Singing Fado in Contemporary Lisbon: Questions of Boundedness

Author: Olga Kakosimou (Department of Musical Studies, National University of Athens, Greece)
Speaker: Olga Kakosimou
Topic: Oral heritage
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2022 General Session


Understanding the oral tradition of fado, requires a profound engagement with the power of its narrativity and its lyrics (Castelo-Branco 1997, Abu-Lughod 1986). Fado is a poetical world of stories being told (sung) and shared in everyday life between those who understand and mainly possess the fado linguagem. It is a broad corpus of words and utterances, pre-existing melodies and repertoires, meanings and performances, which creates the aesthetic vocabulary of fado and a strong sense of traditionality and boundedness, often disregarded by the global music scene and industry (Gray 2018). This sense also derives from fado’s close interaction with the historical past of Portugal and the collective memory of the community, both performatively and lyrically.

However, now that the portuguese urban song of longing has turned its gaze to globality, especially since 2011 when recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, there are severe questions on how the traditional language of fado could be in dialogue with the contemporary musical trends, and at what price. How might the fadistas negotiate or not their musical and cultural identity in front of new, global audiences? In this paper, I will try to sculpt the boundedness of the fado universe. Therefore, fado lyrics will be my point of departure to unfold the storytellings and the set of sign types, mainly symbols and metaphors, that help understand the fadistas’ linguagem and their way of being-in-the-world (Turino 2008). Then, by using original ethnographic material, I will examine the dialogue between fado and the modern music industry.


Abu-Lughod, Lila. Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society. Oakland: University of California Press, 1986.

Castelo-Branco, Salwa El-Shawan. Voix du Portugal (tran. Pascale de Mezamat). Paris: Cité de la Musique/ Actes Sud, 1997.
Gray, Lila Ellen. “Listening Low-Cost: Ethnography, the City, and the Tourist Ear.” The Routledge Companion to the Study of Local Musicking. Eds. Suzel A. Reily and Katherine Brucher, Routledge, 2018.
Turino, Thomas. Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008

Keywords: Keywords: Fado, tradition, storytelling, poetry, performance, heritage.