Before leaving for Portugal I’d read that you can hear Fado on the road. Maybe you have to have some familiarity with the music in order to hear it this way. In Lisbon we sat through an expensive but very enjoyable Fado dinner, and then walked into a couple of Fado performances at bars and restaurants in Alfama and around the Rua da Misericorda. We’d heard of the open air concert in front of Coimbra’s old cathedral in May when the university year ends. We’d missed this. So, as soon as we got connected in Coimbra, I checked out reviews. Fado ao Centro was generally described as touristy but good. We were tourists, so I booked two seats at the regular evening performance.
It definitely was touristy, but in a good sense. A little film before the show started told us about the 19th century origins of Coimbra Fado in the life of students at the university, and a little about the twelve-stringed Portuguese guitar. After this there were songs, usually one vocalist with two guitarists, but some purely instrumental pieces, and a small number of songs with two vocalists. Each song was introduced. We liked the setup, and enjoyed the show. There is an opportunity after the show to have a glass of Port with the performers, talk to them, and buy CDs if you want.
A place which surprised us very pleasantly later the same evening was the cafe Santa Cruz, right next to the Santa Cruz church (photo on top). We walked in for an after-dinner drink, and a taste of the wonderful cake called the cruzeiro. Soon the place started filling up with locals, and soon a Fado concert started. The performance was even more enjoyable for us when we realized that people around us knew the songs. The general feeling of saudade which is supposed to be linked to the songs is what an Indian would think of as the emotional content of Devdas and ghazals. When I said this to The Family she asked me why I was listening to Fado when I don’t listen to Ghazals!
My weak answer to that was that it was because I was a tourist. We did not have time to catch a performance in a highly praised venue called A Capella. Maybe that worked out well, otherwise this argument would have been hard to avoid. There is at least one more bar in Coimbra where there is a Fado performance more or less every night.