I grew up listening to Gary Moore play a haunting guitar solo on a song called “Parisienne Walkaways” and the imagery he put together was so exquisite, that I could almost taste the Beaujolais wine. Many years later, finally in Paris, I was spending the day at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, looking for another great, Jim Morrison. Trust me it’s not easy to find his grave. That resting ground is so vast, I got lost a few times and at one point thought I would be locked in for the night, with Edith Piaf, Chopin and Oscar Wilde besides Jim to perhaps keep me company. Scary thought, what would I say to them?
By a stroke of good fortune, a random conversation at the cemetery, led to an invitation to a concert that night. On stage the headline act was an explosive trio from UK called “Young Fathers”. Ferocious, creative, and totally captivating, they held our attention with an experimental mix of hip-hop and aggressive electronic sounds. The congregation hanging onto every word and riff they played, swaying to the groove in approval.
It was rather late after the concert as I headed back to my room to literally throw all my stuff together, stand in the balcony for one last time and take in the sights of Paris by night, with the Eiffel towering above the city like a giant Cyclops. That morning I had to draw an audience from the adjoining flats as I played my guitar on the balcony. My host was not amused, in his low bass voice he warned me not to pull that trick again.
Sleep deprived and groggy I tumbled into the back seat of the taxi at four thirty in the morning, I was heading to Lisbon for about ten days and I was excited, despite my state. I had found out that Sonia Sirsat was also meant to be in Lisbon at around the same time. Sonia is synonymous with the Fado in Goa and abroad, and who better to give me the authentic Fado experience than her. We had agreed to meet in Lisbon for a musical adventure of sorts.
“Foi Deus”, a fado originally sung by Amalia was playing in my headphones, as I came up to the airline counter. “Sorry sir but you need to check your guitar in”, the dreaded words any travelling musician hates to hear, it’s the moment separation anxiety kicks in and the prospect of never seeing your beloved instrument again takes over. You fight with all your might, like when you are drowning, making up stories on the spot, explaining how you need to sniff the guitar every thirty minutes as it helps with the panic attacks or something to that effect, lying through your damn teeth, sometimes you win, most times you lose. Final conclusion, there’s nothing easy about Easyjet. Musicians with instruments are on the lowest rung of their client base with no room for clemency.
Lisbon gave me perspective on the word “sussegado”, I mean how can you find fault with countless afternoon’s of grilled chorizo, cod fish, olives, glasses of chilled Super Bock beer interspaced with shots of muscatel, where men sit at the bar smoking profusely, sipping coffee and arguing about what a traitor Jorge Jesus, Benefica’s ex coach is for leaving them to join Sporting. “Sussegado” isn’t a word in Portugal it’s a lifestyle and no one’s really complaining.
Which brings me to the next most important word I was looking to understand and it’s close association with the Fado. One that the Portuguese hold close to their hearts with pride. It’s called” Saudade”. Most of the time, a mixture of nostalgia and melancholy is what people get away with, trying to explain it. Though there’s more to it than that.
I made my way through the narrow lanes of Alfama to meet Sonia at the famous Tasca Do Chico, where the musical fraternity greeted her like a family member.
Senor Chico, the owner, a jovial, rotund middle aged man, introduced his fadistas, in a dimly lit, smoky room, as conversations halted, and the strains of love and loss, longing and heartache came to life. The accompanying musicians with their sombre countenance kept pace with the emotionally expressive voices of the singers. Finally he called upon Sonia, who took to the stage effortlessly, with such poise and grace. The venue has walls covered with pictures of performances by famous fadistas of Portugal, and there stood a Goan that night, making me feel very proud.
The Fado like the blues is a spiritual experience, so powerful it takes over both performer and audience. There is no need for you to know the language because all it asks of you is to surrender to the emotion, and proceeds to mesmerize you thereafter.
As I bid adieu to Sonia and thanked her for letting me into her world, I put my headphones on and turned on Mariza to listen to my favourite Fado “Ha uma Musica do Povo “ and took one step closer to understanding this word “Saudade”.