Não Sou Fadista (I’m Not a Fadista)

41776_689385567_6774_nMeet Marla Amastor, the resident fadista at La Tasca Restaurant where Nina and I celebrated Valentine’s Day. I wrote about our outing with Tapas and Fado yesterday and promised to “review” the second part of our date that consisted of the performance. Go there first and read about the Tapas if you haven’t already.

The Youtube clip I embedded above (although not recorded Saturday night from La Tasca) is a recording of the first song that Marla sang, becoming the first live fado song that I had the privilege to hear.

The song is entitled “Recusa” or Refusal and is a lamentation of being known as a fado singer if it means to live a life of regret and sadness and darkness. Throughout the song, she refuses to be a fadista, only at the end to affirm that instead of being a fadista, she would just be fado itself. This sort of juxtaposition is what makes fado what it is.

It is a constant expression of grief and longing, that, from my perspective, is effectively woven into the very fabric of Portuguese culture for centuries. Melancholy. Dreariness, mixed with a healthy dose of passion.

A good friend of mine once sheepishly told me this story from his honeymoon. They had been in Brazil for a week or two when in a marketplace or some public setting, he heard a fado clip. No big deal, right? Wrong. Upon hearing a few random notes, immediately, he said he began to cry. Simply from the sense of longing for his native country.

He’s a dear brother in the Lord, committed to the cause of Christ and to His church, but, and this is not a slant at all….he’s Portuguese and fado is part of his culture.

There’s something else that is part of his culture. It’s a word in Portuguese that is consistently named as being one of the most difficult words to accurately translate in any language. Saudade. It is a yearning, missing, longing feeling that can’t ever be completely satisfied. When you haven’t seen someone in a while and you want to express how much you miss them, you say that you have “saudades.”

The funny part is that when you finally get together, the expression is that you kill those saudades.

One blog (think big) says this about saudades…

Saudade (Portuguese): The feeling of longing for someone that you love and is lost. Another linguist describes it as a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.”

It’s interesting that saudade accommodates in one word the haunting desire for a lost love, or for an imaginary, impossible, never-to-be-experienced love. Whether the object has been lost or will never exist, it feels the same to the seeker, and leaves her in the same place:  She has a desire with no future. Saudade doesn’t distinguish between a ghost, and a fantasy. Nor do our broken hearts, much of the time.

So, what does saudades have to do with fado? The way that I see it, fado is expressing all that desire and lamentation in song.

While I’ll never completely understand that feeling, I had a certain curiosity about it. I am not a fadista and never will be, but it was intriguing to hear Marla sing and see her express all of these purely Portuguese emotions.

We sat through two sets and weren’t able to enjoy it as much as we should have been. First, because of a nearby table with equal parts tipsy adults and rowdy toddlers. They left after the first set and as quickly as they did, in staggered 4 different sots that had been waiting for a table. At one point, our fadista ended a song by covering one ear with her hand, just so she could hear the instruments above the rude conversation happening across the restaurant. She asked for a little more quiet and respect, that she easily deserved. But, much to my dismay she was greeted with a shout of, “Just sing man!” It was the ultimate sign of disrespect.

She finished the set, walked past our table and actually apologized to a table filled with nicely dressed elderly people. Then, we left.

She was great. Some of he other customers? Not so much. I am not a fadista, but if I were, I probably wouldn’t go back to La Tasca to sing. Saudades or not.

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  • Ricardo Sant’Anna

    Very nice entry Michael. Enjoyed a lot reading about your experience with tapas and fado.

    At a certain point you say you’ii never completely understand that feeling. Don’t agree with you.Both you and Nina should understand better than many Portuguese what Saudades means. You feel it everyday, but perhaps you call it by a different name. You can call it homesickness, or that you miss a lot your family and friends, but it’s all the same. You do understand in your flesh what the Portuguese word Saudades really means…

    Sunday we’re going to Santiago, and there you can hear a different word, with exactly the same meaning; “Morriña” (said something like murrinha 😉

    It’s a word that is very familiar in poor countries or regions with people that have to leave their country looking for a better life or sailors that earn they living fishing in high seas with all the dangers associated. Spain is “rich”, but the Galicia region has always been poor.and has a lot of emigration. Is a heavy weight on the fishing game, but… they also know very well the meaning of Saudades.

    Don’t want to write a testament, but just to give you an example of the Portuguese Saudade, people in Portugal have a lot of Saudades of King Sebastião (Sebastian of Portugal). We still hope he will return one day, descends from his majestic wooden ship in the Cais das Colunas in Lisbon in a foggy morning and saves Portugal. It’s a dream, of course, but it reflects very well the feeling. We yearn for things that are not there anymore, or situations that really never existed (maybe just in our minds or dreams).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dom_Sebasti%C3%A3o

    Or look at Portuguese emigrants all over the world, full of Saudades from Portugal, but when they are here, they only complain about everything about Portugal, and how good life is in their new countries. Go figure.

    Keep the great writing.

    • http://cbcpm.net Michael

      Ricardo, thanks for the note and the encouragement. I do get saudades, to some degree. I just don’t think I’m qualified to understand it exactly like a Portuguese person, much the same way that I’m not sure that a Portuguese person who lives in the States for a few years completely understands our meaning of patriotism. There are those little nuances that are lost in translation. My friend cried at hearing Fado. I few years back I burst out in tears while singing the national anthem to my kids. But, you’re right about one thing…the irony behind having saudades, yet complaining every day about how bad things are here and wanting to leave. Go figure…well said.

  • http://www.thedomesticfringe.com The Domestic Fringe

    Very interesting. I heard this type of music when I was kid, but didn’t understand it or the culture behind it. Very interesting to have it all explained. Thank you for sharing your night out with us.
    ~FringeGirl
    The Domestic Fringe recently posted..Dressed in a Dress – A Good Week for WIWWMy Profile

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