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What Does Metal Say About Religion and State? August 3, 2012

Posted by akessler47 in Travel Log.
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What does metal say about religious attitude in Iberia and America? Not the material, the music; the aggressive, fast paced, rhythm crunching sounds of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and more recent bands like Machine Head. Bands rarely heard on radio in the States or even raised in public discourse save for Fox News specials on troubled youth and moral decay. It was then to my great surprise that while wandering around a mall in the Chaido district of Lisbon I found a music section dedicated entirely to the genre. In all my years in the US I have yet to find more than the occasional Metallica or Judas Priest at smaller stores, and yet here was Portugal’s equivalent of Best Buy, a monolithic electronic and entertainment emporium, with stacks of obscure Norwegian Progressive Metal and American Thrash Metal bands. What was all this heretical music doing in a widely Catholic country?

                I have to set the story first, the argument for metal music’s treatment in America is largely one of censorship

Metal Section at a Mall

Metal Section at a Mall

. In the 1980’s a political lobbyist group called the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) led an outcry of conservative reaction to the rising popularity of metal bands.  Rising rates of teen violence and suicide were attributed, however loosely in a logical manner, to profanity and aggressive lyrics in the music. Their campaign successfully resulted in the introduction of the Parent Advisory warning stickers you see on albums in stores today. And now these metal bands are difficult to find commercially because stores such as Walmart have taken a vow to not sell any album with a Parental Advisory warning or “does not seem appropriate” (a quote taken from their site: http://www.walmart.com/cp/Music-Content-Policy/547092). In some cases Walmart requires editing of lyrics and the entire removal of profanity in order for an artist to have access to the largest CD market in the nation (80% of CD sales nation-wide come from Walmart). Though recent rap and R&B artists have had the same troubles, metal is singled out and excluded almost entirely because it is vulgar by nature and in that way the genre is more or less ignored by large chain stores. 

                Metal is not unique in its confrontation with American culture and legislature. In 1955 Congress made a serious attempt to pass a bill to ban Rock and Roll in the country. We also have a motion picture rating system so adverse to sexual imagery and suggestiveness that I needed to show an ID to see “Titanic”. Obviously there a pervasive cultural antagonism to sexuality and vulgarity in America, despite the very odd fact that uncensored violence is commonplace on TV’s “24” or Hollywood’s recent “Act of Valor”. Meanwhile, sitting in my apartment in Valencia, during soccer halftime a naked woman covering her breasts with her extended applies skin lotion to her shoulder in an advertisement

An Obscure Norwegian Progressive Death Metal Band

An Obscure Norwegian Progressive Death Metal Band

. And right across the street, I kid you not I took this photo from my balcony, is an vinyl record store when this old man is selling off original copies of Megadeth and Anthrax. Where does the disparity in these two cultures come from?

                Some could say (as I did in an earlier blog) the Franco and Salazar social oppression left the idea of censorship with a very poor image in people’s minds, and with the recent decades of freedom the explosion of cultural liberalism is an exorcism of half a century of repression. Sure, that may explain some recent issues, but ignores that fact that in the 1920’s while cinema was censored under the Hays Code in the US sexuality was being freely and frequently portrayed in European theaters. There are deeper underlying cultural institutions differentiating America from its neighbor across the Atlantic. 

                I would say the biggest reason is the ethnic composition of the state. America is a nation of settlers, constantly dubbed the great “melting-pot” of the world, and as such has extremely varied cultures with a variety of religious views. Though the New England colonies could unite under the banner of economic independence later states in the south and the west could not be found to align on similar interests. The young United States was widely divided on ethnic and economic backgrounds, the only common thread being Christianity. In the creation of nation-states in Europe no such internal fragmentation was present, Louis XIV’s France was Catholic, England and Holland were Protestant, and Spain and Portugal were Roman Catholic. A majority of monarchic wars revolved around religious pretenses for homogeny and continental influence. 

