Fado the Search for Authenticity

Written by Sorana Santos on Friday the 3rd of February 2012

Fado is an oral tradition of speculative origin.
Though widely accepted as evolving from the songs of the Moors due to their
inherent melancholy, but equally thought to have evolved from either the Lundum
music of Brazillian slaves or the Cantigas de
of middle-age minstrels (www.fado.com),
it is strange that any claim of authenticity even developed, however a new
breed of Fadistas such as
Mariza, whoc is considered a contentious figure amongst lovers of Fado, shows
us that the question of authenticity is well and truly alive.


With this in mind, the parameters that I set for my
own search for authenticity (having found no definitive definition in my
initial ethnomusicological research) are that the Portuguese themselves
consider me an authentic and credible performer of Fado were I to perform Fado
in one of Lisbon's tavernas.


In discussion of these parameters with a native
Portuguese acquaintance and Fado-lover, Marina, I gleaned that the authenticity
the Portuguese appear to question in the new Fadistas is that of
comparison to artists such as Amalia Rodriguez, Maria Severa, and Carlos do
Como who presented Fados in styles that were heavily diatonic, in simple duple
metre, (see Appendix iv,
Transcriptions) use of melodic sequence (Appendix iv, Aquela Ma, third system), a structure in
binary or ternary form (Appendix
iv, Confesso), and incorporated stock hispanic idiosyncrasies
such as dramatic melodic leaps of over a fifth (Appendix iv, Fado Alfancina, fourth and fifth systems) and
the use of simple chords, moving at a slow rate (Appendix iv, A Minha Cancao E
. Parallel to this, the lyrical expression of Saudade,
a "vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably
cannot exist "
(Emmons, 2006, p.402) and the typical setup of a Fadista
accompanied by a Portuguese and Spanish guitar ('viola' in Portuguese) came to
be known as the definitive sound of 'Fado', with the exception of large
orchestral arrangements for worldwide releases and the little-known fact that
original Fadista was actually accompanied on solo piano.


As a cause of increased globalisation and consumerism
since the time of Fado's (first) heyday the style has grown to incorporate
modern musical idioms such as: traditional melodic phrases re-harmonised with
extensions of elevenths and thirteenths, 'progressive' song structures,
'grooves' and borrowed elements of acoustic rock, crossover classical music,
and even electronica. Mariza's first record Fado Em Mim is an example of
this; speculating from personal experience of the record industry, it is
impossible to assess how much of Fado's newfound modernity is owed to the input
of the record label aiming to broaden Fado's market appeal.


A look into Mariza's history shows that she was in fact
on course to becoming a funk singer when the opportunity to sing Fado
professionally presented itself to her (Songlines, March 2011, p. 31). This sits uncomfortably with the
inclination of Fado to vehemently express how the singer was born to sing only
Fado, and renders Mariza's interpretations of such pieces uncomfortably
insincere. By contrast Rodriguez was discovered selling oranges on the docks of
Lisbon and having herself endured the harsh realities of famine in post-war
Lisbon, was considered a prime candidate for expressing the nation's Saudades.
Ironically, it appears to me that fans of Fado itself harbour that very Saudade
for the singers of old that the songs themselves speak of.


From an ethnomusicological perspective I could neither
be accepted as an authentic performer of Fado by the Portuguese themselves, nor
by my academic peers since I am not part of the cultural milieux. Scholastic
study, which could be termed a 'treasure of the mind', seeks to understand,
dissect, define, theorise. As such it is diametrically opposed to Fado, an oral
tradition concerning itself more with what could be termed 'treasures of the
heart', seeking to express sorrow, Saudade, and patriotic ideologies
(see Appendix v, Lyrics).


