Tag: Intervention singers

Total 2 Posts
Singers with something to say about Portugal and the world. Taken much more seriously than Anglo-American protest singers.

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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Rui Veloso and Isabel Silvestre on two kinds of literacy

Isabel Silvestre "A gente não lê"

Isabel Silvestre "A gente não lê" (The people can't read)

Released in 1998 in a folk fusion style, this cover version brings extra force and meaning to a wonderful song - which was originally recorded 16 years earlier in a rock/blues guitar style.

What it's about: The title "A gente não lê" uses an ambiguous construction in Portuguese. It can mean "The people don't read", "We don't read" or even "I can't read". The song is about rural illiteracy, but also the loneliness of old people in the rapidly depopulating villages of Portugal. It is the older generation now who can't read, and the young people who are leaving.

Both the music composer Rui Velosi and the singer Isabel Silvestre were brought up in the sort of place the song deals with - in the mountains between Coimbra and Porto in North-Central Portugal. The writer of the words, poet and lyricist Carlos Tê, comes from Porto itself.

Here's the Portuguese text if you want to follow along. Both singers are clear, but Rui Velosi in the version further down the page drops fewer syllables (the famous Portuguese "vowel reduction") than Isabel.

Ai Senhor das Furnas
Que escuro vai dentro de nós,
Rezar o terço ao fim da tarde,
Só pr'a espantar a solidão,
E rogar a Deus que nos guarde,
Confiar-lhe o destino na mão.

Oh Lord of the Caves,
How dark it is inside us,
Praying with the rosary at the end of the day,
Just to chase away the loneliness,
And asking

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