The Record Across the Street

The Record Across the Street

American were so diverse I argue they had almost nothing in common to unite the country except religion in general. Consequentially, while Europeans were separating churches from states and monarchs from parliaments, the US was embracing religious doctrine as a function of state policy, hence events such as White-man’s Burden against native Americans and Manifest Destiny. Unlike European colonizers, the Americans have continued to preserve the religious notion of “God’s country” and “one nation under God” to this day because it has become an extremely important part of our identity. It was essentially a survival mechanism turned cultural.

                Spain and Portugal had their fill of religious nationalism and the United States is still slowly opening up socially. It’s no wonder then why smart men and women can be so fervently opposed to metal music or sexuality, it’s a relic passed down from a more turbulent time, a tie to many generations of religiously motivated individuals and government. I don’t view it as Europe is more liberal than the United States but rather we are more conservative than Europe. To the Spanish and Portuguese profanity or general nudity is not an abnormality but an accepted fact of life, whereas conservative culture in the States views it as an affront the religious values of the country. The US is still behind Europe with regards to liberal reforms like gay marriage, censorship, and social openness, but I do not doubt that one day it will have caught up. Liberalism has been the all expansive ideology of the Western World since the Enlightenment, and I perceive it to continue to be the general vector of the West for the near future. 

So there, that is how Metal Music and a State’s Religion are related.

Guns and Japan August 3, 2012

Posted by akessler47 in Travel Log.
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Something weird I noticed in every city I went to in Spain: there are novelty weapon shops. I mean entire shops dedicated to replica handguns, rifles, swords, and daggers. Not even a child’s plastic model or a bb-gun, I mean historically accurate M1A1 Thompsons and FAL assault rifles. They have moving fire selectors, real steel and wood, working iron sights, and a realistic weight; all that is missing are a bolt and bolt carrier, the only two components stopping it from becoming a functioning firearm. I own several firearms and have visited the range for years, but I cannot even tell if these guns are replicas or real firearms with the bolts stripped out of them. Why do these stores exist in the multitude?

                There is a company called Denix that produces fake firearms for not only the country but for a large percentage of Europe. Toledo also has a market in selling historical imitations of famous firearms, some of which even end up in museums

Armeria, next to Pelayo

Armeria, next to Pelayo

. Today while I was eating lunch in a small hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant as ten year-old ran around with a plastic handgun, it has no orange tip like in the States nor did anyone in the restaurant really seem to pay attention. The culture of guns in Spain seems to be more lax than in America, but gun laws are far stricter here. What is the Spanish fascination with weapons?

                I believe in the answer can be found with a similar case in Japan. Thousands of these replica shops have appeared in Japan the past few decades, becoming a legal concern for the country. Politicians wrote several bills to block the barrels with caps, paint orange tips, and insert metal rods into designs to make sure they could not be modified into actual firearms. However the government was in constant battle (no pun intended) with the model gun industries because of such high demand and interest in true replica weapons. Not coincidentally this shops starting appearing soon after WWII, after strict Allied regulations severely limited the country’s capacity for manufacturing and owning firearms. It is believed as a result that curiosity in the make and modeling of historical weapons increased.

                Under the rule of Franco Spain also experienced harsh gun laws, requiring most gun owners to actually submit to medical and psychological testing before earning a permit to own a weapon

Mock Assault Rifles on the Walls

Mock Assault Rifles on the Walls

. In addition no one may own more than 5 hunting rifles or one handgun, and owners must submit to frequent inspection. Today a very small population of Spain owns guns, but the society as a whole is, I believe, expressing a repressed interest in firearms as a whole. Spain and Japan are two states which were built in the furnace of war and baptized in the bloody struggles of Medieval Europe and Feudal Asia. Though the Spanish Civil war still burns brightly in the minds of many, the Spanish are a passionate and aggressive people by nature. These are the people who invented guerilla warfare and took up arms in households to terrorize French occupation. Like how Franco’s repression of culture led to a surge in Catalan nationalism I believe the same mechanism is at work with the replica weapons industry.

