What gives national music its distinct character? The great Leonard Bernstein answered this question in one of his Young People’s Concerts:
“[…] folk songs reflect the rhythms and accents and speeds of the way a particular people talks: in other words, their language — especially the language of their poetry — sort of grows into musical sounds. And those speaking rhythms and accents finally pass from folk-music into what we call the art-music, or opera or concert-music of a particular people; and that is what makes Tchaikovsky sound Russian or what makes Verdi sound Italian, or what makes Gershwin sound American.”
Portuguese is a language with closed vowels and shh sounds that can come across as Slavic. Our theory is that these traits emerged over time as a defense strategy against Spanish invasions. When the Spaniards, used to the open vowels and crisp enunciation inherited from the Latin, came to Portugal, they couldn’t understand the local language. As a result, they went back to Spain and left us alone since 1640.
If you’re traveling in Portugal, we invite you to use our Spotify playlist of local music as your soundtrack:
It is an eclectic list that includes classic fados from the great Amália Rodrigues but also the work of a wonderful new generation of fado singers that includes Ana Moura, Carminho, and Mariza. It features folk-inspired music by Trovante and instrumental music ranging from an elegant sonata by the 18th-century composer Carlos Seixas to a joyous rendition of dance music on accordion.
We hope this music, infused with the rhythms and accents of the Portuguese language, will enrich your journey through Portugal.
Fado is a mystery, said the great singer Amália Rodrigues. This musical style emerged in Lisbon’s old neighborhoods in the 19th century. Its unique character comes from the Portuguese guitar, a twelve-string instrument with a haunting, melancholic sound. No one knows who invented it.
Female singers dress in black, as if they are in mourning. When their voices soar, they express ancient sorrows that don’t fit in the 12-tone scale of western music. So, they reach for the microtones of old Arab prayers. How do they remember these sounds?
Fado is Amália Rodrigues, a singer who could express the inexpressible. When she died, in the last year of the 20th century, fado seemed to die with her. But singers like Carminho and Mariza picked up where Amalia left of, singing with voices that have one thousand trills. Where did they learn them?
You can hear Amalia Rodrigues here. Click here and here for Carminho’s and Mariza’s web sites.
Minho (“meeño) is a region in the north of Portugal where mountains and valleys, rivers and sea join forces to create lush landscapes. It is a land of ancient traditions, influenced by the celtic tribes that once populated the area and by the roman invaders who thought these were the Elysian fields.
No one understood Minho better than the poet Pedro Homem de Mello. His famous poem, “One day we’ll go to Viana,” describes the allure of visiting Viana do Castelo, one of the gems of the region.
If you’re lucky enough to fulfill the poet’s dream and go to Viana, look for the beautiful LRV pottery. Local artisans paint these elegant pieces with the patience and care of an era gone by, when time flowed slowly and it was hard to travel to Viana.
“Havemos de Ir a Viana” was set to music and became a hit in the voice of the great fado singer Amália Rodrigues. Our version of this song features Cecília Fontes on voice, Evandra Gonçalves and Teresa Mascarenhas on violin, and Sergio Rebelo on guitar. The piece was mixed and produced by Pedro Rebelo. It was recorded in Chicago, at a time when violinist Evandra Gonçalves was missing her hometown, Viana do Castelo.
When things are not going our way, we take a mental vacation and recall a day at the beach. It’s late afternoon and the sun is getting ready for an ocean dive. The temperature is perfect; a slight breeze caresses our skin. Sometimes, we daydream about the Algarve, where the air is perfumed by almond flowers. Other times, we imagine the west coast of Portugal, where the wind smells of pine and seaweed. All we hear is the chatter of the waves. All we feel is the serenity of the moment.
Pedro Rebelo is a Portuguese composer, sound artist and performer, working primarily in chamber music, improvisation and installation with new technologies. You can learn more about his wonderfully original work by clicking here.
This recording is a reworking of “A saia da Carolina” (Carolina’s skirt), a traditional Portuguese song that kids learn in kindergarten. The lyrics are about a little girl who wears a skirt with a lizard print. She shows a precocious sense of fashion, using animal fabrics way before René Lacoste embroidered a crocodile on his blazer.
Pedro Rebelo (concertina and production) and Sergio Rebelo (guitar). The drawing is by Ana Duarte, a new Portuguese fashion designer well on her way to success and fame. Check out her clothes collection here.
Milho verde (green corn) is a Portuguese folk song made famous by the singer José Afonso. It is a song that was probably sang by farmers, in sync with the rhythm of their labor as they tended the fields. This version uses the soundscape of a Portuguese farmers market as the background.
Pedro Rebelo (concertina and soundscape) and Sergio Rebelo (dobro).
This post is our 100th! Thanks to all the readers who have been following us on this journey through all that is glorious in Portugal. We decided to celebrate by posting a recording of a Portuguese folk tune which you can’t hear anywhere else.
Portugal has a treasure trove of traditional music which evolved over centuries. Each generation burnished the melodies, sharpened the rhythms, and clarified the rhymes until all that is left is pure emotion.
Today we bring you Menino d’oiro (golden baby boy), a lullaby made popular by the folk singer José Afonso. Our version is a home recording made with soprano Cecília Fontes, violinists Evandra Gonçalves and Teresa Mascarenhas, conductor Joana Carneiro on viola, and Sergio Rebelo on guitar. Pedro Rebelo mixed and produced the recording.
Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, we bet you can feel the mother’s emotions as she lulls her precious baby to sleep.