An evening in the world’s first house of Portuguese Fado and Goan Mandó

Enter the magical realm of MadraGoa in Panjim, where music, art, literature, and food combine to mesmerise you.

Amidst the shimmer of the casino’s neon lights and the tumult of Panjim’s traffic, a narrow brown door to the burgundy red Centre for Indo-Portuguese Art (CIPA) stands solitary and pretty. On the wall hangs a hand-painted tile that reads: Admission Reserved for Art Lovers.

An azulejo within a wooden frame.
An azulejo within a wooden frame. Image: Preeti Verma Lal.

I recognise the azulejo (Portuguese painted tin-glazed ceramic tile); I know no one does it better than Orlando de Noronha, the man who can play the violin, the Portuguese guitar and who’d walk a million extra miles to conserve and preserve traditional music. And he is the man behind setting up CIPA, which houses MadraGoa, the world’s first house of Fado and Mando.

Hand-painted azulejos at the entrance of cipa.
Hand-painted azulejos at the entrance of CIPA. Image: Preeti Verma Lal.

A few minutes before 8.30 pm, the narrow broad door opened into a magical world of music, art, literature, and scrumptious Goan-Portuguese snacks. I run up the staircase that has azulejos, photographs and posters on the side walls. A neat arrow pointing left leads to a painted world. There are still a few minutes left for the lights to dim inside MadraGoa and I keep gaping at the azulejos, the antique fan, musical instruments dangling from the roof, upturned umbrellas refashioned into lamp shades, dainty earrings, fridge magnets… Aesthetics get under my skin as I stand mesmerised by the revival of an art form that dates back to the 14th century.

A wall for music memorabilia.
A wall for music memorabilia. Image: Courtesy MadraGoa.

The clock ticks closer to 8.30 pm and art lovers take to the black chairs in what looks like a street of Lisbon. I am still hanging by the door striking a conversation with little Nicole Noronha and her kitten Ginger. Nicole, in a denim dress and tangled curls, speaks fluent Portuguese while eagerly narrating Ginger stories. The light dims and I scamper for the last seat in the small room. This is not the first Fado performance that I have attended; I’ve listened to the trio — Orlando, Sonia Shirsat and Carlos Meneses — in a restaurant. And the next day I have even met Sonia, Goa’s most famous faddist, for a cup of coffee.

Before the first guitar string is strummed, I recapitulate Sonia’s lessons about Fado, a Portuguese musical genre characterised by mournful tunes and lyrics infused with resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. Fado can be traced to the 1820s in Portugal and is believed to have been created by a pair of lovers, Dom Francisco Paula Portugal e Castro, the 13th Count of Vimioso, and Maria Severa, a singer.

Mando, on the other hand, is a slow Konkani verse traditionally sung by the Goan elite with a ghummatt, an earthen membranophone, as well as the piano or violin, and accompanied by dance movements.

The house of fado and mando was founded nearly three years ago by orlando de noronha.
The House of Fado and Mando was founded nearly three years ago by Orlando de Noronha. Image: Preeti Verma Lal.

The backdrop of MadraGoa is painted to resemble an old street of Lisbon — cobblestone pathway, metal- laced awning, a cat peeping from a window, cut-out portraits of Maria Alice Pinho e Shirsat (Sonia’s mother), Francicso Walli de Lima Fernandes and Maria de Fatima de Lemos Diniz. The streetlights on the painted walls lend credence to a typical Portuguese Fado House. The silence is shattered by a melodious guitar strum by Orlando and Carlos. In the next millisecond of quietude, Sonia Shirsat walks in wearing the signature colour of fado — black.

Orlando de noronha, sonia shirsat, carlos meneses.
(Left to right): Orlando de Noronha, Sonia Shirsat, Carlos Meneses. Image: Courtesy MadraGoa.

With a smile, a greeting and a brief Fado and Mando introduction for the uninitiated, Sonia begins the first Fado, a melancholic verse rising in tempo as her voice hits a crescendo that reverberates for long after the words have concluded. A quick breath and then begins the tale of bittersweet love, a woman pining for the lover that she cannot talk of and can only hide in her heart. Then, Sonia picks up the ghummat (a percussion instrument that is an earthen vessel one side of which is topped with the hide of a monitor lizard, which is now illegal to use) and breaks into a Mando. The locals in the audience tap their feet, others join in the chorus when Sonia invites them to.