                I must stress that this blog is not about gun control; rather the point is the unique fascination the Spanish and Japanese gained given the conditions of their history. The United States by comparison has very open gun laws and culture (especially in the South), yet I know if I walked around with a replica firearm in public I would most certainly have the police called on me.  As a kid growing up in Atlanta I would play paintball in my own backyard with replica weapons and my neighbors would still either call my parents or in some extreme cases the police. And this kid in the Chinese restaurant is running up and down the aisle with pistol in hand; nobody even gives it a second glance, although I was shocked. It was a weird culture-shock for someone from the US. I suppose this country has been through a lot more than ours has, and as such they have a more mature perception of weapons in general.
 

Nationalism and Architecture August 3, 2012

Posted by akessler47 in Travel Log.
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The history of Catalunya should be a class studied all on its own, but what is most fascinating to me is walking around downtown Barcelona and experiencing the almost overwhelming Catalan nationalism radiating from giant stone monuments and soccer flags. America has not experienced this degree of nationalism since the Cold War, and even then we did not carry the cause as far as Catalonia. Their identity is imbedded in every aspect of their life, it’s impossible to walk to the grocery store without see it, towering above you. I’d like to take time to talk about all the sights I saw in Barcelona and how they projected such a strong image of identity.

                First of all, I noticed that attempting to speak the amount of broken Spanish I know is futile in Barcelona. Since everyone speaks Catalan as their first language it is not even worth trying to communicate to them in a different dialect, English is the first language I try to communicate in

Jeronimos Monastery in Portugal

Jeronimos Monastery in Portugal

. It is amazing to me that a language so similar in structure but so different in spelling and pronunciation has survived so long in a unified country. Southerners in the United States certainly are proud of their culture and dialect, but by no means does Alabama require their state to teach Southern Drawl in school, or request the federal government to recognize it as an official language. 

                It’s clear that the Catalans are not only protective of their culture but outright and forceful with it. Aside from making the effort to preserve a dialect in a highly modern and connected state (which arguably causes a number of bureaucratic and economic difficulties), every cathedral, historic site, state, museum, and stadium is a testament of Catalan strength and independence. Barcelona’s dedication to synecdochic construction and tourism the past several decades has been to illustrate the city as the center point of culture, art, and wealth in Spain. The way they did this was not by creating plaques, murals, or reflecting pools, but rather supplanting historical monuments into a modern city. Paris has the Louve, the Notre Dame de Paris, and the Versailles Palace nearby, enormous constructions reminiscent of past kings and empires at the height of power, all constructed more than a hundred years ago. In Barcelona’s case city icons such as the Casa Batllo, Montjuic’s Olympic Park, Palau Nacional, Sagrada Familia, and especially Camp Nou are very recent constructions (less than 80 years ago) but are monolithic in size and mimic classical Europe’s grandeur

Barcelona Camp Nou

Barcelona Camp Nou

.

                Barcelona has constructed an identity through these colossal sites, one of seemingly overwhelming power and might, as if once a mighty empire set its throne on the hills and commanded provinces afar. When in reality Madrid was the seat of royal power in Spain and Barcelona was an industrial port until very recently. I find the city to be mimicking this classical European architecture (albeit mixed with newer ideas from Gaudi) in an effort to enhance Catalan nationalism and paint a picture of grandeur in the same image as Rome, London, Vienna, etc. In this way I see most recent developments in the city to be loud and unsubdued; the buildings are simply enormous and stretch to the sky, bedazzled with intricate carvings and statues. The Palau Nacional, for instance, has so many domes, steps, fountains, gardens, wings, and lights that it vibrantly outshines Buckingham Palace in London, where the royalty and head of government reside. Palau Nacional is just an art and history museum!

