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by Rachel Devitt

August 11, 2011

Fado: Portuguese Soul Music

by Rachel Devitt  |  August 11, 2011

Fado is often referred to as the Portuguese blues -- and with good reason. A folk tradition of somewhat murky and legendary origins (think sailors lost at sea rather than deals with the devil), this music was the voice of Portugal's poor for centuries. With nothing more than an acoustic guitar and (especially) a rich, throaty voice capable of expressing heart-wrenching pathos and sorrow, a fadista (fado singer) could speak to the struggles and strife of life in the country's urban ghettos, particularly as Portugal declined as a world power in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the advent of recording technology, fado rose in popularity, producing stars like Amalia Rodrigues and Maria da Fe before the genre started to fall out of fashion in the later 20th century. In the 1990s, however, a true revival began, with young artists like Ana Moura, Mariza, Madredeus, and Dulce Pontes reshaping and redefining the centuries-old tradition for a new generation, at once paying tribute to the styles roots and modernizing it, not to mention attracting a fan base that stretched beyond Portugal to encompass global-music fans in Europe and beyond.

It's this modern era (as well as a few earlier inspirations) that gives this playlist its focus, and the inspiration for its name. Like American blues and its successor, soul, the style has evolved into an institution beloved for its ability to encompass a range of raw emotion, gritty political commentary and pure pleasurable musical skill. Musically speaking, the rolling acoustic guitars and dancing, trilled melodies may sound a lot like Italian café pop or Spanish flamenco to American ears. But it's those aching, mournful, gut-punching vocals that will speak to your soul, whether or not you understand a lick of Portuguese.

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