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Portugal's Soulful Sound

Often compared to American blues, fado is gaining global appeal


During some of Rodrigues' years of stardom, however, fado itself experienced a period of disfavor. Longtime dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, suspicious of the fadistas, first tried to have them censored, then launched a campaign to make fado an instrument of his regime, using it to push his agenda. The result was that many Portuguese turned away from fado, identifying it with fascism.

It took several years after the fall of the regime for the soulful music to again rise in the esteem of its countrymen. In the last 20 years, a new generation of fadistas reinvigorated it and made it once again part of the national fabric, at the same time adapting it to their own experiences.

"While still respecting the traditions of fado," says Mariza, "I'm singing more and more with the influences I've been receiving—travel, listening to other music—and this affects my performance." In addition to the traditional 12-string guitar (guitarra Portuguesa) and bass and acoustic guitars, she often includes trumpets, cellos and African drums. She has branched out to other musical forms, including American blues ("They too explore the feelings of life," she says) and has sung with such luminaries as Sting and Peter Gabriel.

But to her countrymen, it is the old fado that matters. Watching her at the Kennedy Center, Manuel Pereira felt a wave of saudade. "For me and other Portuguese people abroad when we hear fado it is a big emotion," he says. "It moves us."

Dina Modianot-Fox wrote about the return of port for Smithsonian.com earlier this month.


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