Fado House, Lisbon, Live music

Fado House, Lisbon

João Maia with Paulo Silva on the guitarra and Augusto Soares on the viola

If there is one form of music that is intrinsically linked with Lisbon it is fado. Fado is often compared to the blues due to the themes of loss and suffering, but that is where the similarity ends. Fado is uniquely Portuguese. The physical performance by the singer as he or she sings of saudade (yearning, longing and a feeling of nostalgia) is central to fado. A visit to a fado house has become one of the ‘must-do’ experiences when in Lisbon. But has it now become so touristy that it is impossible to experience genuine fado?

We had researched fado houses before we went to Lisbon and they all seemed to offer a similar experience, so in the end we decided to go to the Sala Bocage in the basement of Café Nicola in Rossio square, right in the heart of the Baixa, simply because it was near to our hotel. We paid a €30 deposit to book our table and when booking we were told that we had to spend a minimum of €60 on the night. This was not hard to do as the dishes were around double the price of what we had paid in other restaurants in Lisbon: a flambéed Iberian sausage starter was €13.50, a main course of cod was €26, a dessert was €7.40 and a bottle of house wine was €18. The final bill came to a jaw-dropping €112, but don’t forget that this included an evening of wonderful fado performances by three excellent singers and the two accompanying guitarists.

My research had told me that fado shows are intended for tourists, but some fado houses are run by the fado singers (fadistas / fadistos) themselves, which give a truer experience. I have not had any other experience of a fado house to compare the fado night in the Sala Bocage with, but the music and the performances seemed genuine to me. A fado night will usually include a three-course meal and in between each course the lights are dimmed and the musicians perform a number of songs. The music is treated with reverence and during this time full attention should be paid to the singer. A couple of tourists on the table next to us did not understand this and continued a loud conversation while one of the fadistas was performing. She expertly got them to stop talking by singing directly to them and by giving them a no-nonsense look of disapproval. It was wonderful audience management. The show opened with the powerful vocals of Carina Mateus Saionte, followed by a dramatic performance by Carla Linhares, who seemed to live the lyrics she was singing. The first section finished with the laid-back style of the more experienced resident singer, João Maia. They were accompanied throughout by the wonderful playing of Paulo Silva on the guitarra (a mandolin-style instrument) and Augusto Soares on the viola (a Spanish-style guitar). Soares surprised us by singing a couple of songs himself at the end of the evening. The Sala Bocage (named after a late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth-century poet who frequented Café Nicola) was a perfect venue, being small and intimate with little tables dotted around the stage area – I am choosing to ignore the fact that there was a long table at the back which had a large group who left after the main course. The room was tastefully decorated with an art deco panel behind the guitarists and fado shawls and guitarras decorating the walls. The space was small enough that you could almost touch the musicians.

Was this a ‘genuine’ fado experience? Everyone in the club seemed to be a tourist and, as I have mentioned, the price of the meal was very high, plus there was an awkward moment in one of the breaks when the two young fadistas went round the tables selling their CDs. Some of the tourists in the room seemed surprised that the meal and music lasted throughout the evening and were eager to leave after the main course and maybe that is why aficionados of fado are dismissive of the touristy fado houses. I admit I was a bit embarrassed by my fellow tourists. We were seated at our table at 8.30pm and the music finished at 11.30pm; by that time most of the tourists had left, leaving only a few of us to appreciate the music. It was a lovely evening; the food was good, the waiters were friendly and professional and the music was wonderful and as we don’t know a true Lisbonite who could take us to their local fado house I feel that this was pretty close to a ‘genuine’ fado experience.


Fado nights are held on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 8.30pm at Sala Bocage in Café Nicola, Praça Dom Pedro IV (Rossio square), Lisbon.

Booking is essential. You will be asked to pay a deposit of €30 and to spend a minimum of €60. Expect to pay double what you would pay in any other restaurant (this includes the price of the fado show).

Flambéed sausages, Café Nicola
Carla Linhares with Augusto Soares on the viola
Augusto Soares on the viola
Carina Mateus Saionte with Paulo Silva on the guitarra
João Maia with Paulo Silva on the guitarra and Augusto Soares on the viola
Paulo Silva on the guitarra and Augusto Soares on the viola
Albatroz Jazz & Blues Bar, Carvoeiro, Live music

Albatroz Jazz & Blues Bar, Carvoeiro


(Sadly, only 5 months after writing this review we have learnt that the Albatroz Jazz & Blues Bar has closed down, but we will continue to watch the career of Carlos Cepinha with interest.)

