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Portugal Started 2021 in National Mourning

Roar writer Andrew Nunes gives a brief insight into the passing of Portuguese fado singer Carlos do Carmo at the very start of the new year.

January 1 2021 was the start of a new year and for many, the hopes for a better year to come than what was 2020. A year that was inhibited by a global pandemic and a crisis that is nowhere near over, but hope for the new year is not misplaced as multiple successful vaccines are currently being distributed in stages to defeat Covid-19. In Portugal, however, 2021 has already started badly with a major loss to Portuguese culture with the death of Portuguese fado singer Carlos do Carmo. He died in hospital in his hometown of Lisbon, aged 81 from an aortic aneurysm.

It was only in 2019, that Carlos announced an end to live performances. Having performed since the 1960s, he has released dozens of records and toured major cities around the world. He had also appeared on TV and in films about fado music and in 2014, he was the first Portuguese artist to win the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020, he almost completed another album entitled, E Ainda, which is currently in its editing stages and will likely be released later this year by his record label, Universal Music Portugal.

News of Carlos’ death has received countless condolences throughout the world as seen on social media platforms. In Portugal, both the Prime Minster and President of the Republic reacted to the news, as well as fado’s biggest stars. Fadistas Ana Moura and Carminho on Instagram captioned photos of themselves working alongside Carlos in tribute. Ana Moura stated, ‘I am forever grateful for everything that he has left me and has left for all of us’. Carminho noted Carlos’ influence, ‘Whatever I learned from Carlos do Carmo dictated many of my decision in fado and in life. What he leaves the country is of indescribable value!’

This ‘value’ is to Portuguese culture that Carlos gave his country through fado music. Fado, a genre that might be unknown to many people outside of Portugal, where it has its greatest success, is the emblematic sound of Portugal with a long history. Carlos added to this music history as a renovator of the fado genre. He added new elements and arrangements to the genre being a figure of ‘new fado’ that emerged post-1974 where he incorporated various Portuguese poets, as well as composers not only from the fado genre, but also jazz and pop. In addition, he helped promote and disseminate the significance of fado as Portuguese cultural heritage in various initiatives, including his successful role as an ambassador for fado’s recognition as UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, that was officially inscribed by the organisation in 2011.

Carlos was born in 1939, and began his fado singer career in 1964 during the Portuguese dictatorship (1933-1974). His first album featured his mother, the famous Portuguese fado singer, Lucília do Carmo (1919-1998). Their collaborative album was called Fado em Tom Maior (1964). Later, following the fall of the Portuguese dictatorship by the 1974 Carnation Revolution, fado music faced its most difficult time due to the former regime’s association with the genre. Although Portugal’s dictator from 1932-1968, António de Oliveira Salazar disliked fado music, it was too popular for the regime not to culturally cooperate with. Therefore, in Portugal’s transition to democracy, fado was pushed aside with other music taking precedent in an environment free of former State censorship that plagued musical expression. For Carlos, however, he managed to maintain a public presence as a fado artist despite these changes to the music landscape. He grew in popularity and went on to represent Portugal in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976 coming twelfth place with ‘Uma Flor de Verde Pinho’.

Lisbon, his city, was illuminated in his 1977 concept album Um Homem na Cidade, an album about the city featuring the poetry of Portuguese poet, Ary dos Santos (1936-1984). According to Richard Elliott (2010), the album was aimed at a post-revolutionary metropolis that showed a recognition for fado and its long customs that pre-dated the former dictatorship, therefore, the album helped alleviate the genre’s association to Portuguese nationalism of the mid-twentieth century; it was Lisbon’s fado modernising to reflect new urban realities.[1]

Carlos’ contribution to the music of fado were, therefore, many things that worked well. He was the most important male fadista of his generation that came after Alfredo Marceneiro (1891-1982), and before later male fado artists such as Camané and Ricardo Ribeiro who continue to make relevant fado music today and innovate the genre. Innovations even more drastic than Carlos’ work that these later men and female fadistas (like the aforementioned, Ana Moura and Carminho) are achieving. It was Carlos before them, however, that showed these artists it was possible to alter, even if just slightly, a very traditional genre of music without losing its key essence.

Decreed by the Portuguese Government, Portugal started the new year with a national day of mourning that was held on January 4, 2021 in respect of Carlos’ contribution to Portuguese culture. This day was also the date of his funeral in Lisbon at the Basilica da Estrela.


[1] Elliott, Richard, Fado and the Place of Longing: Loss, Memory and the City (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2010), p. 86.



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