In this post I begin to educate myself on the Salazar regime—framed by more on the changing history and image of fado.
Back in Lisbon last week after my visit this time last year, I reacquainted myself with the delectable Colete Salva-Vidas and her three daughters, notably the errant Aterragem (see my linguistic fantasy here)—and now, I find, yet another on the way, Proxima Paragem (“next stop”, between you and me). I’m tickled that the door sign for “Pull” is Puxe—putting foreigners off the scent, like changing the signposts in wartime Britain? I would like “pullover” to be puxesobre, “pushover”.
To console me that my visits never seem to coincide with a festival of traditional Alentejan choirs, my friend Nick took me to the wonderful Casa Alentejo. Cunningly disguised as a Western Union office, you’d never guess at the riches inside—a Moorish courtyard, frescos, tiles, and a little double stage: a true gem (if not aterragem).
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While my first loyalty is to the complexity and intensity of flamenco cante jondo, it’s always good to explore fado—and it’s high time for me to understand a bit more about its social and political background. This may be old hat for world music groupies, but perhaps it’s of a certain relevance for my sinophile readers; and quite aside from the tourist angle, there seems a genuine enthusiasm among the current fadistas. 
The Museo do Fado (including sound archive here, and biographies here) makes a useful introduction. Evoking many other genres (rebetika, tango, and so on), the early history of fado was one of delinquency and transgression (cf. Merriam, ““licence to deviate from behavioural norms”). Indeed, that’s still very much the ethos of shawm bands in rural China. As a useful 2007 article on fado comments:
When a Portuguese writer described the fado in 1926 as “a song of rogues, a hymn to crime, an ode to vice, an encouragement to moral depravity, an unhealthy emanation from the centres of corruption, from the infamous habitations of the scum of society”, he identified a set of associations that a new generation of fadistas wear like a badge of honour.
Musicians often wore bright tattoos, in red on the singer’s chest or between his thumb and fingers, with markings of “anchors, ships, guitars, flowers, animals, pierced or joined hearts, the cross, the five sores of Christ [YAY], other love, religious, fantasy signs or inscriptions”.
But later a political stigma replaced the old social one:
For some, it’s a sound forever tarnished by its association with fascism. After the fall of the dictatorship in 1974, many on the Portuguese left saw the fado as something shameful. It was seen, at best, as a conservative outlet for national misery, at worst as an authorised voice for Catholic fascism.
Salazar himself considered that fado “sapped all energy from the soul and led to inertia” (on which grounds he might have been a big Sex Pistols fan). In 1927 he passed a law regulating it, depriving it of much of its improvisation and spontaneity—which sounds like what the Party has long tried but failed to do in China. Under Salazar fado wasn’t used as propaganda, but it was neutered. Flamenco, while no less commodified, has retained a more earthy aspect.
Fado‘s links with Brazil and Africa are also worth pursuing.
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Following my visits to Sachsenhausen and Stasi memorial sites in Berlin, it seemed suitable to give myself a basic education on the Salazar regime and its sinister PIDE security forces. By contrast with the grim surroundings of the Stasi museum in Berlin, the Aljube museum (Museum of resistance and liberation; also useful introduction here) occupies a picturesque site overlooking the sea, suitably opposite the Sé cathedral—as if to remind us of the role of the church in supporting the regime.
Portugal was one of the poorest countries in Europe. In 1920, 66% of the population was illiterate. Infant mortality rates only decreased belatedly:
The Estado Novo endured for forty years, from 1933 until 1974. It was in this period that Portugal became encapsulated by “the three Fs”: fado, football, and Fátima. Bread and circuses, perhaps: for the opposition, a formula for national alienation. One might add a fourth F: fear.
The Aljube had a long history as a prison. On the eve of the Estado Novo it held “women of ill repute, and incorrigible women accused of serious crimes”. Indeed, under Salazar, the exhibition mentions the general exploitation of women:
Women like Maria Lamas, Maria Isabel Aboim Inglês, Virginia Moura and Maria Machado initiated a new specific approach to the female condition and especially of the until then “invisible” condition of the women.
