Lisboa Em Fado – A Glimpse into the Portuguese Soul
No trip to Lisbon is complete without some sort of Fado experience. Fado is the traditional music of Portugal, with origins dating back a couple of centuries in the poorer neighborhoods of Lisbon. It’s haunting, melancholic, and passionate – a musical expression of the Portuguese soul. It’s such an important and recognized part of Portugal’s cultural identity that it was placed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011. Visitors to Lisbon have plenty of options for listening to Fado. Walk anywhere through Lisbon’s most traditional districts like Alfama and Barrio Alto, and you’ll see many restaurants advertising Fado. And quite possibly, you’ll have a Fado show flier thrust into your hand. Our first Fado experience was at a Fado venue called Lisboa Em Fado. And we were so enthralled by Fado, we returned the next night for even more.
How to Experience Fado
I knew that at some point during our time in Lisbon we needed to experience a Fado performance. Most Fado performances in Lisbon occur in restaurants or bars called Fado houses. Small and intimate places with food, drink and Fado. Typically, that sort of cultural experience is exactly what I look for when traveling. But in most Fado houses, the Fado itself doesn’t start until around 9 pm or later.
Those late hours are difficult for us. First of all, we aren’t night owls to begin with. We don’t have a problem making a stay-up-later exception for experiences like this, but the bigger issue is that Mrs TT works remotely in the evenings when we travel. And our weekends are usually quite full – often with day trips.
So I tried to find an earlier alternative that might work better with our strange schedule.
And I found the perfect solution for us – Lisboa Em Fado.
This Fado venue offers an hourlong Fado performance right in the heart of Lisbon, starting at 6pm. I was willing to trade the full Fado-with-dinner experience for an opportunity to enjoy an earlier and briefer Fado performance. I figured it might be extra touristy, but I was OK with that. It only cost 19 Euros each, and it would at least give us a taste of Fado.
It turned out better than I’d hoped!
Lisboa Em Fado
Lisboa Em Fado is a new venue on the Fado scene in Lisbon. Turns out that it’s the passion project of a lawyer turned professional Portuguese Guitar player who has taken his love of Fado and turned it into his full-time business. And his love for Fado is evident from the moment you step inside. He truly just wants to share this Portuguese cultural treasure with anyone that will stop in and listen.
Diogo Lucena e Quadros stood at the sign-in table when we entered Lisboa En Fado. I didn’t know he was the owner or performer when he warmly greeted us and poured us a welcome glass of port. In fact, it wasn’t until halfway through the show that I finally realized that the man whipping up a frenzy with his fingers on the Portuguese Guitar was the same person that checked us in.
The venue itself isn’t large. 30 chairs were set up in front of the small stage. We sat near the back at our first show, and could see and hear everything just fine. When attending a Flamenco show in Spain, we weren’t allowed to photograph anything, so I expected the same here. Not the case – videos are also allowed. Otherwise I would have sat closer. We sat on the front row when we returned the second time.
Along one of the walls, hang three Portuguese Guitars. The pear-shaped Portuguese Guitar is unique to Portugal and is integral to the sound of Fado. At our second visit, Diogo explained to us that these three guitars could be considered the Stradivarius of Portuguese Guitar. Each belonged to three of the greatest Portuguese Guitarists of all time. And each hangs alongside the photos and histories of these men.
And on our second visit, I noticed that Diogo pulled one off the wall, using it for his own performance. (How did I miss that the first time??)
Over the course of the next hour, we not only listened to Fado, we learned about Fado too.
A video presentation started the show and intermittently returned, taking us through the history of Fado up until present day. It also introduced us to many of the greatest peformers in the history of Fado, with a special focus on Amália Rodrigues – considered the greatest Fado singer (or fadista) ever.
In between each brief video presentation, several songs were then performed by first a female singer. Then a male singer. And then both together.
We were also introduced to the two types of guitars used in Fado – the Portuguese Guitar and the Viola – and treated to an instrumental selection featuring the fast-fingered former attorney Diogo.
I was even more impressed with Lisboa Em Fado when I ultimately discovered the quality of their performer line-up. Different artists perform each night from a revolving cast.
On our first night we ultimately discovered that the male singer – Antonio Pinto Basto – is a Fado legend. (Unfortunately, that was a back row night and I didn’t get a great photo. And no mention was made of his status either. He simply performed. I discovered who he was afterwards. And listened to more of his recordings at the Fado Museum – see below).
Nadine was our female fadista on night 1, and I noticed through her Instagram page that she is a regular on the schedule at the famed A Severa.
