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Ian Stobie

27 Posts Devon, UK

The sound of Amália Rodrigues, Portugal's most famous Fado singer

Amália Rodrigues (full name Amália da Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues) is the paradigmatic singer of Lisbon Fado. More than 100 years after her birth she still deeply influences many performers today.

Her voice has a fluent, flexible quality and is also very clear, allowing her to do full justice to the meaning and poetry of the words she is singing.

During her life (1920 to 1999) Amália was at various times heaped with recognition and awards. But at other times, especially in Portugal itself, she was the subject of controversy, hostility and - for a period after the 1974 Revolution, neglect.

Attitudes to Amália mirror those to Fado music generally, which I write about more elsewhere (see links below this article).

But in this post I want to concentrate on what she actually sounds like. For Amália's work lives on in sound recordings and film clips, many now readily accessible, especially from the later period of her career.

Amália Rodrigues "Alfama"

Amália Rodrigues "Alfama" (an old quarter of Lisbon strongly associated with Fado)

Music: Alain Oulman
Words: José Carlos Ary dos Santos
Portuguese guitar: Raul Nery

This first appeared on the 1970 album Com que voz. The version above is slightly later, featuring the distinctive tones of Raul Nery on the high-pitched Portuguese Guitar.

What it means: Both Alain Oulman and Ary dos Santos were leftists in the Portuguese political spectrum, skirting what was possible in the declining years of the dictatorship. By this time the Alfama district was sadly neglected - cut off from the sea by big new roads and insecure and crime ridden at night. This is what the

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Poems by Fernando Pessoa set to music

There is a song of the people
I can't even say if it is a Fado
But it is so comforting
This vague and sad song
That my soul no longer cries

Here's Mariza singing the whole song.

Mariza "Há uma musica do Povo"

1. Mariza "Há uma musica do Povo" (There is a song of the people)

Music: Mário Pacheco
Portuguese guitar: Luís Guerreiro

Inevitably Fadistas would like this one. But a whole host of Pessoa's other poems have been set to music, many of them as Fado, but in other styles too. In this post there's a selection.

Here are the words of the poem Mariza is singing in Portuguese, with my English free translation below each verse.

Há uma musica do Povo,
Nem sei dizer se é um fado -
Que ouvindo-a há um chiste novo
No ser que tenho guardado

There is a song of the people,
I can't even say if it's a Fado.
When I hear it it is like a new joke
Played on the me I've been guarding.

Ouvindo-a sou quem seria
Se desejar fosse ser
É uma simples melodia
Das que se aprendem a viver

Listening to it I am who I'd be
If only wishing was enough.
It's a simple melody
Of those who learn to live.

Mas é tão consoladora
A vaga e triste canção
Que a minha alma já não chora
Nem eu tenho coração

But it is so comforting,
This vague and sad song
That my soul no longer cries
Even if I don't have a heart.

Sou uma emoção estrangeira,
Um erro de sonho ido…
Canto de

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Desgarrada - lyrical dueling rap of northern Portugal

Augusto Canário & Naty Vieira "As Cuecas da Naty e do Canário"

1. Augusto Canário & Naty Vieira "As Cuecas da Naty e do Canário" (Naty and Canário's underwear)

Hypnotic weird folk music from the farming areas in the far North of Portugal. Two voices - often male and female, improvise insults, boasts and observational comedy. They are accompanied by accordions - one, two or sometimes a massed accordion band, as here.

The same tune repeats endlessly, and provides a background to the words, which follow a tight poetic structure. Very funny if you are Portuguese, but hard to translate as it is full of double entendres (duplos sentidos in Portuguese), slang and shared cultural references.

Note the 3.7 million views. This style is popular in Portugal, and is performed especially at country fairs and festivals. The Minho river valley is the heartland of Desgarrada today, but it is found throughout the North and in Madeira.

It is also performed around the world in ex-patriate, emigrant Portuguese associations and clubs, perhaps as a reminder of home. The accordion backing means it doesn't depend on amplification, so it can be performed indoors or outside.

Mike da Gaita and Naty Vieira "Desgarrada com Naty"

2. Mike da Gaita and Naty Vieira "Desgarrada com Naty" (Song duel with Naty)

Live Desgarrada can go on for a considerable time, as the singers vie with each other and think of new things to say. The recorded version is usually truncated in comparision.

The metrical structure of Desgarrada helps the singers improvise. Each singer sticks throughout to their own pattern, which can

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Cante Alentejano - traditional male voice choirs of southern Portugal

Grupo Coral de Cantares de Portel "Verão"

1. Grupo Coral de Cantares de Portel "Verão" (Summer)

The words are about working in the hot sun.

This singing style is characteristic of the vast scorched Alentejo agricultural region south of Lisbon. It typically counterposes two lone male voices to a larger male choir singing in unison. Cante Alentejano is usually sung without instrumental accompaniment, or with minimal accompaniment: perhaps from the local version of the acoustic guitar, the viola Campaniça, or the accordion, that 19th century instrument that has made its way into folk music around the world because it is portable, relatively cheap and loud.

Cante Alentejano is at root a popular music performed mostly by amateurs. As with many folk styles, tunes tend to fairly simple, and repeat with variations. The emphasis is on the voices, and the interaction between them. But some innovation has crept in, professional and semi-professional groups have formed, and Cante Alentejano has also inspired singers and composers from outside the genre.

Perhaps the most famous song inspired by the style is Zeca Afonso's Grândola, vila morena. It's relationship to Cante is discussed in Grândola in context below.

In the songs listed here we start at the more traditional-sounding end of the spectrum, then move increasing into more modified and professional territory.

Os Vocalistas "Não te Faças Coradinha"

2. Os Vocalistas "Não te Faças Coradinha" (Don't play at blushing)

Rancho de Cantadores de Vila Nova de São Bento "O meu chapéu"

3. Rancho de Cantadores de Vila Nova de São Bento "O meu chapéu" (My hat)

What's happening

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Zeca Afonso invites you to join him in a revolution

With the 46th anniversary of the Portuguese Revolution of the 25th of April 1974 upon us, now is a good time to reconsider the life and work of Zeca Afonso.

Zeca Afonso (full name José Manuel Cerqueira Afonso dos Santos) is one of the most influential singer / songwriters in 20th century history. He can be fairly compared to Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Mikis Theodorakis of Greece as a political musician of the left. But there is one great difference - the cause he was fighting for - the end of the Portuguese dictatorship and the end of the country's colonial wars, succeeded.

This may be why in Portugal they do not call such singers "protest singers". Instead they are called "singers of intervention" - cantores de intervenção. After all, the singing might just work.

In Zeca's case it certainly did. It is not just supposition that he had an influence on the course of events. The troops fighting Portugal's colonial wars were indeed listening to and playing his songs. Here's an example (it's also an example of Zeca singing in the Coimbra style).

José Zeca Afonso "Traz outro amigo também"

José Zeca Afonso "Traz outro amigo também" (Bring another friend too)

Words and music: José Afonso, 1970

A key feature of Zeca's songs is that their meaning is often not immediately obvious. Portuguese music was heavily censored at this time (as were foreign imports, many of which were just banned outright). Any obvious anti-war or anti-regime message would be stopped, and the perpetrators and those associated with them might well face unpleasant reprisals.

What it means:

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