                On the other side of town, near the coast, glass skyscrapers stand diligently over the ports. I see this as the more functional side of Barcelona city improvement, creating the image of a 21st century city with all the modern amenities

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

. Clearly they were built close to the water so that by see people would see towering monoliths on Barca’s coast. Whether or not all these buildings are necessary or they are rented to their full potential, it projects the image of progress. The primary point between both modern and “classical” works in the city is that they are built as if they will never fall. Walls and pillars are made of solid rock or metal; arches line unbelievably tall ceilings and statues are etched into the exteriors like Roman deities. Even Camp Nou is one of the most impressive and unshakable buildings I have ever seen, with so many seats and levels it looks like another world wonder. The result being Barcelona looks constant, eternal, and stable, as if it had been around forever and will march forward in time relentlessly.

                Where Catalonia synthesized a European national identity, Lisbon, on the other side of the peninsula, retained architectural remnants of Portugal’s once great naval empire. Catalonia turns away from Spain’s past as a colonizer and instead embraces a classical western image. Portugal has kept many significant constructions from the 15th century and even earlier: the Jeronimos Monastery, the Palau Pena, and the Tower of Belem. Lisbon’s major cultural sights are not art museums or stadiums, but rather Royal Palaces and medieval watch towers, showing that the core of Lisbon identity stems from their history as a powerful port city and the seat of the monarchy. The Manueline and Neo-manueline architectural style also reemphasizes their deep relationship to the sea and colonies, as depicted by nautical themed stonework and armillary spheres. In addition, during the reign of Salazar the city saw the construction of an important work of fascist symbology, the Monument to the Discoveries. It is a massive, solid stone caravan sail reaching out into the river from the edge of the bank. The edges are lined with famed Portuguese explorers, monarch, scientists, and missionaries led by Henry the Navigator at the top, gazing out to the sea. This monument is extremely indicative of Portugal’s identity, it reflects the history of a people who to this day belief the spirit of a long lost King will return in the fog one day to restore order and former glory to the country.

                Both Barcelona and Lisbon have incredibly large and iconic buildings meant to generate a certain image to the world. While Barcelona’s identity is ahistorical (applying the theme regressively to generate a historical narrative of their own), modern, and European, Lisbon’s is nostalgic, historically nationalistic, and uniquely Portuguese. One last observation is that in the Jeronimos Monastery and the Palau Pena the structures have been redone and added to multiple times over the centuries. In this way the Portuguese view their history as fluid and continuous, they are still creating their historical narrative as they go. However, these alterations are still reminiscent or nostalgic of earlier styles, hence neo-manueline architecture atop regular manueline architecture. It seems as if the older Lisbon gets the more fond it is of the sea and their previous heroes, wishing to return to a Gold Age long past.

Picky Eaters August 3, 2012

Posted by akessler47 in Travel Log.
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One thing I have observed after a week in Spain is the difference in cuisine in comparison with Lisbon. Not only do they offer different items on menus but the same items taste remarkably different. I do not know much about regional differences between, say Lisbon and country-side Portuguese cooking or Basque and Valencian cooking since I haven’t had a chance to travel outside our cities, but I can definitely say there’s a cuisine gap and I would guess it’s a result of culture and history. Though both countries colonized vast majorities of South America and some of Africa, Spain seems to have been a culture exporter while Portugal was a culture importer. I will explain what this means momentarily.

                Both Spain and Portugal cuisine consists of a large percentage of seafood, this is understandable as both are located on the ocean

Jamon

Jamon

. However, the biggest difference in carnivorous gastronomy is how pork is prepared. Spain loves jamon; it loves it in tapas, in sandwiches, in soups, by itself, and even in the McDonald’s McIberia sandwich. Typically Spanish jamon is a thin slice from the calf/thigh, resembling bacon or prosciutto. Even in the supermarkets and in the central market stands in Valencia there are dozens of smoked pork legs hanging from hooks for people to buy. Spain has a native population of Black Iberian Pigs so naturally it has become a part of their cultural diet.  

