For older generations of Portuguese people, life is made of "3 Fs", referring to Fado music, Football, and Fatima (a city where three little shepherds saw the Virgin Mary). Fado, a profoundly melancholic way of singing along the Portuguese guitar, may not be as popular as football, but still, it's an essential part of Portuguese heritage. This unique music originates both from Lisbon and Coimbra, and the two genres are slightly different but both very interesting. Therefore, once you are in Coimbra, besides visiting Quinta das Lágrimas and the famous University Library Joanina, I recommend you also dedicate some time to listen to fado and learn about it.
In Coimbra, the best place to get to know the most genuine fado music is definitely "Fado ao Centro®." This is a cultural center committed to promoting Fado from Coimbra, with daily live concerts at 6:00 pm, which makes it a perfect place to end your sightseeing day in the city. Only the best musicians in the city are invited to perform here. Plus, besides hearing the music, you will be able to learn about this 160-year-old tradition. Even if you can’t witness the concert, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the space and get to know a little bit more about fado from Coimbra. There are always musicians playing and rehearsing so you can change experiences and learn more about the Portuguese Guitar and this unique musical tradition. An official afternoon rehearsal is set between 4:00 and 5:30 p.m, but the place is open for passers-by who would like to have a flavor of fado anytime between 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Before visiting Fado ao Centro®, you may want to know a few main differences between fado from Lisboa and Fado from Coimbra. The first one is performed both by men and women, while the second one is sung exclusively by men. Fado "Lisboa" usually brings stories about love and longing ("Saudades"), while fado "coimbrão" has a close connection with academic traditions of Coimbra University. Fado from Coimbra was in fact created spontaneously by a group of students who settled down in Coimbra to study and brought their guitars with them. In both cases, fado performers wear black. Female fado singers use embroidered scarves.
Once, fado music was an important tool for fighting the dictatorship of Salazar. Students and activists used it to express their political opinion about the authoritarian government that ruled Portugal until 1974 when there was no other way to do it. Nowadays, Coimbra fado songs are mostly dedicated to bohemian students' life or goodbyes at the end of a school year.
Fado ao Centro® is usually fully booked, so if you decide to visit, don't forget to make a reservation. Don't worry if you don't understand Portuguese. As fado diva Amália Rodrigues said:
The fado is not meant to be sung; it simply happens. You feel it, you don't understand it and you don't explain it.
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