Lisbon more than just fado

Seth Sherwood / New York Times News Service /


Published Oct 20, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Eeva Tuuhea remembers the precise moment when she received a friend’s phone call telling her that the Hot Clube de Portugal, an iconic Lisbon jazz joint since the 1940s and her beloved regular hangout for two decades, was on fire — literally.

“It was a rainy night, the 22nd of December, 2009, at 3 a.m.,” recalled Tuuhea, a blond, middle-aged Finnish expat who said she has been “part of the furniture” at the Hot Clube since the late 1980s.

“I was called and came down to see it; 8,500 hearts broke on Facebook, and God knows how many besides that,” she said.

The fire and subsequent flooding by the fire department destroyed the building. But the mourning period was short. The city government pledged to help, putting up money and installing the club in a small building just a few doors from the original.

Completed in 2011 and reopened officially last year, the relaunched Hot Clube de Portugal is back in business with a full assortment of local and international live acts. On a balmy fall evening last year, any fears that Hot Clube 2.0 wouldn’t match the heat of its predecessor had apparently been assuaged.

“They recreated the space but they brought over the spirit from the old place,” Tuuhea said, sipping red wine at the club’s bar and awaiting a performance by Carlos Bica, a Portuguese bassist with a cult following.

Over the past couple of years, innovative new music spots have been popping up around Lisbon, and defunct and departed iconic music venues have been rising from their ashes, literally or figuratively. From intimate supper clubs to warehouse dance halls, the new generation of hangouts is enriching the Portuguese capital’s sonic spectrum and expanding the array of places where music aficionados and bands of all stripes can converge. These days, a spin around town is a journey across continents and styles, from indie jazz to African beats to American retro rock to electronic experiments.

“Everyone thinks that Lisbon is only fado,” said Luis Rodrigues, music editor for Time Out Lisbon, referring to the homegrown melancholy folk music that has become almost a cliché of Lisbon. “But there’s so much more going on.”

For instance, if you’re seeking a classy evening of global sounds (from jazz to folk to ethno-groove) and refined neo-Portuguese cuisine, the airy and angular Vinyl cafe-restaurant began serving dinner and hosting concerts last year. And if you absolutely must hear fado, you can find the music reborn in unexpected, avant-garde forms (as well as other Portuguese music, both traditional and experimental) at Can the Can, a new gallery-like restaurant and “Fado laboratory” started by Rui Pregal da Cunha, singer for a famous 1980s Portuguese rock band called Heróis do Mar — Heroes of the Sea.

The same week as the Carlos Bica show at Hot Clube de Portugal, an eclectic crowd ambled into B.Leza, a bubblegum-pink warehouse amid the dingy docklands next to Cais do Sodré train station. African immigrants and native Portuguese from all reaches of Lisbon society paid the 10-euro cover charge and milled around the soaring neo-industrial space.

Along the walls, colorful posters announced past and future concerts by a bevy of prestigious African artists, including Bombino, the Tuareg guitarist from Niger, and the legendary Cape Verdean singer-guitarist Tito Paris.

Ask any Lisbon music fan about B.Leza and you’ll get a nostalgic sigh and a wistful tale about the beauty and character of the original space, an 18th-century palace that the club had to abandon in 2007.

While the shiny contemporary B.Leza, which opened last year, might lack the faded grandeur of its forefather, it certainly retains its pan-African programming and remarkably loyal, diverse fan base. B.Leza is the Lisbon club where you’re most likely to run into your mom or incognito A-listers like Jeremy Irons and Pierre Casiraghi of Monaco, both of whom stopped in last year.

“They come here like normal people,” said Sofia Saudade e Silva, whose father, a Portuguese lawyer in love with African music, founded the club and then left it to Saudade and her sister when he died. “Here everyone is equal: rich, poor, black, white.”