Portugal does not have nearly as many pigs as Spain (at least not historically there was not as large a presence of wild pig) so dishes tend to drift more towards fresh seafood like cod. Though both countries have chorizo sausage, I noticed Portuguese chorizo was spicier, sometimes even tasting like chili peppers or curry. It appears that Portugal does regularly import spices from abroad and it has become a stable of their diet, whereas Spanish food is almost entirely not spicy, unlike Mexican or South American cuisine. Like Fado, cooking with hot and exotic spices was an imported cultural taste from colonies abroad. In Lisbon I noticed far more African, Middle Eastern, and South American restaurants on the streets than in Valencia or Madrid. I could just be generalizing, but I would posit that the Spanish people’s inherent pride and nationalism affected their relationship with colonies and somewhat isolated their cuisine from foreign influences

Caldo Verde

Caldo Verde

. Undoubtedly there has been some influence and change, but not as much as Portugal, I believe.

                Another interesting contrast is Portuguese Caldo Verde and Spanish Gazpacho soups. Caldo Verde, made of kelp, potato, and some meat, is usually served hot while Gazpacho, blended vegetables and vinegar or wine, is always served cold. I would suspect this is because Spain is a culture of tapas and Gazpacho is a lighter dish served during the hot day, whereas Caldo Verde is heavier and more like a meal. Portugal has tapas but the true Portuguese variant is pesticos, which are similar in size but again have more spices (like piri-piri) and are based around African or South American cuisine (Gambas a Mozambique). Once again Portugal seems to have incorporated worldly influences into their diet. In fact, I saw burritos in Lisbon supermarkets but not in Spain!

Next, from my experience Spain serves a lot more egg than Portugal, in the form of tortillas and as a compliment to steak or French fries. Without exaggeration I could say that at a cheap, Spanish street-grill more than half the menu items (steak, hot dog, and hamburger) come with a fried egg on top. Then again Portugal has many egg yolk pastries and sweets. To be honest, I do not have an explanation for this. Despite their historic rivalry the diets of these two countries have blended to a large degree and in the modern age it’s possible to find any kind of food in either country. Both have paellas and Doner Kebabs, of course. 

But one last observation: Porto is a dessert wine produced exclusively in Portugal, and despite its proximity all port wine in Spain is imported from Portugal. This appears to be one clear instance of Portuguese protectionism and Spanish importation.

Flamenco and Fado August 3, 2012

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Flamenco music, like Fado, is unique to the Iberian Peninsula and is a UNSECO World Heritage intangible art form. They come from similar roots and expresses similar melancholy emotions, but in essence they are two completely different forms of music, much like how Spanish and Portuguese have a common root in Latin but worlds apart in sounds, rhythm, and grammar. This blog will be a comparative analysis of the music theory, presentation, and cultural background of both Portuguese Fado and Spanish Flamenco. 

                The first thing I noticed about Flamenco was its incredible passion and furious temper. Playing at much faster tempos than Fado, Flamenco carried a very powerful rhythm, accented on downbeats by the slamming of heels on hardwood by dancers onstage. The music is much more driving and dynamic; I would not call it primal, but in tempo and tone it is aggressive and emotionally charged

Flamenco Dancer

Flamenco Dancer

. Flamenco, like Fado, plays in Modern Phrygian Mode (natural minor scale with a flat second, a remnant from gypsy and Moorish influences), creating a sadder minor sound. However by no means is it melancholy or mournful sounding, but rather strong and anticipatory. Quicker tempos, rapid guitar playing, clapping, and dancing all accomplish this distinct feeling. 

                Elaborating first on the guitar work, I noticed it was much more complex than in Fado. In Portugal the guitar and Portuguese guitar held consistent melodies for the singer, never varying too far from the common refrain of the song. It seemed to me that the singer was the focus on the song. In Flamenco, on the other hand, the guitar players arpeggiated (meaning to play arpeggios, the notes constituting the chord) and moved around the strings on the guitar, creating a more intricate melody. It seems that they never play the same ‘lick’ twice and that they are more akin to virtuosos than backup instrumentals. Yet all members of the performance, the dancers and singers included, had their moments sharing the limelight and showing off their ability to perform. No one person was at the center of the act, they all took turns much like a band takes turns performing solos.

