band singing fado portuguese music

Fado: Meaning of the Portuguese traditional music

When we think of Portuguese traditional music, we immediately think of fado. However, despite fado actually being a remarkable genre of music with several variations that can be heard from North to South of Portugal, there are other traditional music that don’t fall much behind fado. In fact, when it comes to music, Portugal is known for having an eclectic collection of music genres. Taking advantage of Portugal’s rich History, we decided to present you its most popular traditional music genres and try to explain a little bit of the meaning behind each one of them.


Fado is the number one Portuguese traditional music and it has been around for a long time now, for many centuries in fact, but we can be sure that it has its origins in the beginning of the 1800s. Fado has branched into several variations depending on the region where it’s made, but they all have the same sort of meaning in common. Being a form of singing, it usually sings about the hardships of daily life, the feelings of loss and longing (the latter one can be translated to the famous Portuguese word “saudade”) and the hope to overcome the obstacles that torment us. People who listen to fado marvel with the voice of the singer and the general harmony that their voice and the instruments create together. For the musical instrument’s lovers, in order to play a fado song, you will need at least one 12-string guitar, one viola and sometimes a small 8 string bass.

Naturally there are those who deem fado as a sad genre of music. Even though they’re not wrong, fado can be much more than that. It can renew your strength and give you hope to face the challenges of your life. The interesting aspect of fado is that, foreigners who don’t understand Portuguese can still feel the same message. However, if you learn Portuguese or are thinking of starting to learn it, you would benefit a lot by actually understand the lyrics in order to grasp the real meaning of the song. In the meantime, you can always search for the translation of the lyrics. This will help you associate the message to the sad melody of fado.

Folk music

Many countries, especially those with an older History, have a type of folk music and Portugal is no exception. And even in Portugal there’s more than one type of folk music depending on the region. In the southern Alentejo region the “Cante Alentejano” is a famous folk music whereas an also famous Portuguese folk music can be found in Trás-os-Montes (North of Portugal) called “Gaita transmontana”. These two types of folk music differ from each other since they are a reflection of their region’s old History and the customs and social contexts of their people as well. Much like fado music, some of Portugal’s types of folk music have earned a heritage status by UNESCO.

What is interesting to note is that folk music doesn’t belong only in the past. In fact, many music artists of today have projects where they try to incorporate the old with the new. They keep the essence of folk music while giving it a new rhythm and tunes.

Protest songs

This is a quite recent Portuguese music genre. It has its origins in the second half of the 20th century. This coincides with the period of time of dictatorship in which Portugal was under. Like many other forms of expression, music was controlled by a tight censorship, so Portuguese singers and other music artists developed the skill of hiding the true meaning of their message in rather innocent and light-themed songs. It came to a point when, to give the signal start the revolution which aimed to end the regime, a song on the radio was chosen to give the alert. This song was called “Grândola Vila Morena” by José Afonso and it highlights the strength of the Portuguese people.

After that many other music artists followed him and created their own protest songs. These new songs could be more direct since the censorship was abolished.

Nowadays Portugal has a vast number of singers and music artists who were influenced by foreign music genres that easily turn into mainstream hits. However, the Portuguese are also interested in different, less mainstream, types of music. That’s why many young Portuguese music artists are found creating fado music or incorporating old folk music into their own creations, with a rather big audience, of several ages, eager to listen to them and awaiting for new songs. 

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