Richard Elliott's Fado and the Place of Longing: Loss, Memory and the City examines the ways in which Lisbon fado lyrics of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have witnessed, remembered, and recreated local myths and histories for an audience inside and outside of Portugal. The book is divided into five chapters with an introduction, bibliography -including a limited discography and videography- and index.
Elliott applies recent literary, ethnomusicological, anthropological, historiographical, and psychoanalytical theories to his study of common motifs in fado lyrics -saudade, memory, and loss in relation to missed people and particularly, missed places and moments in Lisbon's history. He presents a summary of the evolution of fado music before the 1950s; a more detailed, however brief, history of the song between the '50s and the '90s; and a useful, descriptive catalogue of work produced thereafter. Elliott's chronological evolution of the song, like many recent histories of the fado, starts with Severa (or Dantas's and Leitão de Barros's memories of Severa), dwells on Amália, and hovers around Mariza; in Elliott's study this focus makes sense since the first made the Lisbon [End Page 262] Fado famous in Portugal; the second, in the World; and the latter is the most recognized voice of contemporary Portuguese World music and has managed to revive interest in the genre outside of Portugal. More importantly, all three ended up in the capital, almost by accident, yet each has managed to become an iconic incarnation of Lisbon's popular history; so iconic that their sung memories of Lisbon have documented and continue to document local history for us and for the world.
Elliott's title announces the thematic focus of his book, however, his narration and analysis of the fado's lyrical memories of the "place of longing" (Lisbon) takes a back seat to an elaborate, theoretical description and rationale regarding loss, memory, and any city. Whereas, Elliot's approach is novel in its construction and elaboration of a thorough and scientific, universal framework in which to consider the Fado's relationship to its memories of Lisbon, his presentation of historical and biographical context, catalogue of lyrics, and mediating influences of specific domestic and foreign popular culture is, at times, vague and inconclusive. On the one hand, the myths, biographies, and themes have all been examined from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, and in some cases, authors have been exhaustive in their examination of the fado's lyrical memories of earlier Lisbons. The historico-literary-cultural-studies orientation of the works of Mascarenhas Barreto, Osório, Sucena, Guerra and Vieira-Nery have dominated fado studies, and are, by now, familiar among scholars of the musical genre. On the other hand, since fado lyrics indeed do have a lot to say on the topic of longing and remembering a lost Lisbon, a broader sample of lyrics (and perhaps some more obscure samples) might clarify the author's use of the local to corroborate the universal (and vice-versa).
In his introduction to Fado and the Place of Longing, Richard Elliott signals what he understands to be his continuation of work already pioneered by other scholars and his own contribution to fado studies when he explains that "in addition to filling in the gaps of English-language work on fado," he hopes his book will have "some resonance beyond its immediate subject matter (fado) by engaging with debates in the fields of memory studies, historiography, and media studies." But, as the author recognizes and documents in later chapters, English-language scholarship on the fado (and scholarship in Portuguese and French) has already been engaging these debates since the 1990s. Rather, Elliot's contribution to fado scholarship, in my opinion, can be found in his conclusions that future studies of the fado must consider the genre not only in the shadow of the histories it narrates, but also as a product of the contemporary world in which the fado continues to thrive as Portugal's national song and as one of its "distinctive cultural...