How Sonia Shirsat revives the Fado song

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There was a time when I could see the Fado audience in Goa was disappearing. Over the years, familiar faces passed and those who were young had already turned gray. It was time to increase the Fado audience in Goa and the only way to achieve that was to bring Fado to a new audience and make them fall in love with this music.

Cada um é p’ro que nasce, E eu nasci para o Fado

—Fernando Farinha

(Everyone was born for what he was born for, And I was born for Fado)

My journey with Fado started quite surprisingly. Singing was a passion that had recently turned into a partial profession. A hobby that had now had a makeover. However, fado was always out of my repertoire. I had sung everything from Bollywood Hindi classics to local folk music. After singing a ballad, O Shepherd, for a Portuguese singing competition, I was chosen to sing a fado during a small concert. The Portuguese guitarist, Antonio Chainho, had just finished a guitar workshop in Goa, and the director of Fundacao Oriente, Sergio Mascarenhas, asked me to sing a fado during this concert. This is where Antonio Chainho told me that the voice I was gifted with was suitable for Fado.

O Fado tem não sei o quê, que prise a alma da gente.

—Fernando Farinha

(Fado has something that traps people’s souls)


Singing Fado always creates anxiety in me. A feeling of being transported to another place and another time, with an array of unfamiliar emotions and an inexplicable heaviness in the chest. The pain in the poem becomes a part of me and I become one with it. It’s hard to put into words. But that’s what Fado does. This pain, through the song, engulfs the audience and then there is a moment when the singer and the listener have the same feeling, the same breath and the same heartbeat.

Great great time in Cidade, e niguem conhecia me.
—Pedro Homem de Melo

(Big and tall was the city, and no one knew me)

No one knew me in the city of Lisbon as I walked the streets and visited various “Casas de Fado”, Fado houses. From each door, from each window I passed, came a different voice, charged with melancholy and passion. I look back and wonder how I managed to sing in a language I didn’t speak, a musical genre from a country I’ve never lived in and yet I feel the emotion of Fado. The learning process has shifted from understanding gender to learning about its history and culture and especially the language itself. Each visit to Portugal was like a little crash course in my Fado education.

Minha mãe, eu canto a noite, Porque o dia me castiga.

—Vasco de Lima Couto

(My mother, I sing at night, Because the day punishes me)

Living across the world from Portugal and yet connecting so deeply with the musical form is something that always intrigues me, but probably comes from my mother and grandmother. These two ladies loved this music. My grandmother made these beautiful books, very artistically decorated and filled with Fados lyrics she heard on the radio, not knowing that a future granddaughter she wouldn’t live to see, would sing and teach more later the kind in this part of the world.

Fiz do destiny dum Fado, O Fado do meu destiny.

—Fernando Farinha.

(I made the spell of a Fado, the spell of my destiny)

Two to dance the tango: Sonia Shirsat poses in front of a fresco
two for tango Sonia Shirsat poses in front of a fresco

Traveling to attend fado shows has always been a wonderful thing. Whether it’s inside the country with my musicians or abroad to collaborate with musicians from there. With fado performances from Canada to Singapore, it was a wonderful trip. Being able to introduce this art form to novice audiences as well as experts is challenging and very satisfying, and well worth the effort.

Como se nasce poeta, tambem se nasce fadista.

—Rodrigo de Melo

(Just as a poet is born a poet, a Fadista is also born [Fado singer] )

From an early age, there was this image in my mind, of me singing in a concert hall with audiences seated on tiered balconies, highly ornate and decorated halls, historic spaces, huge audiences, etc. . My first Fado concert, Lisbon 2008, was sold out two days in advance. I played at the prestigious Teatro Tivoli, with its beautiful interiors and balconies. I had the chance to sing in front of an audience of around 3,000 people in Praça do Commercio. All this without formal training in music or Portuguese. Spell! Blessed!!

Cantarei ate that a voz me doa. Pra cantar, semper cantar or meu Fado.

—Silva Tavares

(I will sing until my voice hurts, forever singing my Fado)

Sepia memories Photographs taken from Sonia Shirsat's album
sepia memories Photographs from Sonia Shirsat’s album

Through my work, I hope to bring Fado to a wider and newer audience in India as well as abroad. The fact that it has existed in India for so long makes it all the more important that this beautiful music has a secure place in the future in this part of the world.

Being able to present this art form to a novice audience as well as to experts is a challenge and a great satisfaction.

Fado in the City was a project in 2016, through which we introduced this music to new audiences who invariably fell in love with Fado. All that remained was to get this new public interested in learning Fado and getting informed. Fado de Goa is an ongoing effort in this regard, where we train people to sing Fado, as well as impart knowledge about this kind of music with the sole aim of preserving and promoting this art form. Regular fado performances at venues like Alfama at the Cidade in Goa and Madragoa at the Center for Indo-Portuguese Art (CIPA), lecture demonstrations at various educational institutions, and SPICMACAY programs, are another popularization effort. fado.

The effort is to ensure that the next generation takes over and ensures that Fado has a secure future in Goa as well as India in times to come.

(This appeared in the print edition as “Music Without Borders”)

(The opinions expressed are personal)

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