A fado band performs traditional sounds in the melancholy style in the square in the Alfama district in Lisbon, Portugal. (iStock)
Encountering the sounds that move a nation is one of the absolute joys of travel. Whether it’s unexpectedly stumbling upon locals singing and dancing in a leafy park or attending a highly anticipated concert by a well-known artist, music is one of the few languages we all speak. . Here are some of the traditional European music styles.
Sevda or Sevdalinka is a musical genre assimilated to a Bosnian version of the blues. The genre’s name derives from an Arabic word to describe a melancholy state of mind, and its lyrics speak of forbidden love, love stories gone wrong, and other forms of suffering. Originally accompanied by a soft, lute-like instrument known as a saz, its role was gradually taken over by the louder accordion. After decades of decline, young artists are now breathing new life into the genre.
The Sevdah Art House is a museum dedicated to the sevdalinka and the artists who performed it. In a renovated warehouse in Velike Daire, you can see artifacts that belonged to the great masters and the instruments they played, as well as old concert posters, archived recordings and costumes that the artists wore during their performances. Online: tinyurl.com/ne4ajxk6
The tradition of Klapa singing has its origins in southern Dalmatia. In many voices, a cappella songs led by a tenor voice sing about life, love and attachment to its natural environment and native soil. Skilled amateurs inherit the tradition of seasoned performers, resulting in many bands with members of very different ages. Once a tradition only for men, a handful of all-female groups now perform as well. Famous Croatian pop stars often collaborate with klapa groups to add an element of tradition to their songs.
Since 1967, a festival of Dalmatian klapa groups has been held every year in the resort town of Omiš. Organized over four weeks in June and July, it attracts a cappella choirs from all over the world.
Canzone Napolitano is an umbrella term for a traditional form of music sung in the language of Naples. It is most often sung by a male soloist, although women also perform it. Many songs reflect the nostalgia for the Naples of yesteryear. Well-known songs in the genre include O sole mio and Funiculì, Funiculà, a song composed in 1880 to commemorate the opening of the first funicular to Mount Vesuvius.
The Napulitanata concert hall in the Galleria Principe di Napoli is dedicated to traditional Neapolitan folk music. Shows last an average of one hour and are offered most days of the week. Online: napulitanata.com/en/show
The melancholy sounds of fado date back to the 1820s and reflect a certain social context. Lisbon fado was the music of fallen and restless souls, from sailors to prostitutes, and reflects the emotion of the Portuguese word “saudade”, that of loss and longing for what should not be. The voice is accompanied by one or a pair of guitars and violas, and occasionally by a small bass.
A second tradition of fado comes from the university town of Coimbra. In this context, it is sung by those costumed in dresses, capes and leggings of academics. All-male musicians perform in the streets or squares of the pretty town after dark. Unlike Lisbon’s worker-appeal fado, Coimbra’s fado belongs to a more sophisticated class of listeners.
Lisbon’s fado is associated with its bars and restaurants, which means that you don’t have to coincide a visit with a festival to witness a memorable performance. The Tasco do Chico in Bairro Alto is a popular place; other areas where you can go to listen to fado include Alfama and Mouraria.
Spain’s musical traditions are a rich tapestry sewn from the roots of its various regions. The ancient Guanche culture is manifested in the music of the Canary Islands, while the bagpipes of the Galician tradition speak of Celtic ties.
Flamenco, Spain’s best-known musical style, is much more recent, dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. This passionate form of music and dance is attributed to the persecuted gypsy culture of Andalusia and influenced by the Moorish and Jewish musical tradition. Its oldest and deepest form, the cante jondo, is characterized by deep emotion and addresses themes such as death, despair or religious insecurity.
Cities that celebrate flamenco with lively festivals include Jerez de la Frontera, Madrid and Murcia. The Seville Flamenco Biennial is a spectacular music festival that takes place every two years in September. The next edition is scheduled for 2022, although the exact dates are yet to be determined.