27 November 2011

Fado and UNESCO

Rui Viera Nery, António Costa and Fernando Andresen (l-r)
Today (27 November 2011), UNESCO voted to inscribe the fado on the "Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity." The vote represents a recognition from UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization) that the fado is a manifestation of Portuguese culture deserving of worldwide recognition. The application has been led by Rui Viera Nery and supported by the efforts and good wishes of many people, but not everyone is certain that a outcome will actually benefit the fado.

On this point, the discussion among the fadistagem has revealed plenty about the contested significance of the fado, particularly whether it is most accurately viewed as a music of the people (i.e., something is lost when it happens in a big concert hall) or as music qua music (i.e., the fado in the concert hall is the highest expression of the fado). 

Today's announcement came via Twitter around 7:15am EDT:
‘Fado, urban popular song of ’ now on  Representative List. Portugal’s 1st inscription! See 

The Portuguese papers already have a number of articles on this historic event (e.g., PublicoDN), with links to a bunch of other good stuff. One example: Nery has said that the "extraordinary incompetence" of the leader of today's meeting produced a long delay in transmission of the results. Here is a report from Bali (where deliberations took place) from RTP that includes an interview with Rui Nery (4:00).

In the interview, Nery emphasized a little-discussed consequence of this recognition. The Portuguese government, by putting forth the candidacy, committed to the preservation and promulgation of the fado, which includes dissemination of materials to schools, as well as preservation and dissemination of archival materials (the Museum of the Fado is probably the fulcral point for the latter). But he also emphasized his gratitude to the fadistas (which I think he means includes musicians and poets!) who make the fado. So much so that, according to Nery, the scholars' main responsibility is to follow their work in order to record it.  He concluded by saying that this is a great day for Portuguese culture generally, as this recognition opens the door to a broader appreciation of Lusophone culture.
António Costa

Once the decision was announced, António Costa, Mayor of the City of Lisbon, which was the formal submitter of the application, thanked the chair. Then he pulled out his cell phone, held it up to his microphone, and played a fado from Amália Rodrigues--Estranha Forma da Vida. Excellent! 

The complete text of the official description of the fado according to UNESCO, along with documentation to support the application as well as the text of the decision is here. Here are some other documents:

Report of the Subsidiary Body on its work in 2011 and evaluation of nominations for inscription in 2011 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
All nomination files can be consulted from 13. Representative List

Report by the rapporteur on the meetings of the Subsidiary Body in 2011
ITH/11/6.COM/CONF.206/INF.13soon available

Regardless of the hubbub over what this result may or may not mean for the fado, this recognition represents a triumph for Portuguese scholarship on the fado (my understanding is that the effort was executed entirely by Portuguese researchers and collaborators) and, clearly, for the placement of a uniquely Portuguese art form in the worldwide cultural firmament.

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