In a country where feminism was a late starter, this positioning would fertilize the cultural soil, in which would grow what is considered the first Portuguese feminist manifesto, As Novas Cartas Portuguesas [The new Portuguese charters], the publication (and apprehension) of which would leads its three authors, Maria Teresa Horta, Maria Velho da Costa, and Isabel Barreno, to be criminally persecuted in 1972.
Under the dictatorship the Aljube became a political prison. The museum outlines the use of torture, the role of informers (bufos, “squealers”), the resistance, and the exile of prisoners to penal colonies in the Azores, Madeira, East Timor. Many died of starvation and disease in Tarrafal camp in Cape Verde. The third floor covers the anticolonial struggle, as well as the 1974 Carnation revolution.
The exhibition documents the collaboration of the PIDE with the Italian secret police and the Gestapo—going on to note that the CIA helped train the PIDE from 1957.
One thorn in the flesh of the regime, harrassed by the PIDE, was the musician José “Zeca” Afonso (1929–87):
I’m sure a lot more tourists walk past than enter the Aljube museum, which is sad—but of course it takes a particular mentality to travel the globe in search of atrocity sites. Despite all the evidence of human suffering, not least during my own pampered youth, I’m not here (today, at least) to rant against tourism—the whole image of the Med (sun, sea, and in this case Sé) and idyllic island resorts—or indeed to carp at the human capacity for enjoying life.
Criminal states have operated all over the world, and continue to do so. In places like Germany and Portugal, where regimes have changed, lessons may be learned in the public domain; in China, still very little.
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The new generation of fadistas are said to have shaken off the link with fascism, but it never fitted neatly into the discourses of either right or left. Moreover, it now seems largely rhetorical for fadistas to pride themselves on its history as an “ode to vice, an encouragement to moral depravity from the scum of society”. The clubs have been becoming gentrified for over a century, the atmosphere genteel (or what the Chinese would call “cultured”)—and even I can’t fault it for that.
So what better way of spending the night before Eurovision than to relish fado at a venue I hadn’t visited before: the Associação do Fado Casto in Rua São Mamede. Among all the fado joints in the Alfama, it’s rather off the beaten track, and suitably untrumpeted from the outside. The atmosphere is great, with groups of family and friends enjoying fine food amidst evocative memorabilia.
As to the fado, performed in sets of three songs, while the pluckers noodle away whimsically, the intimate intensity of saudade as the singer enters is immediately touching. I heard fine sets from Matilde Cid, accompanied by Antonio Duarte and João Filipe:
Here she is on youtube:
I also just found out about the great Carminho, falling hopelessly in love with this early clip of her singing Fado of the hours in Carlos Saura’s 2007 film (longer sequence here):
I used to cry for not seeing you,
And now that I see you, I cry
Chorava por te não ver,
por te ver eu choro agora,
mas choro só por querer,
querer ver-te a toda a hora.
Passa o tempo de corrida,
quando falas eu te escuto,
nas horas da nossa vida,
cada hora é um minuto.
Deixa-te estar a meu lado,
e não mais te vás embora,
para meu coração coitado
viver na vida uma hora.
This has leapt into my list of all-time Top Ten World Songs—along with Erbarme dich, You’re my thrill, Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen, Back to black, When I am laid in earth, Chet ballads, Härlig är jorden, Eternal source of light divine, and Naturträne. Incidentally, many fados make use of the plangent minor key, but this is a good instance of how saudade can be amply achieved without it.
 While we await a translation of Rui Vieira Nery, Para uma história do fado, for one detailed study in English see Paul Vernon, A history of the Portuguese fado; see also James Patrick Félix, Folk or fake: the notion of authenticity in Portuguese fado, here. For a general introduction to fado in the wider context of Portuguese music, with discography, see The Rough guide to world music, pp.309–23; fado also features regularly in Songlines magazine.