A Tribute to Amalia Rodrigues - The Queen of Fado
A Tribute to Amalia Rodrigues - The Queen of Fado
This tribute is written by Dai Woosnam, email@example.com, 6/05
I had just had my "aerials removed"…..or leastwise the Millennium
equivalent. By that I mean that I‘d had the analogue satellite dish
well-and-truly DITCHED in favour of a digital one. The engineer tried
to tell me that the old one was now only good for use as an emergency
dustbin lid…..and the box of tricks that once sat upon my telly was no
longer eligible for The Magic Circle.
But, no I said. Just point the old dish somewhere else in the sky.
Surely another Satellite Bus will be along in a minute. So he did. And
lo, a Satellite didst appear at 13 degrees East. And I sayeth to him
that did not believeth: this is better than any Sky Sport! And the
engineer felt aggrieved that he hadst inadvertently misled me, and thus
left a Wiser Man.
For now, I had Free of Charge, the three main Italian TV stations, the
main Spanish ones, two of the chief French channels, Portuguese,
Turkish also, and esoteric ones like Dubai TV. All of these use the
Eutelsat satellite.So why do I tell you all this? Perhaps to save you a
bob or two. Not a bad reason. And after all, I currently have a column
in The Living Tradition magazine called "Daigressing"….. which means it
can have nowt to do with Traditional Music, if it feels like it. (Come
to think of it, a lot of "Traditional Music" has nowt to do with
"Traditional Music" either. No, strike that: I am just being
provocative.) But no, trust me, there's a reason for me telling you all
this. A reason at the very Heart of the Folk Tradition. So let me now
set the scene.
I had just surfed these new channels for the first time and had
lingered for a while transfixed by the beauty of RTP (Radio Television
Portugal). The SOUNDS I mean. All those "ZZZHHH" sounds that make
Portuguese for me the most mellifluous of all languages. And then the
programme went off-air abruptly for a newsflash.
I have little Portuguese beyond "obrigado", but I did not reach for the
zapper. I figured if President Clinton had resigned then I'd get the
message, even if it was in Double Dutch! Alas the news was much more
serious than any political scenario: it was positively earth-shattering
for the Portuguese nation. The woman synonymous with that uniquely
Portuguese expression of wistful longing - the fado - the great
Amàlia Rodrigues had died, relatively unexpectedly. I determined
to watch RTP attentively for the next few days.
For a couple of days I also looked out for a mention of her demise on
both the BBC1 and BBC2 News. I should have guessed: the usual diet of
domestic trivia. They could not bring themselves to report the death of
probably the most famous Traditional Singer in the world.And it perhaps
goes without saying that they did not even show 30 seconds of her
funeral. And WHAT a funeral! Churchill, Martin Luther King, Diana all
rolled into one. I video recorded all six hours of it. And it contained
the most heart-rending emotional scene I can ever recall in a funeral
service - and gosh, can't we all come up with a strong field of
candidates! - and this scene made me take stock of a set of opinions I
had long held regarding the Folk Tradition, and made me realise that
all along I had been barking up the wrong tree.
I had NEVER been a fan of World Music. (No, don't think of me as a
"Little Englander": for one thing I was born and raised in WALES, and
was iving there until as recently as the last month of the last
Millennium. It was only then I moved to Grimsby - yes, I know that is
in England, but it IS nearer to the Continent - for the flat roads to
help run off the sensational haddock and chips they serve in these
parts.) Correction. For "world MUSIC", please read "foreign language
SONGS". Why do I have this aversion? Is it that I think English a
superior language? No. Not at all. It is just that it is the only one I
have. And when someone writes a song, they want the words to MEAN
something. (Were that not the case, this would be the Age of the
Apotheosis of the Scat Singer. No need to learn the lyrics: just give
it the "do-be-do-be-do" welly.)
And knowing that the words are designed to speak to the listener, it
frustrates the hell out of me that I canna ken what they are saying. So
I close my ears to it…..even if I can admit that the singer has a
wonderful voice and has a virtuoso command of his/her musical
instrument. But it was the funeral of Amàlia Rodrigues that did
it for me. Made me suddenly realise I had been on the wrong road. In
death "The Queen of the Fado" re-directed me toward Damascus.
She was such a major figure in her country that many people stopped
work for the funeral. I won't bother you with the minutiae of it: you
can imagine the cortege, the crowds and their grief. Let's cut to that
unforgettable moment. The coffin, covered in her nation's flag, is at
the altar. A large picture of a beautiful Amàlia in her prime
stands beside it. The packed congregation which contains all the
Portuguese Establishment and Government has overflowed several times
and the service is being relayed to the multitude outside. The priest
has just finished his words and the service is over.
At this stage us Brits would expect the Guardsmen to shoulder the
coffin and slowly, ceremoniously take it outside to the waiting hearse.
But no, not this time. Not before the magic. Suddenly there came, out
of the ancient stone walls, Rodrigues's extraordinary and passionate
voice. Singing a particularly poignant song of her love for her native
country. In the unlikely event that there'd been one before, there
assuredly wasn't a dry eye now.
And when she finished with a flourish, guess what? Ecstatic applause
and shouts of "encore!". She could have been back in New York's
Carnegie Hall. A sure sign that while Mankind has ears to hear and
hearts to feel, Amàlia Rodrigues will never be dead. And the
applause continued all the way as her body was borne along the nave,
out of the main doors and down the steps to the hearse. Truly her
And I suddenly thought of all those friends of mine who had begged me
not to dismiss a singer and song because I did not understand the
language. Surely, they'd say, you can FEEL the message that the song
contains. But I would shake my head.
But now, this sublime moment had shown to me that they could indeed be
right. Almost as right as Amàlia was when, after the Carnation
Revolution of 1974, she found herself personally vilified for her
alleged links with the Salazar dictatorship. Because fado had been
promoted by the Regime, it now fell into disfavour. She strenuously
denied any political affiliations. She memorably remarked: "When you
offer a gala dinner, you bring out the best table linen. I WAS THE BEST
She sure was.
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