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
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.
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
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….
Art of Amalia