Fado is the national music of Portugal and our first experience with the music was in a small cultural center just a stone’s throw from the Torre da Almedina, at the base of the stairs known as “the Backbreaker,” Rua Quebra Costa.
Fado ao Centro is dedicated to promoting the Coimbra style of Fado. Coimbra Fado came about when male students at the University would stand in the narrow lanes of the city and serenade their sweethearts, who would listen from the window above. This tradition has influenced the Coimbra style of Fado in several ways.
First, unlike the Lisbon version, only men can sing Coimbra Fado, and they should be students or former students of the University. The performers wear the students’ traditional black suit and cape. Second, the singer is accompanied by a Portuguese guitar and, sometimes, a classical, or Spanish guitar. In the much more liberal Lisbon style the music is sometimes accompanied by piano, drums and other instruments.
Coimbra Fado’s songs are usually love songs, though occasionally a political protest song makes its way into the play list. Finally, because of the intimacy between the singer and his beloved in the window above, clapping is not the way to show appreciation. The proper way is to clear your throat, as if trying to get someone’s attention, kind of like the young girl’s father might do when discretely telling the gentleman caller to move along. The girl would show her appreciation by turning her lights on and off several times.
The performance was wonderful. The musicians were top notch and the music is moving. There is a narrator who explains a little of the history of the music and what each song is about, and the room is full of photos and posters celebrating the artists who made Coimbra Fado famous. For those interested, you can pick up CDs recorded by Fado ao Centro as well.