a regular basis, some are free performances at restaurants or tasting rooms, some charge entrance fees and require booking:
Cálem Port Lodge – Fado in Porto from March to October, Tuesday through Sunday nights from 18:30 (booking, €)
Quevedo Port Wine Tasting Room – daily from 16:30 to 19:30 (gratis)
Yeatman Hotel – occasionally has fado nights, consult their website (booking, €)
Café Guarany has regularly scheduled Fado and other musical nights – consult their website for details
Adega do Rio Douro – a small restaurant on the riverfront in Porto, Tuesdays from 16:00 till 19:30 you can hear Fado. If you want to practice your Portuguese Adega do Rio Douro was written up in Fugas (the arts and leisure magazine supplement to the Público newspaper).
Linha 22, a café and guest house in central Porto, sponsors special trips on the electrico – the antique trams – which include a Fado performance and wine and food on board as you travel out along the riverfont and back again. (booking, €)