Thursday, November 3, 2022

Emotional flamenco, fado speak to the soul in Spain and Portugal

Flamenco -- that showy, colorful dance of southern Spain --  is performed with rhythmic clapping
and instruments. Swirling scarves and lacy skirts and ruffles are part of this Barcelona performance. 


Fado in Porto is a revered tradition,
here at the Ideal Club de Fado, which is a
formal setting, more concert hall. than bar. 

MUSIC AND DANCE have long helped us understand and interpret culture. These art forms skirt across language barriers and head straight for the heart.

From the chants of the Buddhist monks to the native American's war dance, to the cantor's song to lead the congregation, music is a metaphor for what we stand for and believe in.
The roots of flamenco are mysterious -- not unlike the dance itself. But the beginning of the wildly rhythmic accompanied dance seems to be in the Roma migration from Rajasthan of northwest India to Spain. That was sometime between the 9th and 14th centuries.
 These migrants brought musical instruments --tambourines, bells, and wooden castanets -- to complement an extensive repertoire of songs and dances adapted through centuries to today's flamenco.

IN PORTUGAL, fado's history is a bit more recent, around 1820. It can be presented in a formal program or organized restaurant act.  It can also unfold in impromptu fashion, a gathering among friends at a tavern -- usually after a number of adult beverages. We've heard fado sung in restaurants and cafes, gardens, bullfights, streets and alleys. Officially, though, it features a singer

Flamenco is presented here, "Tablao Flamenco Cordobes,"
with spirited dancers, musicians and singers, who
also provide rhythmic clapping and chanting. 
-- male or female -- and two guitarists. One plays the rhythm and bass guitar and one plays the lyrical Portuguese guitar, also called fado guitar. It's a large, resonating instrument with 6 pairs of strings and a pear-shaped harmonic box. 
It was fun to see and hear so many very different fado shows -- a wild range -- from a formal setting in a guitar museum in Porto to a small, smoky club in Lisbon with only a few tables. We also heard fado at an outdoor restaurant where the singers moved from table to table.
WE TOOK in a total of five fado shows and concerts --  one nearly every other night -- during our two-week stay in Portugal. The venues ranged from that intimate cafe with lots of drinking, merriment and only a few tables, to the more dignified guitar museum venue in Porto with a glass of port daintily served  at intermission and the audience quietly respectful. In Malaga, we've experienced two wonderful flamenco shows at Tablao Flamenco Alegria Malaga. Flamenco Malaga is also inviting, a smaller venue in a restored mansion. Both offer changing repertoire and are worthy representations of this time honored artform. 
Flamenco in Malaga:
authentic, enchanting.

"Keller and Cookie" at fado
in A Baiuca, in Lisbon's
famous old Alfama.
In Lisbon we tried a fado show in A Baiuca, a lively tonic to jet lag. The house is small with only a few tables, and the lead singer is in her 80s.  It was a treat to watch her mingle with the crowd before the show, and during the breaks, as the musicians showed their instrumental stuff and gave her a break.  

THE PORTUGUESE love their fado, as Spaniards adore flamenco. Presenting fado shows in their purest form is a specialty of the beautiful Casa da Guitarra.  The museum displays dozens of beautifully restored guitars which focuses on the plucked string instrument so connected to fado but offers much more than guitars.

This fado singer is past 80 and
still entertaining at A Baiuca.

This unique museum developed an acoustically perfect place to hear the art form in its pure, traditional sense. 

Deep in Lisbon's Al Fama, its oldest area, a fado club
is indoors with a larger venue in the outdoor plaza.

Before the concert, we admired various traditional guitars like the viola braguesa or the viola campaniça -- learning that viola means guitar in Portuguese. The acoustic and classical guitars, mandolins and acoustic bass guitars are all exquisite instruments built in Portugal. 

A Severa fado show has been around since 1955,
and is one of the best known in Lisbon.
THEN IT was show time as a singer delivered a dozen heartfelt songs -- eyes closed, shawl tightly held.
Flamenco in Barcelona is the Spanish expression of emotion
 and soul. Here, a rousing show at popular Flamenco Cordobes.

The two art forms -- fado and flamenco -- are time honored and youngsters are taught reverence for them at an early age.

Many young flamenco dancers begin as students of their moms, aunties, even  grandmothers.

Fado in Portugal reflects the culture's belief in destiny and a deep sense of fate. In Spain, flamenco speaks to the human condition, too. But in flamenco, singing is secondary to the dance with its astonishing tapping and clicking. The singing -- as in fado -- has a sometimes tormented sound -- poignant but sad.  Said our singer friend, "Flamenco can be a song of love -- for a partner or mother, -- it can also express pain and heartbreak."

FARM WORKERS tired of toiling, rejected lovers, lonely travelers missing their homeland -- all have flamenco and fado interpretations. 
 Flamenco Cordobes is perhaps Barcelona's most famous flamenco venue and we've made several pilgrimages over the years of visiting this famous city.
It is located deep down and slightly off  "La Rambla," or Las Ramblas, that famous tree-lined pedestrian street winding nearly a mile through town. We like Cordobes because it offers delightful authentic food, then spirited flamenco and world class dancers and singers. Says our friend, "There's a magic to flamenco because it comes from deep emotion."
In flamenco, the phrase is "el duende," meaning mystery, excitement, magic.
IN FLAMENCO, each story comes to life in song, guitar and dance. As with fado, all this is usually accompanied by copious wine and sometimes tears, but always applause, shouts and whistles. 
When visiting all three cities this piece highlights -- Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona -- we recommend the invaluable city cards, which save time and money on venues and transportation and give entertainment options.
 More information or to book fado in Porto and Lisbon, and flamenco in Malaga or Barcelona: 

A top-notch cast with sharp direction: "Into the Breeches"
 is a hit at the lively North Coast Repertory Theatre.
BEST BET: Southern California theater lovers are laughing themselves silly at "Into the Breeches!" at North Coast Repertory Theatre. A crack cast, lively pace and touching story coalesce in this romp set in WWII New England. With the men at war, woman take over a struggling theater to keep it afloat while the fellas are "over there." Gender-bending wisdom and humor --  smoothly directed -- make this play both timely and timeless. The varied Rep season showcases classics, new work, comedy and musicals -- "Pippin" to "The Cherry Orchard." For tickets, call 858 481-1055. Or: The run is through Nov. 13.


Amsterdam's canals are legendary, and form the heart of
this picturesque Dutch city. We spent four days on these
aters, here the "Seven Sisters" on the Amstel River.
UP NEXT: Amsterdam beckons. We move north in Europe, setting off on the canals which we recently explored for four sunny early autumn days. The famous canals of Amsterdam are a lifeline for commerce, tourism and socializing. We look at them and their amazing construction, and catch native Dutch folks and tourists out on a sunny fall day. Come along, enjoy the water.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more:
AND PLEASE, share the links.


  1. We are both musicians and love fado. It does indeed speak to the soul. And flamenco: nothing like that footwork. Nice capturing of two important cultural traditions.

  2. New Jersey TravelersNovember 6, 2022 at 1:19 PM

    Big flamenco fans. Must add fado clubs!

  3. We love your entertainment and theater pieces. Keep them coming. Lucky you to see the world and all its performance wonders.