Sunday, 13 March 2011

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal - Pt.2

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal is the latest in our series of mixtapes, and it can be downloaded for free here. The collection draws heavily on the folk songs or canção de intervenção that were part of the protest movement against the totalitarian regime in Portugal, and the performers were an important part of the resistance that led to The Carnation Revolution on 24 April 1974.
The whole issue of protest songs, and the question about whether music can actually change anything, can be debated eternally. But at a time when parts of the world are in turmoil as people rise up against long-standing authoritarian regimes, The Carnation Revolution seems strangely topical. And pop songs really did play a part in that particular 'revolution'. Two songs in particular were to play a part in those momentous events, acting as secret signals. The first was the broadcast of E Depois do Adeus by Paulo de Carvalho, Portugal's entry in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. This was a signal to alert the left-leaning rebel officers within the military that the coup was to begin.
Is it ironic that it was to be a seemingly innocuous pop song that would be the trigger for momentous events, or is it appropriate? After all, what did troops sing when they fought fascists in WW2?
Paulo de Carvalho had been in the '60s a member of the Portuguese beat group Os Sheiks, who produced some great recordings such as Missing You. Revolutionary stuff in its way, but it is this song that has a special place in Portuguese history ...
The other song that sparked The Carnation Revolution is Grândola, Vila Morena by Jose Afonso (or Zeca Afonso, as he is also known). On April 25, 1974, at 12:20am the song was broadcast on Portuguese radio as a signal for the start of the revolution that overthrew the authoritarian regime. The coup itself was relatively peaceful, and against advice many ordinary people poured onto the streets of Lisbon to show support to the officers leading the overthrow. Carnations were taken from the flower markets and used as a symbol of victory and peace, hence the name.
The Jose Afonso song was an appropriate one, as it had been banned by the Estado Novo regime for what it saw as communist associations. In other words, it was a perfect choice for the officers to use as a trigger for action against the old regime.
Jose Afonso was a key figure in the protest song movement for many years before The Carnation Revolution and an inspiring figure for many who sought to bring about the end of an unpopular right wing regime. I am no expert on the music of Jose Afonso but what I've heard spectacularly transcends the stereotype of earnest protest song. The Coro dos Tribunais and Eu Vou Ser Como A Toupeira LPs from the early '70s, for example, are fantastic and feature some wonderfully inventive songs that fit very nicely alongside some of the Brazilian records of the same era by the likes of Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque.
The song itself, Grândola, Vila Morena, has understandably taken on a life of its own. It was later covered by Charlie Haden and Carla Bley on the 1983 LP The Ballad of the Fallen. The wonderful fado singer Amalia Rodrigues also recorded a very moving version. But here's the Jose Afonso one ...

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