                Next, the utilization of dancers made the act must more active and engaging than Fado. Clapping was an element that included the audience as well as kept a strong tempo for the dancer. Aside from the visual aspects (the large dresses, hair nets, make up, and jewelry) what I found most interesting was that the actual dance was little more than stomping rapidly in one spot to the beat of the music. But this is a good thing, because it allows the dancers to focus solely on polyrhythms, which I found simply amazing

Flamenco Classical Guitarist

Flamenco Classical Guitarist

. A polyrhythm is when two simultaneous beats are being played, such as when the dancer’s left foot would strike the floor every beat but the right foot would strike every other beat, or on beats 1, 3, and 4, for example. Again this shows a lot of complexity and skill, making the dancer a virtuoso in her or her own right. The dancer would speed up and twirl to show off their finesse, just little flairs to wow the audience and project dominance, much like a mating ritual. 

                Culturally, Flamenco seems to reflect the heartbeat of a proud and passionate people. Everything I have read about and witnessed in Spain supports this notion. People are animated and flamboyant with their hand motions when they speak, and they often are quick-tempered, explosive, and especially nationalistic towards their regions and identity (Catalan, Basque, etc). Meanwhile the Portuguese are kind, considerate, but above all, accommodating. It seems very clear to me which music belongs to which nation, as I feel it is an accurate synecdoche of the culture and people of both countries.

Fado and the Blues August 3, 2012

Posted by akessler47 in Travel Log.
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Fado, a national treasure in the eyes of the Portuguese and an official Cultural Heritage according to the UNESCO, is a unique Iberian musical melting pot, blending elements from Moorish, African, and Brazilian culture. The story of its inception is clouded with uncertainty and myth, but the musical anatomy and cultural impacts are clear. This blog will discuss the musical theory breakdown of Fado music and its history in comparison to a similar genre, American Blues.

On a Wednesday night we sit in a cramped little dining room packed away in the back of a restaurant. It’s hot and noisy, waiters barely have enough room to navigate between tables to take orders and serve tiny tapas platters. Suddenly the lights dim and a blood red aura is projected onto the walls; the musicians enter.

Portuguese Guitar

Portuguese Guitar

 

A typical Fado group consists of at minimum four members, a vocalist, a classical guitar player, an acoustic bassist, and a Portuguese-guitar player. The Portuguese-guitar is an odd-looking string instrument one half the length of a typical guitar and has twelve strings instead of six. Its hollow body is shaped like a tear drop, reminiscent of the medieval cittern, and uses watch-key tuners on the top (a string is held to a screw, which is raise or lowered into the wood along the axis of the neck to increase or decrease the length of the string). There are two models of this guitar, Lisboa and Coimbra, the latter having a slightly longer fret board while the former has a wooden scroll piece at the head of the guitar. Aside from cosmetics the only difference in sound in that the Lisboa is “brighter”. 

Holding the
Portuguese-guitar like a classical guitar, the player uses a thumb pick and his
index and middle fingers to pluck strings. However, unlike a classical guitar,
the tuning is in the form of B-A-E-B-A-D (each note is played by two successive
strings, the one string an octave higher, so technically B-B-A-A-E-E, etc.),
which is very odd considering that each string in semitone intervals of 1, 7,
7, 1, then 5. On classical guitar the tuning E-A-D-G-B-E separates notes by 5
semitones (6 in the case of G to B) in conjunction with western music theory
based around major and minor 7 note scales with emphasis on specifically intervaled
thirds and fifths.

E Major Phrygian Scale

E Major Phrygian Scale

 

However, when we understand that Fado emerged from cultural synthesis in Portuguese colonies in Moorish North Africa it is clear that the strange tuning comes from the Phrygian mode, an Arabic understanding of music very different from the one we are familiar with in Europe and North America. 