To learn in a traditional ethnomusicological manner is
to "gain access to a different way of thinking and making music" (Baily,
2001, p. 294), yet learning via oral
tradition is my first experience of music learning and instantly marks this
study with a bias, however small. Nonetheless, learning Fado purely from
recordings does not constitute 'oral tradition'; as Fado is acquired through
often complete, unmodified demonstration, this questions the extent of
understanding from a truly emic perspective. In addition, Fado forms part of
the European popular and folk music traditions already very close to the music we
are familiar with in Britain in terms of its harmonic and rhythmic structures,
tuning systems, ornamentation and vocal style 


A large amount of auto-didactical learning was
necessary so as to achieve as thorough an understanding of Fado as possible in
order to better inform my performance; my methodology took the following



1.       Finding a teacher


After an unsuccessful search for either a Fado singing
teacher or Fadista in London,
I decided to learn with Lynda Richardson, an Estill method specialist. The
Estill method is concerned with "deconstructing
the process of vocal production into control of specific structures in the
vocal mechanism"
2009, p. 402). Whether this
proves to be as good as learning from a Fado singer is a matter of debate. Since
I will be learning how to control each aspect of my vocal physiology to acquire
the Fado 'sound', I may acquire the ability to harness a greater range of vocal
techniques than I could have acquired from an authentic Fadista who, being of an oral tradition, may not be
aware of their vocal physiology; however, this will depend on both my
current ability and potential. However, learning via Estill method raises the
question of whether I will be receiving all the information I need regarding
typical performance gestures, etiquette, and repertoire.


 2.       Listening to recordings and determining
vocal qualities / research


The vocal qualities of approximately fifteen Fado
singers were discussed with Lynda. Fado incorporates a combination of qualities
that each singer uses either less or more of depending on their already
existing vocal qualities and desired sound. Amalia Rodrigues mixed Belting and
Operatic voice qualities. Carlos do Como used Speech Quality and Mariza alternates
between Speech Quality and Belting.


Speech Quality is fairly self-explanatory in that it
is singing with the same voice with which we speak. Because of this it is
limited in both volume and pitch. Belting is achieved by raising the larynx,
tilting the head back, intaking a sharp clavicular breath, preparing to
'squeak' and then singing the note. The result is a shrill, powerful sound akin
to the vocal sound of musical theatre, soul and some pop music. By contrast, to
produce an Operatic quality the larynx is lowered, head tilted forward, the
tongue tightened, and the breath drawn by 'letting go' of the diaphragm to
exhale. The resulting sound is equally as powerful as Belting but the tone is both
warmer and darker. (Appendix
iii) documents my lessons with Lynda in
further detail.



3.       Producing skeleton transcriptions


It became necessary to produce numerous transcriptions
of Fado songs. An advantage of using transcriptions is that it speeds the
learning process for both teacher and student. Transcriptions enabled Lynda to
accompany me at the piano, see exactly where we were in a song when she needed
to stop or restart a song, and focus on tutoring my voice without having to
learn each song herself. Secondly, producing transcriptions freed me to develop
my vocal style away from the influence of recordings, enabling me to "interpret
the fixed tunes [and] establish [my] own distinctive claims."
as Fado
singers are said to do (Khalvati, 2010, p.19). According to Lynda, the
larynx copies what it hears and singing along to a recording is less likely to
lead to the development of my own distinctive sound. Further, the production of
transcriptions can facilitate other musicians to feature in the final


Naturally, this shows the extent to which we as
western musicians rely on notation. Even the guitarist interested in performing
the Fados requested copies of the transcriptions despite being trained in both
Suzuki and Kodaly methods. Aside from notation not being typical of an oral
tradition, producing the skeleton transcriptions was immensely time-consuming,
though the benefit of over-exposure to the Fados not only familiarised me with
the harmonic and melodic structures of Fado, but also enabled me to learn the


Only those songs that I found aesthetically pleasing
were transcribed since no scores or lead sheets of Fados exist save a recently
published introduction to Fado that only contains around twenty Fados (Cohen, 2003). The
transcriptions themselves posed somewhat of a problem since the 'skeleton' of
the songs themselves were decorated in whatever vocal melismas, phrasings, and
accompanying chordal arrangement the musicians used to define their unique
styles. Producing these transcriptions involved determining which elements were
merely decorative and which were their true forms. The transcriptions served as
jazz charts from which I was then free to build my own interpretations. My full
transcriptions can be found in appendix

         4.       Learning the songs


Another beautiful irony of Fado is that in questioning
the balance of fate and free will, Fado's own fate and free will was tampered
with when, post-war, having previously dismissed Fado as the music of those of
ill repute, the government used Fado as a means of attempting to unite the
population and aid Portugal in attempting to attract tourists and re-build the
economy (Broughton, European Roots (documentary), 2007)


