Catch Alfredo’s fine Fado music

  • Music master: Alfredo Gago da Câmara will perform tomorrow night at the Vasco da Gama Club, commemorating the 170th anniversary of the first Portuguese immigrants in Bermuda

(Photograph supplied)

Fado is Portugal’s traditional folk music, Alfredo Gago da Câmara is one of its finest players. A musician, poet, teacher, author and composer, he’s travelled the world entertaining.

Tomorrow night, courtesy of the Portuguese Cultural Association, he’ll perform in Bermuda with Mário Fernandes and Ricardo Melo, fellow musicians from the Azores.

Q: What is fado music?

A: The best translation that I can come up with for the word fado is destiny. Fado describes our very lives through poetry which, instead of being recited, is sung and interpreted with soul and feeling. It is accompanied by the sounds of a Portuguese guitar, and the rest by a classical guitar.

Q: Is it popular throughout Portugal?

A: Fado originates from Lisbon in the mid-19th century. Fado at first was a simple style or song originating with the people and the poor, and was initially performed on the piano.

At that time, it was a form of music accompanied by dancing and sensual melodies, including movement of the hips. In the early 20th century, fado came to be accompanied by Portuguese and classical guitars.

In the city of Coimbra, there emerged a new style of fado which was very different — a fado of love, in the style of a serenade. A few years ago, it was declared by Unesco to be a part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Fado for Portugal is like how tango is for Argentina, how country music is for the USA, how morna is for Cape Verde and how samba is for Brazil.

Q: At what age did you know you wanted to become a career musician?

A: I was still a kid. It was not easy to be a professional musician in the Azores because the market did not allow it — I actually think that there were none. I was a banker, a teacher and I did a lot of things in life; I even drove a taxi at night in order to earn some change.

But I was always learning from those who knew more, and I became qualified as a professional Portuguese guitar performer in Lisbon. I was fortunate to become acquainted with and perform with most of the great Portuguese fadistas of my generation.

Q: How were you introduced to fado music?

A: At the age of 16 I went to Lisbon and I became part of a professional group with Carlos Paião as singer, but my passion was fado. In the meantime, fado had lost some of its lustre after the April 1974 revolution.

I was feeling nostalgic and a bit homesick and so I returned to my homeland where I joined a fado group which, among a number of amateurs, included the late Herminio Arruda.

I performed with him until his death. This was when I opened a casa da fados (house of fado) in São Miguel called A Taverna when I was 32. I met, became familiar with, and performed guitar for many professionals including some of international renown.

Q: At what age did you learn to play the guitar?

A: I grew up watching my uncles playing various instruments. I already started to play in primary school and I would secretly take my older brother’s guitar to train myself. Then I took a broken-up guitar which my cousins had in their attic and put in fishing line which I tuned for practice.

Q: I understand you also play the viola de terra. Hard to learn?

A: Any instrument is difficult when you want to play well. I learnt the viola da terra after learning how to play the fado viola and I even taught this instrument at the Ponta Delgada Regional Conservatory.

I still play a little viola da terra, but I didn’t really dedicate myself much more to it.

One of the musicians that will accompany me on bass and guitar in Bermuda, Ricardo Melo, was a student of mine of the viola da terra and today he plays the instrument much better than me! Q: Do you play any other instruments?

A: I also play the accordion, cavaquinho (a small four-string guitar from Portugal, similar to the ukulele), organ and piano. I’ve never had much to do with wind instruments, except for the flute and harmonica which I have played since I was two or three.

Q: Will this be your first time in Bermuda?

A: Yes. I have performed in other countries with significant Portuguese communities such as the United States, Canada, Brazil and even Venezuela and I am very grateful to Richard Ambrosio [the PCA chairman] and the rest of the Portuguese Cultural Association for having invited me.

Q: Did you know about the historical link between the Azores and Bermuda?

A: Yes, I did. I know there is a large flow of Azorean emigration that began around 1850 to the present day. I know that most of this emigration comes from the Azores and mainly from São Miguel Island, with a large percentage of people from Água de Pau and Vila Franca do Campo.

Q: Are you known for any songs in particular?

A: I have composed, I think, about 200 songs of different styles. In terms of “marchas” [upbeat, festive music that tends to accompany a parade or a procession] alone, it has been more than 80.

I also created a lot of fados and songs. Choosing a composition is complicated because it is almost like choosing a favourite child.

However, I have some “marchas” that became better known and were sung in parades and processions elsewhere in the country. Of the fado songs I have written, perhaps the best known is Onde Moras Senhor Fado or the História da Saudade. These two will be part of my set, and I intend to perform them in Bermuda.

See Alfredo Gago da Câmara in concert at Vasco da Gama Club tomorrow night, following dinner at 7.30pm. Tickets, $90 for adults and $50 for children, are available at the club. Funds will go towards the Portuguese School of Bermuda and the Vasco Youth Programme. For more information: or 292-7196