Phrygian mode is
typical to a majority of Iberian and North African music because of its Arabic
influence. The most notable example of this interval set is in Flamenco music
in Spain, which sounds very dark, brooding, and sad because of its similarity to
the natural minor scale (Aeolian mode) in Western music. The tuning B-A-E-B-A-D
now makes much more sense, as it contains the root note B, the minor seventh A,
the fourth E, and the minor third D, the harmonic chords of a B Phrygian scale

Sam Chatman, Early Blues Artist

Sam Chatman, Early Blues Artist

Fado is by nature
a sad and mournful music. The loose translation of the word is “destiny” or
“fate”, and its lyrics focus on melancholy and events regarding loss or
longing. The genre is said to have emerged in the 19th century amongst
the poorer constituents of Lisbon, such as sailors in the Alfama Quarter. Fado
was typically regarded as the poor-man’s music as it was most often played in
the streets by amateur bands; it has been called the ‘Portuguese Blues’ in
comparison to American folk music of similar nature and feel. Soon the genre
was quickly picked up by the intellectual class and it became a professional
art, played in theaters and even incorporated into movies. Fado was essentially
a mirror for Portuguese society on the decline of their empire and wealth in the
early 1800’s. After episodes such as the Earthquake of 1755 (Terramoto do 1755)
and the French invasion of 1807 the economic stability of the nation was
shattered, historic landmarks and cultural icons were destroyed. More than
anything Fado is a memory of the hardships experienced by the nation, and it
struck a universal chord with the Portuguese. 

At a similar time
more than 5,000 miles away in the United States, Blues was forming from African
American culture on the eastern coast. The most prominent reasons people (or
more specifically, Senor Rodriguez from the guitar shop on the intersection of Rua
de Alecim and Sao Paulo) compare Fado to Blues are similar cultural synthesis
and then musical tone. A non-native and impoverished culture took up
instruments common to the region but wrote music akin to their passed down
traditions. For centuries Blacks in the US continued to carry along African
work-songs and spiritual dances. The ability of this musical culture to persist
under harsh conditions is an astonishing feat for both African Americans in the
South and Moorish immigrants in Portugal. 

Both people groups
subsequently mixed their style of music with music from the region, meaning
Blues is the complement of both traditional African sing-songs and Southern Riverbed
and Brass Bands. Hence, Blues is known to use not only classical guitar but
also trombones, trumpets, tubas, drums, and pianos. Picking up from Western
Classical music theory, Blues revolves almost exclusively around the minor
scale, except for, most importantly, the flat fifth, the devil’s note. This note
is extremely unique to Blues and was considered for quite some time an unlucky
and ominous tone to classical composers because of its discordance;
consequently it was banned by the church for centuries. However, the devil’s
interval provides an even more unsettling tone, giving a powerful emotion to
songs centered on poverty, depression, drinking issues, and slavery. Painful historical
events are clearly reflected in Blues songs even today, most exemplified by
Solomon Burke’s “None of Us Are Free”, showing the common chord of anxiety
struck among artists and listeners alike.

Like Fado, Blues
was played mainly by amateurs in the streets and in small bars populated by the
impoverished. For this reason, and its social context, it was also excluded
from mainstream music and took a century to be recognized by society as a truly
popular form of music. Yet Blues diffused entirely into American music, finding
its way into Jazz, Country, and Rock and Roll, while Fado remains a relatively
isolated genre. The reason being, I believe, is that it is held on a pedestal as
a national treasure, causing a reverence of only “true” and “authentic” Fado.
Such pride in the art form discourages alteration (unlike their cathedrals and monasteries);
Blues was never “treasured” and by nature is more fluid and spontaneous,
encouraging evolution and melding. 

The most famous Fado singer was Amalia Rodriguez, the undisputed “Queen of Fado”. Though she
had passed years ago people still play her music on a consistent basis and cover
her songs in tribute. More recently, modern bands have combined the essential
elements of Fado with electric guitars, keyboards, and drums to make the songs
radio-friendly and extremely popular on an international level. The band
Madredeus is currently the most prominent modern-Fado group in Portugal, with
several records and tours under their belt. Though true to its origins in the
early 1800’s the genre is evolving along with the rest of popular music, but it
will never lose its unique blend of Iberian and Moorish music that makes it a
staple of Portuguese history and culture.