Lisbon’s Adega Machado Fado Experience Review – Portuguese Soul Music

Note:  This article could also be titled—The #1 Reason We Found to Visit Portugal


The round Portuguese guitar on left is part of what gives Fado its distinctive sound, playing with a Spanish guitar and double bass guitar


“Even the singer’s’ breath has affect…”


That was the thought as we sat there stunned by the heart-grabbing timbre of Adega Machado’s Artistic Director and lead Fado singer Marco Rodrigues’ voice. 


This voice, singing a lament of “Fado” (fate), reminds of that time when you returned to a Mexican Café again and again disappointed to not find the same troubadour with the golden chords who had so exalted you before, or when you first heard Pavarotti’s voice and put the recording on continuous rewind because you knew you’d never tire of hearing it, or any singer who could make a melody so tug at your soul.  


Fado-- longing made into melody— doesn’t seem to be music that one can possibly export.   


Adega Machado's Artistic Director and regular performer, here standing, is Marco Rodrigues, who, though he had barely heard any Fado music until a year before, at the age of 16 won the 1st Prize in an important competition, "The Great Night of Fado 1999". Now, a much awarded and recorded Fado musician, he adds much star power to the Adega Machado stage, always wearing the suit and tie that are traditional Fado dress


Yes, you can hear Fado on YouTube, on recordings and even in some of the grandest concert halls in the US- but here, in Adega Machado, one of the historic landmarks of Fado history, the low ceilings, dim lights and musical talent combined into one of the most powerful soul stirs from music we’d ever experienced. 


Adega Machado is located in the Bairro Alto area of Lisbon. Photo courtesy of Fado & Food Group


It was as if every other time we heard Fado music it had been from a gramophone, and now we were immersed in quadraphonic surround sound.


Pedro Moutinho joined the regular cast of Adega Machado in 2012. He says, "Most Fado singers know me since I was on my mother's lap", speaking to his family's deep Fado history and traditions. Among many other credits, he received the Amalia Rodrigues Award for Best Album




Lisbon native Isabel Noronha first performed on stage at the age of 10. She is an actress and song writer in addition to being a Fado singer. Like the other performers, she seemed to choose each song she performed on the spot. One exception was in the quasi finale when she anchored one corner of the room while two other singers in other corners joined in-- truly a surround sound


Go to Adega Machado and you are joining a long list of the world’s notables who have graced its halls, likely similarly transported by the music, such as Kirk Douglas and Prince Andrew Duke of York.


Amalia Rodrigues, godmother to two of the founding Machado couple's children, considered Adega Machado a very special place and returned here at least twice a year to give special performances even after she became a global star


More, this was a favorite place for the Fado Diva of all times, Amalia Rodrigues, to perform., Rodrigues was close to the Machados who founded the establishment and also the godmother of two of their children. 


If possible, come to Adega Machado early enough to linger in their photo galleries. Here you see the famed Fado diva Amalia Rodrigues singing before the same painting by Jose Dias Sanchez that the performers sit before today


Speaking with Jorge David, the Marketing Director of Adega Machado and the Fado & Food Group of which it is a part, we got a short course on the history of Fado and explanation of why it is resurging today, after a lull some years ago. 



David says, “This is one of the historical houses of Fado, established in 1937.  Before then, the Fado houses weren’t considered proper for everyone.  They had been closely tied to houses of ill-repute.  Periodically there would be scandals when aristocratic bourgeois gentlemen would be seen out and about with a scandalous female Fado singer, such as in the famed history of an early Fado queen and gypsy, Maria Savera, who had fallen in love with an aristocratic fan.


Caldo vert (cabbage soup) is traditional fare for Fado music-- speaking to its origins among the poor


“The houses of Fado, like this one, were created so that everyone could come and hear Fado music and where it would be respectable to do so.  It was normal to have food there and something to drink.  Tidbits of plates and dishes like Caldo Vert (cabbage soup) were typical…”


“…Many of the Fado houses though weren’t very business minded and they closed.  Also, when other types of music became widely popular in the 20th Century, Fado lost many of its followers.  The revolution of 1974 had especially endangered Fado’s future because the country was rebelling against all things that were closely identified with the dictator Salazar.  He head tried to use this music for his own purposes and it became identified with him.  For about a decade after Salazar was removed, Fado was in disfavor.  But later, and especially in the 90’s, new generations who weren’t as involved with the Salazar history became attached to Fado again and wanted to develop the genre…


“…Now, music schools are starting to teach the music of Fado. 


The audience members came from Japan, Jamaica, Sweden, Poland, Florida, Zurich, Illinois-- and many locals as well


"In 2011 Fado received World Heritage Protection…There are now Fado competitions and some of the singers can be as young as six years old.  That is controversial though, as the purists say they can’t possibly sing Fado because they haven’t yet lived the feelings they are singing about…”


There is a big emphasis on food and wine at Adega Machado as well.  If you are hungry it is passable fare, but for us, this was more a distraction. 


Fado had brought us to the Adega Machado venue; live Fado will now be the first of reasons we return to Portugal.


It is truly not the same- -but here is a YouTube video provided by Adega Machado that give you a hint of what you will experience there.






Open daily from 7:30 PM to 2 AM, except on Xmas eve.


For more information visit the Adega Machado website. 


Photos:  Peter Kachergis, unless otherwise indicated




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