Rogerio Ferriera was the viola player at our second visit. Diogo told us that he is one of the top 3 viola players in Portugal, and would be playing elsewhere that night until the wee hours….like most nights.
The bottom line is that even though the show at Lisboa Em Fado might seem directed to tourists, the performers seem to be some of the best in the business.
In speaking with Diogo further, we discovered a little bit of his vision for Lisboa Em Fado. It’s a new venture for him, and he is wisely starting off slow with one show daily. Ultimately, his goal is to offer several throughout the evening. Maybe even one earlier than 6pm. He understands that not everyone wants to stay out late. And that not every tourist wants a meal with their Fado.
He is deeply passionate about Fado. You can’t help but get caught up in his enthusiasm and love for his newly exclusive profession as you talk with him. He just wants to play his vintage Portuguese guitars, share Fado with the masses, and hopefully not have to practice law anymore. And as a retired-physician-turned-travel-blogger, who wants to share my own passion for travel, I absolutely get it.
We thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Lisboa Em Fado. The intimate performance of such a soulful music by such talented musicians….we left impressed and wanting more. I spent several hours the following morning online learning even more about Fado and watching performances on YouTube.
And not only did we return to Lisboa Em Fado for a second night, we also visited Lisbon’s Fado Museum to gain further insight.
Museu Do Fado
I was aware that Lisbon had a Fado Museum. But there is so much to do in Lisbon, including many great museums. Consequently, even with our prolonged stay, I hadn’t made visiting the Fado Museum a priority. It shot to the top of my up-next list after our two evenings at Lisboa Em Fado.
The Fado Museum is located on the edge of Lisbon’s Alfama district – one of the neighborhoods where Fado originated. In fact, from inside the museum, you get a sweeping view out across Alfama’s hillside collection of classic buildings and maze-like streets. The perfect visual reminder of where Fado was born.
Upon entering, you are greeted with a giant multi-level wall mural showing a collection of some of the great Fado artists over the decades.
The museum itself is small. We found all the current displays spread across a single floor. Other parts of the museum seems to be used for performances, including a small auditorium where two classical musicians were practicing during our visit. There is also a restaurant on site, but it wasn’t open when we were there.
Our entrance fee of only 5 Euro included an audio device. This was essential as it was the only method to learn about many of the items on display. Plus, it also synced to videos of classic Fado performances displayed on the walls. With this, the sounds of Fado were constantly playing in my ears as we wandered through the museum.
The various displays included fado-themed art, musical instruments, performance posters, handbills, and the history of certain standout performers including Amalia.
This painting from 1910 by the artist José Malhoa – simply entitled Fado – is one of the most prominently displayed pieces of art in the museum.
One of my favorite things in the museum was the listening stations. Here you can scroll through and listen to some of the greatest fado performers of all time. And not only can you hear their music, but you can scroll through a video screen that includes a photo montage of each musician, and a historical write-up of each too. This is where I listened to even more music from our night one fadista at Lisboa Em Fado – Antonio Pinto Basto.
I’m glad that we took the time to finally visit the Fado museum. It was an excellent way to build on our live listening experience at Lisboa Em Fado.
And I highly recommend that live listening experience at Lisboa Em Fado. It was the perfect way to catch a glimpse into the Portuguese soul that is Fado.
If you would like to read more about my experiences in Portugal, then check out these posts:
Eating Bifanas in Lisbon – Just Like My Travel Hero
An Evening Quest for the Best Chicken in Lisbon
I loved your article and particularly your description of Lisboa em Fado. Diogo is an amazing person and I have had the great pleasute of listening to him play. Thank you.
Thanks for reading it! And Diogo does seem pretty amazing 🙂
See link to a brief article I wrote on Liminality, Fado & Tourism (2020) – I hope you enjoy it.
An interesting article Geoff. You attended an impressive number of Fado performances to gather all the info. Thanks for sharing!
Fado sounds intriguing Steven. Definitely something to experience once we eventually visit Lisbon. As for the late hours, I totally here you after spending a few weeks in Crete in January. The expat couple we spent an evening with before we house sat for them talked about heading to the taverna at 8:30 or 9 for dinner because things do not pick up until 10 or so. We are not night owls so it was OK for one evening but not so much a regular thing. Different culture in Europe.
Definitely the one thing about Southern Europe that we can’t completely immerse ourselves in. That late dinner hour. We don’t love being the first people through the door when a restaurant opens for dinner because we very much feel like tourists. But at least we always get a seat 🙂