There is no distinction between poetry and song in
Fado and as such the songs themselves are considered Poemas Cantadas, or
sung poems. The 'lyrics' are indeed poetic and not only make use of forms
typical to poetic structure: stanzaic forms, quatrains, metre and rhyme, but
also metaphors between geographical and historical matters pertaining
specifically to Portugal itself whilst all the while, the true subject being
treated is that of 'fate' itself. The chorus of Que Deus Me Perdoe which
translates as "May God forgive me if it is a sin [to love Fado], but
this is who I am and to run away from Fado I only run from myself"
the first chorus of O Gente Da Minha Terra which translates as "Fado
is both mine and yours, this destiny that ties us with a string of a guitar, no
matter how much it is denied"
and the second line of the chorus of Locura
which translates as "Trunks of the same root, of the life that joins us"
are a few examples of this (see
Appendix v, Lyrics)


As Romanian and Spanish are my first languages and I
learned English and French at school, there is an inherent bias in my ability
to acquire another romance language. This is not necessarily indicative of
whether I can successfully acquire the Portuguese accent or whether this would
serve to further authenticate me in the eyes of a Portuguese native.


Among linguists, the ability to acquire accuracy of
pronunciation in a second language are widely agreed as being: age, motivation,
proximity of the two languages and immersion. Further:

"Overall, it appears that one of the most
important individual variables in adult L2     
[second language] is the learners'
aptitude for accurately producing the phonology of    another language ... Purcell and Suter (1980) list aptitude for oral
mimicry as the      second most important
variable ... There appears to be a perceptual ability in talented learners that
differentiates them from the normal adult population. Kuhl (2000) suggests    that talented adult learners may ... perceive
novel speech sounds in the same manner  as
infants do"
 (Hansen-Edwards, 2008, p.53)


would indicate an innate predisposition for the
acquisition of language through an increased sensitivity to the second
language's phonology. When I performed my interpretations of Fado to Marina,
she did indeed detect an accent and suggested that I had what corresponds to a
'lisp' when singing in Portuguese; my d's come out as t's and vice versa.


After several attempts to correct this we found that a
stronger commitment to vowel pronunciation and a loosening of the jaw
authenticates the sound better. However, what made the most difference was a
slight raising and tightening of the tongue as well as its placement towards
the top teeth and back of the hard pallet. After discussing this with Lynda she
provided me with further exercises to strengthen my tongue and loosen my jaw -
two unnatural movements that singers learn to make simultaneous and natural.


A large facilitator of my study of Fado was the online
availability of all lyrics, which I subsequently translated using a combination
of online translation tools, a dictionary and my working knowledge of romance
languages. Learning Fado as an outsider without either speaking the language or
seeing the lyrics in print would have been difficult as the Portuguese language
is heavy in elision. Also, since Fado is so heartfelt, Lynda noted that it is
of vital importance to understand the meaning of the words in order to express
their sentiment.



     5.       Selecting songs for performance


I learned more Fados than were necessary for the
performance in order to further understand Fado, increase the potential for
finding those that are most enjoyable to perform, and those I could most relate
to personally. The fados to be performed were further narrowed down on the
basis of those that best suited my voice.


Lynda's mantra: "The singer and song should be
advised my choice
of Fados for the performance and guided me towards those that I thought I could
express best given my life experiences. Unsurprisingly, these were not the
songs that praised Lisbon's beauty but those that spoke of the Fadista being
caught between fate and free will and those describing Saudade. For
example, A Minha Cancao e Saudade vividly depicts the suffering in lines
[that translate as] "Faded illusions, films of lost hopes, my song and
" and songs such as Que Deus Me Perdoe which contain touching
l passages such as "If I could tell you how sad I am when I pretend to
be happy"
and "When I sing I don't think how awful life
are better understood as a whole as they are less specific to
their location of origin. The
extent to which my inability to connect to songs specific to Lisbon or Portugal
inauthenticate my performance.



