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Amalia Rodrigues

   
 

  The Queen of Fado

   

 

  

 

She is known in Portugal simply as Amalia.  Her sobriquet, Rainha do Fado - Queen of Fado - says it all.  Born in a poor neighborhood of Lisbon, Amalia Rodrigues (1920-1999) took the art form known as fado to new heights, rejuvenating the genre and propelling it onto the world stage.  Her voice possessed a haunting, plangent quality that went straight to one's soul, as if she were addressing each listener individually.

Uniquely Portuguese, fado incorporates elements of Moorish, Iberian, and Brazilian traditions.  The fadista or fado singer stands alone on stage, accompanied by one or two guitarists.  Like the protagonists in her songs, her emotions are laid bare for all to see - raw and sensuous.  Fado embodies the emotion known as saudade, sadness mixed with a nostalgia for a loved one or a time long gone.  Amalia once noted that "fado is not meant to be sung; it simply happens," underlining its organic quality, as if it willed itself from the singer's body rather than the other way around.

When Rodrigues began singing, fado was considered a folk or national singing tradition.  She took the art form from one opera house to another in Europe and the Americas, spreading the word.  She took the poems of famed Portuguese poets such as Pedro Homem de Mello and set them to music.  Amalia used every medium at her disposal and even recorded Canção do Mar (Song of the Sea) and Barco Negro (Black Ship) for French director Henri Verneuil's film Les Amants du Tage (The Lovers of Tage or Lover's Net, 1955). 

Rodrigues was beloved by the people of Portugal, a one-woman cultural tornado. Dulce Pontes, Madredeus and Cristina Branco have taken up the gauntlet by further modernizing fado, adding new instruments and themes.  But Amalia Rodrigues remains the Queen….   

 

Listen: The Art of Amalia

 

Tags:  music  portugal    

 

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