Anabela Silva

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culturallyours podcast Anabela Silva Portuguese Fado Music

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Show Details

In this episode, Karthika interviews Anabela Silva, a musician and singer from Portugal who shares her insight and experience on the culture and tradition of Portuguese Fado music. Fado music talks a lot about longing, jealousy, anger, sadness, all of those feelings but also about the daily lives of the people. Born at a time during the Portuguese explorations and revolution, the songs really speak to the innermost feelings of the singer. It often resembles the blues because of its soulful nature.

Anabela also sings a beautiful Fado song about two long lost lovers – one that she sang when she was only six years old at a music concert in her village.

Show Notes

Karthika interviews Anabela Silva, a musician and singer from Portugal who shares her insight and experience on the culture and tradition of Portuguese Fado music. Anabela is only 24 years old but comes from a very musically inclined family often singing with her brothers and father. She says her first song was a Fado song about two long separated lovers and was one she sang when she was only six years old at a concert. Fado music is soulful and often compared to the blues.

The Transcript

Allow me to introduce you to the lovely Anabela Silva, a musician living in Portugal. Anabela has been singing since she was a child and she chatted with me about Portuguese Fado music – a traditional genre of music that has been around for several centuries.

It is said that Fado emerged as a song when Portuguese sailors and explorers went out to the sea in the late 1800s and left their families behind. The music that emerged from that moment in history is called Fado. Today Portuguese Fado is characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fate and melancholia. That’s why most of Fado songs are somewhat without translation. In a way we can say that Portuguese Fado music has similarities to the blues in that it too is a very soulful music.

Anabela is only 24 years old but has already made quite a name for herself singing not just Fado music but also other kinds of music. She comes from a very musically inclined family often singing with her brothers. She says her very first song was a Fado song she sang in a contest when she was only six years old! Talk about a gifted child.

Anabela and I chatted about the importance of Fado in Portuguese culture and its importance in her own songs and music. Fado music brings out the vulnerability of the signer – their inner feelings and emotions as they sing about the nostalgia and longing in their own lives. In fact, Anabela shared the proper etiquette of listening to traditional Fado music. Many times, singers don’t have amplification, so they don’t use a mike. This creates a very intimate atmosphere. The singer is really exposed and is sharing their inner most feelings. They often wear black and sing with their eyes closed. That’s why there is so much respect when you are listening to Fado. You don’t get up until the end of the concert or you don’t talk. You don’t make any noise out of respect for the fellow singer for singing so openly and being so vulnerable about their life.Anabela also treated us to one of her favorite Fado songs – the one she sang when she was a child for her grandfather who loved Fado music.

I know you are going to enjoy getting to know Anabela and learn about Portuguese Fado music on this episode of CulturallyOurs.

Karthika: Welcome Anabela. Thank you so much for joining me on Culturally Ours. I am really very excited to have you all the way from Portugal and I cannot wait to chat with you and get to know you a little bit better.

Anabela: Thank you so much and Thanks for having me.

Karthika: Absolutely. So, before we begin, could you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you are from just to help set the stage for this chat?

Anabela: Yeah, sure. My name is Anabela and I’m a Portuguese singer and musician. I’m 24 years old and I’m from Porto in Portugal. I was born in an old village; a country village and I have been singing since I remember. My parents used to say I was born singing.

Karthika: Oh wow. I was in Portugal last year and I absolutely loved the country. It is just such a beautiful place and there is so much culture and history. I loved all the castles. And I am so envious of where you are because outside my window, it is just cold and it’s snowing and there’s no leaves on the trees. And I know how gorgeous it must be for you all.

Anabela: Yeah, it is.

Karthika: Now you said you are a musician, a singer. How did all of that come about? Did you studying music professionally or is it like a hobby that now has become a career?

Anabela: It is kind of a hobby, but I’m trying to do that professionally as well. I am a pharmacist so I, that’s my plan B. But my plan is to become a musician. My father was also a musician, a bass player. So, since I was a little kid, I always remember to have instruments very accessible to me in my home. My whole family loves music. And I remember my father and my elder brother having a big influence in all that I have to do with music. When my brother turned 18, he received a guitar for his birthday, and we used to play it also. I like playing songs and also writing my own. That comes very naturally to me. I think the first song I wrote was a birthday gift to my best friend. So that’s how it all started, I guess.

Karthika: That’s beautiful. And I am totally the opposite. I have no musical ear whatsoever, but I really appreciate somebody who can just pick it up and sort of write your own music. It’s brilliant. And I’ve heard you sing. You have a wonderful voice. I would love to know a little bit about Fado, Portuguese traditional music. I heard Portuguese Fado music when I was in Portugal and it is so different from anything I had heard. It was so melodious. Can you tell us a little bit about Portuguese Fado music and what is the culture and the history behind that music?

Anabela: Okay. It is almost impossible to define Portuguese Fado music in words to begin. I don’t know if you know, but the word Fado means something like destiny in English. It is said that Fado emerged as a song when Portuguese sailors went out to the sea and left their families behind. The music that emerged from that moment in history is called Fado. That’s why most of Fado songs are somewhat without translation. It means something like nostalgia, a feeling of missing something or someone. In a way we can say that Portuguese Fado music has similarities to the blues. That is also a very soulful music. It is different musically but in relation to what you want to convey, it is similar.

Anabela: Portuguese Fado music talks a lot about longing, jealousy, anger, sadness, all of those feelings but also about the daily lives of the people. Portuguese Fado is a music of the people. Various themes of Fado appeared at different times in Portugal’s history. Some themes appeared during times of Portuguese exploration. Other themes appeared during the time of revolution. Portugal was facing a case of extreme dictatorship. Poems had to be approved by our governor at the time. So, the songs reflected those feelings and then feeling of revolution. Portuguese Fado music is mostly songs about bitterness. But they can only be happy.