         6.       Practicing and personalisation


With songs heavy in elision such as Loucura, I
placed the song on repeat mode and firstly read, then mimed, then spoke, then
sung the words along to the recording. In this instance once the melody and
lyrics were acquired the stereo could be stopped and a 'personalisation' of the
song could begin. Other songs such as Que Deus Me Perdoe and Fado
were less tongue-tying and were memorable enough to take the
lyric sheet to the guitar and begin forming my own arrangement with careful
attention drawn to ensuring that words such as 'ma' and 'se' did
not gradually become similar sonic counterparts 'me' and 'si'.  


Having discovered a painting of Amalia Rodrigues in
which she is depicted accompanying herself on the guitar (see Appendix ii) I was inspired to
perform the songs on a Spanish guitar despite not having played since my teens.
The implications of this is that I will be unable to use my hands to express
the songs in the performance, as is typical of a Fadista who physically communicates in a performance solely via facial and arm
gestures whilst the remainder of the body is still.


To personalise the songs I began with the decision of
how exactly I would interpret the songs. Recalling my 'authenticity parameters'
and conversation with Marina, I began with rejecting Mariza's modern style of arrangement
in favour of the more traditional approach: using only root and dominant
seventh chords in my guitar accompaniment, a slow rate of chordal changes (one
or two per bar), slower tempos and more traditional 'feels' to the songs as
found in Fados such as Fado
de Adica.


Vocally, I began by experiment with what type of vocal
sound best suited the messages in particular phrases. For example, in O
Gente Da Minha Terra
the two lines "esta tristeza que trago, foi de
vos que a recebi"
[this sadness which I carry, I received from you]
call for two different vocal qualities to highlight the intentional and
emotional difference between the weight of the sadness in the first clause and
the revelation in the second. I sought to best express each phrase as if it
were emanating from personal experience, using emotional memory to trigger the
mode of expression. In this instance, I found that the first clause suited the
Belt Quality whilst the second better suited Speech Quality. I also
experimented with whether the occasional vocal melisma was possible for me,
which indeed it turned out to be. Overall I was glad to find that the vocal
aspect of singing Fado came to me easily due to what Lynda described as a
predisposition for speaking in marginal Belt and Speech Qualities myself and
that Fado generally only used an octave and a half's range of notes.                                                


The area of emotionally connecting with each song was
surprisingly the one that was most problematic for me, as the expression of
such raw emotion is not something I am accustomed to and I found I had a very
deep and unexpected affinity with Saudade. Many of the poetic elements
inherent in Fado are very close to my personal penchant for the macabre, for
understanding the negative functions of life and my personal rather melancholic
nature. Yet in spite of this I found it exceptionally difficult to 'sing from
the heart' as Fadistas are meant to. The songs were often too
emotionally painful to sing and I found I was unable to sing a complete Fado
without choking with emotion and even, at times, crying. It is a striking
dichotomy that whilst musically Fado is simple,
this is contrasted by what I have found to be such emotional complexity.


Fado, which is usually performed socially in the dark,
intimate tavernas of Lisbon, will by contrast, be performed in a university
performance hall to a panel of examiners. According to Lynda this has
implications in terms of the need for greater vocal projection in a recital
room compared with a small taverna. However, Recalling Ted Solis' statement in Performing
: "...my
perceived ethnicity increases the "authenticity" of my performance,
which makes the individual's concert experience more "authentic" and
in turn makes me more credible as a practitioner and authority..."
(Solis, 2004,
p.37) I hope that by dressing in
the black dress and shawl typical of a Fadista, it will both add to the
authenticity of the performance and give me a psychological edge.




Complex matters such as whether my mixed European
heritage has any influence on increasing the extent of authenticity, or the
extent to which it is possible to be considered an authentic performer of Fado
even after conducting field research need to be addressed at greater length and


Perhaps it is also true that the idea of what
constitutes authentic music practice will need to be ever-increasingly refined
in order to match increased globalisation, encultration and increasingly
complex musical cultures.


Nevertheless, I am encouraged to continue striving for
authenticity in my performance by this translation of Ha Muito Quem Cante O
(There Are Many Who Sing Fado) by Manuel de Almeida. It offers
hope that my performance could indeed being considered authentic by the
Portuguese if my heart is at one with the song:


Not everyone is a fadista who wants to be,

Just because one day they sing a fado.

To be a faditsa is to have your soul

Tied to your throat...


To be a fadista is to have expression,

To feel everything that is sung.

To be a fadista is to tie the heart and soul

To the throat.
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