Tag: Portuguese history

Total 8 Posts
Portugal - within roughly its present boundaries, with its capital in Lisbon and the name Portugal, has a history going back to the middle of the 13th century. But before that the Latin language, the basis of modern Portuguese, arrived in the area with Roman armies in the second century BC(E).

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:

Continue Reading



Welcome! This whole site is a sampler of Portuguese music, so you can hear what it sounds like and get a feeling for what it means. It concentrates on the styles most popular in Portugal, going back over the last 50 years so you can find out how this extraordinary music has come about.

The Portuguese do of course listen to other western music, but I don't cover that here. Instead the focus is on music from Portugal sung for the most part in Portuguese. To the extent copyright law allows me I give samples of the lyrics and translations into English where I can. Where I can't translate I'll paraphrase or give a summary of what I think it's about.

Music is a form of memory. It helps create a shared understanding among people, a sense of who we are and what we have in common. Music can do this because it evokes feelings. And what we have in common with other people is only occasionally knowledge or opinions. What we share with other people is feelings. Discovering and connecting with an unfamiliar music deepens our connection with humanity, and our own self-knowledge. Music thus becomes a source of strength, hope and resilience.

About the Author

I'm Ian Stobie, a blogger based in the UK. I live in England, but love Portuguese music. I want to discover more of it and understand what it means.

I first visited Portugal in 1975 at the tail end of the Revolution. There was a lot going on at the time, but I didn't notice much in the way of music.

Continue Reading

Why do some Portuguese despise Fado?

Fado has been disliked and even despised by both Right and Left in Portugal during its eventful history. It has been looked down on, legally censored and actively suppressed - but much more actively and effectively by the Right.

It was seen as a source of weakness, in both moral and military spheres.


This famous picture by José Malhoa (1855 to 1933), now in the Museo do Fado in Lisbon, is brilliant in its ambiguity. It was painted in 1910 as the debate about Fado was raging. We are now likely to glance at it and see an image of cool bohemianism. But dissolute moral decadence was a more likely reading at the time.

The man on the right is a fadista and petty criminal known as The Painter (Malhoa, who knew them both was thus known as The Old Painter in demi-monde circles).

The woman on the left is a prostitute known as The Scar. She was heavily tattooed. But was known to the young King, who asked Malhoa to tone down the tattoos. The King, like many aristocrats of the day, was a Fado fan.

There lies the problem. Fado was associated with a declining monarchy, and an aristocratic landowning class that was despised for its weakness, moral corruption and inability to stand up for the country. Rather than frequenting brothels it should have been out in the world fighting the other colonial powers, especially the British (who’d taken bits of central Africa off the Portuguese in the era of Cecil Rhodes [1]).

Fado loses its powerful protectors

The previous King had been assassinated in 1908, along with his designated heir. The

Continue Reading

Carlos Ramos sings a Fado from a time before divorce

Carlos Ramos "Não venhas tarde"

Carlos Ramos "Não venhas tarde" (Don't come home late)

Words: Aníbal Nazaré
Music: João Nobre

This is a song of intense male regret, posing almost as a comedy song. It goes back to 1958. There were a lot of poor quality Fado lyrics around at the time, often focusing on everyday domestic dramas. This was one consequence of the control regime Fado was still under in Portugal. Lyrics were subject to prior approval and censorship, and lighter, more conventional topics were more likely to make it through.

But there is real feeling behind Carlos Ramos's delivery of this song, and it has become a Fado classic. There is also an unstated reality behind the story it tells, which is why it resonated with listeners at time, in a way that is hard to recapture in the very different circumstances most of us live in today.

Of that more below. First here are the words in Portuguese, with my English free translation below each verse.

Não venhas tarde
Dizes-me tu com carinho,
Sem nunca fazer alarde
Do que me pedes, beixinho

Don't come home late
You say to me with affection
Without making a fuss
About what you are asking me, softly.

Não venhas tarde,
E eu peço a deus que no fim,
Teu coração ainda guarde,
Um pouco de amor por mim.

Don't come home late
And I ask to God that in the end
Your heart still keeps
A little love for me.

Tu, sabes bem
Que eu vou p'ra outra mulher,
Que ela me prende também,
Que eu só faço o que ela quer.

Continue Reading

History of Portugal



218 BC The Romans arrive in the Iberian peninsula

Their initial motive is to dislodge the Carthaginians, who had an expanding military presence on the south and east coasts at the time of Hannibal in the second Punic war. Defeating the Carthaginians in Iberia was to take the Romans 12 years.

The Romans then set about colonising the whole peninsula, both Spain and modern Portugal. This was to take 200 years to complete, and involved the Republic's two top generals, Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, at various stages. It was a considerable undertaking, involving at its maximum seven Roman legions in the field at the same time.

The Romans bring Latin. Modern Portuguese is basically still Latin - optimised over the years for poetry and song.

Ângela Silva Rodrigo Leão "Carpe diem"

Ângela Silva sings composer Rodrigo Leão's "Carpe diem" (Seize the day) in Latin

This is a hymn to love made up of common Latin phrases. Though Latin is not widely understood now, Portuguese singers don't have much trouble with the pronunciation and phrasing.

139 BC Death of Viriatus - resistance begins to fade

Viriatus (Viriato in Portuguese) is the Portuguese equivalent of Vercingetorix in France and Boudica or Caratacus in Britain. Resistance to the Romans was most intense in the upper Douro valley, on both the Portuguese and Spanish sides of the modern border.

Local hero Viriatus, hailing from somewhere in the Douro valley, is celebrated today in both countries. After numerous victories Viriatus was finally killed by treachery (like that other famous enemy of Rome, Arminius in Germany).


Continue Reading