Anabela: Lots of people joined in dance with Fado music. It is a very popular type of music. Our biggest Portuguese icon to follow is Amália da Piedade Rodrigues who was known as the queen of Fado.Today, although the genre of Fado has suffered many variations. Portuguese Fado music is most played by Mariza, one of our greatest Fado singers today. Fado is usually sung by one person accompanied with a Fado guitar and a Portuguese guitar. A Portuguese guitar is a very unique guitar with a unique tuning. Typically, you would hear Portuguese Fado music in Fado houses that you could visit to listen to the music.

Karthika: I heard it in Lisbon. We were in an Airbnb somewhere in the Amalfa district in Lisbon and there was a little café bar right up our house. I think it was like the first night we there. I was jetlagged and couldn’t sleep so I was sitting in the living room and suddenly I heard this music. And I was like, ‘wait am I dreaming?’. So, I walked to the balcony and I saw this lady, she was dressed in a long black dress and she was singing this beautiful soulful song and there was a man who was playing the guitar and they were the only two people playing live music. She was actually standing by the door to this very small cafe and it looked like it was like a neighborhood joint. Like people who live there would go there and get their food or whatever. At that time, I didn’t know what I was listening to. And I just stood in my balcony and I just listened to this music and I didn’t know whether I should cry or be happy. There was just something about that music that felt so different from what I’d heard before.

Anabela: Yes. That was probably a Fado music house. Many times, singers don’t have amplification, don’t have a mike. So it creates a very intimate feeling and music. The singer is really exposed and is sharing their feelings. They sing with their eyes closed, wearing black and just singing their hearts out. That’s why there is so much respect when you are listening to Fado. You don’t get up until the end of the concert and you don’t talk. You don’t make noise out of respect for the fellow singer for singing so openly, so exposed.

Karthika: So does the Fado singer sing personal reeditions or about events happening in their lives? Or do they sign about general events happening around them. Help me understand what a Portuguese Fado singer is thinking and feeling when they sing traditional Fado music.

Anabela: A true Portuguese Fado singer really needs to feel the song, the meaning of the song and kind of make it her/his own. It is all about making the song ours when we sing.

Karthika: Right. Now you said initially Fado was for the sailors. Portugal was well known as a culture of explorers. Basically, people going and exploring the world. Right. So, the people/families that they left behind would sing these songs. Now has that sort of changed over centuries? Obviously, it’s still about longing and all of that, but has the context of it changed at all? Or is it still kind of about separation.

Anabela: Yes, Fado is still mostly about longing and missing someone. But unfortunately, Fado is slowly dying out. Because people are trying other types of music and Fado is kind of getting old for the young people. Not all of them, but I think that is happening.

Karthika: Oh that’s sad. Why do you think that is happening? Why is Fado slowly dying away?

Anabela: I think some of it is just times changing and some of it is just all the new music that is coming into the market. I was born in a village, in a place where this kind of music still has a lot of value. And my grandfather really loves to hear me sing Fado. It is the only type of music that he loves and that’s why I started singing Fado. I start singing in contests when I was five with Fado music.

Karthika: That’s awesome. Now when did you learn to sing? Did you train professionally or are you pretty much self-taught?

Anabela: Yes I am self-taught.

Karthika: You had said earlier that your older brother and your dad are also very musically inclined. Is this something like a family thing? Do you guys all sing together?

Anabela: Yeah, I sing lots of time with my little brother and with my elderly brother too. And my mom just loves to sign. She doesn’t think she is good but I think she sings really wel.. She just sings a lot around the house. My father was a musician too. So yes, it is kind of a family of musicians.

Karthika: That’s wonderful. Now apart from Portuguese Fado music do you sing other sort of Portuguese music as well? And is there any other kind of traditional Portuguese music apart from Fado?

Anabela: Yes I sing other music as well. Like American pop. But Fado is very unique to Portugal.

Karthika: I hope it doesn’t die down because what I heard was so moving, I really hope that young people like you keep up the tradition and keep that going because it’s just such an integral part of Portuguese culture.

Anabela: Right. And I hope they do too.

Karthika: Now this question is perhaps a little bit more personal if you don’t mind kind of sharing, but I would love to know from a very cultural standpoint how has Fado impacted your own life.

Anabela: Fado isn’t the type of music that I mostly sing at this moment. But Fado means everything for the music I sing. In other words, all my songs are based on a very sincere feelings, which I learned from Fado singing with all my heart. And no matter what else I sign, there is nothing quite like the reaction I get when I sign Fado. It is something I am always aspiring to – bringing those feelings of Fado into any music I sign.

Karthika: I love it. What a beautiful thing to aspire to – taking that meaning of Fado and applying it into everything else that you do. Now sing you are a singer, would you mind singing something for us so that we can kind of experience that as well?

Anabela: Okay. I will sing the first song that I sang when I was six in a contest. That was the first Fado song I ever sang in my life. This song is about a couple who used to meet every day near a fountain. One day the man waited and waited but the woman never showed up. The bells you hear signify that feeling of longing and waiting. And legend says that after that the fountain actually dried up to emulate that feeling of longing and loneliness.

Karthika: Wow, Thank you so much. Anabela I really do appreciate it. I loved listening to Portuguese Fado music and hearing you tell me what it means to you and actually singing the song is a treat for sure. So, thank you so much for coming on the show and for telling us all about Portuguese Fado music.

Anabela: Thanks for inviting me.

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