The lights go dim again for the intermission during which Tina, Orlando’s wife, and Marlene, Carlos’ wife, serve Portuguese snacks (Empadinhas de carne, Pasteis de nata, Fofos de bacalhau, Apa de Camarao, Pao com chourico) along with Sangria. I chat with Sonia, who, it turns out, for a long time did not even speak Portuguese, the sole language of Fado. By nine, she was singing in school music competitions and romping home with top honours. To be a faddist, she had to learn Portuguese. That’s the sixth language she picked up and years later she was to become synonymous with Fado.

Traditional goan-portuguese snacks served during half-time are prepared by tina noronha and marlene meneses.
Traditional Goan-Portuguese snacks served during half-time are prepared by Tina Noronha and Marlene Meneses. Image: Courtesy MadraGoa.

Orlando was as if to music born. His father played violin, his mother the harmonica, and a young Orlando was obsessed with Portuguese musical programmes aired on All India Radio. “That triggered my love for music,” says Orlando, who later went to Lisbon to learn the Portuguese guitar. His greatest musical moment came when he was invited to Portugal to receive the gift of a Portuguese guitar from the President of Portugal.

“I have to keep the tradition alive. Music cannot die and that is why I founded MadraGoa. There are Fado Houses around the world, but this is the only one where Fado and Mando are performed on one stage,” Orlando adds proudly. That tradition is trickling to the next generation of Noronhas. Orlando’s daughters lend a hand during the performance: Myra takes care of the lights; Daniella of photography, and Nicole bids the gentle goodbyes.

Madragoa recreates a street from lisbon, the heart of fado.
MadraGoa recreates a street from Lisbon, the heart of Fado. Image: Courtesy MadraGoa.

As Orlando, Sonia and Carlos return to the street of Lisbon, once again I am swathed in the musical virtuosity of the trio. According to tradition, to applaud Fado in Lisbon, you clap your hands, while in Coimbra, one coughs in praise as if clearing one’s throat. I clap and, on my way out, honked the poder’s horn that hangs on the ceiling of the staircase. The rule: honk as much as you like if you have liked the Fado. I honk and honk with one hand — in the other, I am holding the little gift that Nicole has given me as a ‘thank you for coming for the show’. I hope Fado and Mando survive and one day little Nicole sings it, too.

On your way out, honk the poder’s horn if you liked the performance.
On your way out, honk the poder’s horn if you liked the performance. Image: Preeti Verma Lal.

Know the Fado and Mando

  • The word Fado comes from the Latin word fatum, which literally means ‘what has been spoken’.
  • The first recorded reference to Fado in relation to music was made in 1822 by Adriano Balbi, an Italian geographer.
  • There are two main styles of Fado — Lisbon and Coimbra, with Lisbon being the more popular style and Coimbra, closely linked to academic traditions of the University of Coimbra. Exclusively sung by men wearing academic outfits, Coimbra is performed at night, almost in the dark.
  • According to tradition, to applaud Fado in Lisbon, you clap your hands while in Coimbra, one coughs in praise as if clearing one’s throat.  
  • Many believe that the Mando evolved from the indigenous musical traditions of the Ovi and Dulpod. Dulpods are two-line verses sung after the Mando, in a quick tempo. They are typically descriptive of everyday Goan life.
  • On November 27, 2011, Fado was declared by the UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
A sign outside cipa that promotes fado and mando, goan literature, jazz and goan-portuguese culinary art.
A sign outside CIPA that promotes Fado and Mando, Goan literature, jazz and Goan-Portuguese culinary art. Image: Preeti Verma Lal.

Suggested read: 15 fun ways to experience Goa as a responsible traveller

Good to know

CIPA’s address: 7/2, DB Marg, Opp. Captain of Ports Jetty, Altinho, Panaji, Goa 403001

Facebook: @madragoa.goa

Website: www.cipagoa.com/madragoa |

Timing: 6.45 pm and 8.30 pm

Price: Rs 1,000 per person (includes snacks + beverage)

Parking: Do not park on the main DM Marg, cops will clamp the tyres. There is paid parking (Rs 20 for an hour) behind the CIPA building

For details on azulejos, cooking and jazz workshops, visit the CipaGoa website

If you like the Pasteis de Nata served in MadraGoa, call/Whatsapp Marlene at +919890993700; she also makes scrumptious Indo-Portuguese snacks.

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