Maria Severa Onofriana is one of the most celebrated figures in the history of Portuguese fado. Born in Lisbon in 1820, she became a popular singer and guitarist in the city’s taverns and cafes in the mid-19th century. Her father was a gypsy from Santarém, and her mother from Ponte de Sor, who, like other fishermen of the region, migrated to Lisbon. Severa conquered the capital’s bohemians with her exotic beauty of gypsy descent.
Maria Severa lived in the middle of the early liberalism era, where the absolutist Old Regime was in decline. The Portuguese people, once used to the absolute power of the King, began to hear the voice of the Constitution, which distributed powers and rights and guaranteed what was never thought possible: freedom. The singer lived in an era fundamentally known for popular uprisings, where women began to fight for their rights and for equality in relation to men. Portugal wanted to be a civilized, modern, and above all, European country. However, there was a great disparity between classes, where some were very rich and others very poor.
Maria Severa Onofriana is referred to as the “voice of an oppressed generation” due to her role as a fado singer in the city of Lisbon, the land of fado and good, nostalgic, and sorrowful singing. Through her music, Severa censored struggles and hardships that the lower class faced in Lisbon at the time. She sang about poverty and about love, touching the hearts of those who listened to her. She became a symbol of hope and resilience for those who struggled to survive. Her singing has ensured that her legacy endures to this day.
Today, Severa is remembered as one of the most important figures in the history of fado, and a powerful voice for those who have no voice. Severa, of whom no voice record exists, is said to have been the first person to sing fado in the street and to represent the people in the fight against their problems. She was one of the driving forces behind the creation of this type of singing, which has now become Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
She died poor and abandoned on November 30, 1846, at only twenty-six years old. She was buried in a common grave, without a coffin, according to her wish expressed in her last refrains:
“I have a bitter life
Oh, what an unhappy fate!
But if I am so unfortunate
It wasn’t me who wanted it that way.

When I die, girls
Have no regrets
And to the sound of your songs
Seal me up in the mass grave.”

A woman of strength, resistance and struggle. A true woman of Portuguese Fado.

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