The newest edition to Carvoeiro’s growing list of places to hear live music is Albatroz on Estrada do Farol. Located behind the Casa Algarvia restaurant, it is a small, intimate bar that specializes in live jazz and blues music, and unlike the other bars in Carvoeiro, where the music acts as a background to drinking, dining and talking, in Albatroz the music takes centre stage and, for this reason I suspect, there is an entrance fee.

We went to Albatroz on 30 September 2016, responding to a sign outside the bar advertising a ‘Live Jazz Concert’ starting at 9.30pm. On entering the nearly empty room we had a choice of several comfortable sofas arranged around a comparatively large stage. Unfortunately some of the sofas had pillars in front of them blocking the view of the stage, but on this quiet night we were able to find one with a full view of the musicians on the stage. We ordered a bottle of wine and settled down to watch the Carlos Cepinha Trio. Carlos Cepinha, on jazz guitar, introduced the band, saying that they had recently formed (that explained the very long pauses between each song as they discussed what to play next). Their repertoire comprised of jazz standards, such as ‘Quiet Nights’, ‘Autumn Leaves’, ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ and an original arrangement of ‘Happy Birthday’, but with enough improvisation to keep jazz aficionados happy. Cepinha played the guitar in a style reminiscent of Pat Metheny and he was ably backed up by Tiago Alves on drums and Hugo Santos on bass. After a short break the band was joined on stage by an unintroduced guest trumpeter, who added a Chet Baker-style sound with his trumpet solos and worked well with a band he had clearly not worked with before. An unexpected surprise during the break and also after the band finished playing at 12.30 was when the young, friendly doorman/waiter sat down at the piano on the stage and began competently playing a series of classical pieces. It was unexpected and, if the truth be told, slightly incongruous.

Despite the very small audience, which was mainly comprised of Carlos Cepinha’s friends and family and a couple of men at the bar having a loud conversation, the band played enthusiastically. We witnessed several groups of people walking into the bar, but leaving as soon as they were informed about the entrance fee. The management may have to reconsider this if they are to encourage people in. However, I was very happy to see a venue in Carvoeiro dedicated to this type of music and which puts the music at the forefront. I will be interested to see whether it can attract more people as its reputation spreads.

Carlos Cepinha Trio


Carlos Cepinha Trio


Carlos Cepinha Trio


Carlos Cepinha Trio and guest pianist




Festivals, Lagoa Jazz Festival 2015, Live music

Lagoa Jazz Festival 2015


Held annually at the Sítio das Fontes in Estômbar, only 12 km inland from Carvoeiro but one of the Algarve’s best-kept secrets, the Lagoa Jazz Festival is an annual event that is loyally attended by the local residents, but hardly makes it onto the radar of the tourists staying in the nearby beach resorts. The idea of jazz on a summer’s night in stunning surroundings is a tantalising combination and on a hot June evening we arrived at the Sítio das Fontes before sunset with the plan of walking around the nature reserve before it got dark. Not surprisingly, but disappointingly, the organizers of the jazz festival wouldn’t allow this, so instead we found a seat near the bar overlooking the lake and watched the amazing sunset. As evening turned to night more and more people arrived and the queue for the bar and food stall made getting another drink inconceivable. However, just around the corner from the bar, was a stall promoting local wine and we bought a refreshing bottle of local Marquês dos Vales white wine, which we were able to enjoy throughout the concert. We took our seats in the small purpose-built amphitheatre, ready for the 10 pm start. Some temporary extra rows had been added for the jazz festival, but the theatre space remained intimate and even though we sat at the back, we had an excellent view of the stage. Olivier Ker Ourio (chromatic harmonica) and Manuel Rocheman (piano) opened the festival. Their music was an emotionally expressive combination of Rocheman’s Bill Evans-inspired piano style and Ker Ourio’s harmonica playing, reminiscent of Toots Thielemans.

After an interval the dynamic The Postcard Brass Band, made up of Mário Marques (soprano and tenor saxophone), Michael Lauren (drums), Sérgio Carolino (sousaphone) and Rúben Santos (trombone) blazed onto the stage. The night was hot and their music was hotter. Their brash eclectic style of music, a combination of traditional, free and improvisational jazz was a fantastic way to end the night.

Although for many the night didn’t end there. Around the bar area there were CD and other merchandising stalls, areas showing photos and videos from previous jazz festivals, a chill-out zone and other entertainment still in full swing.


Tickets in 2015 cost €8 each. We bought our tickets online in advance from Ticketline: www.ticket.line.pt. They can also be bought from two locations in Lagoa: the Convento de S. José and the Auditório Municipal. You can also buy them on the door on the night.

For details of this year’s jazz festival go to: www.lagoajazzfest.com

There is no public transport to the Sítio das Fontes, so you will either have to drive or take a taxi. If you drive there is a large car park at the nature reserve.