Sometimes it happens in Spain that when we have the opportunity to travel, we decide to do so to faraway places, either out of curiosity that cultures completely different from our own arouse in us or because the more distant the destination, the more unlikely it will be to repeat it as we travel and age.
However, what we have at hand often goes unnoticed, for example, as is the case with our neighboring country Portugal. We all think that delicious cod, its capital Lisbon, the beautiful Porto, the Algarve beaches are characteristics of the Portuguese, but what do we know, for example, about the Portuguese song? We surely know the most famous songs in Portuguese, but also the most important in their country or the best?
And yes, it is true that fado is the ultimate expression of Portuguese music, characterized by nostalgia (or saudade in Portuguese), that sad joy or happy sadness that makes us feel. Who has not heard of the fado singer Amália Rodrigues? The proclaimed “queen of fado,” star of music from the 50s with her song Uma portuguesa and many others. Or the fado singer Mariza and her Melhor de mim, if we turn to the current Portuguese song.
Portuguese song is not only about fado, but what would become of current music if it did not exist?
But there are fados and personalities that shape it, as well as years of evolution and homage. Portugal has gifted us with the talent of important singer-songwriters, like José Afonso and his famous Grândola Vila Morena, representative of the Carnation Revolution, a musical anthem in the 70s and still today, used as a symbol of resistance and struggle.
And of course, it is very likely that some of those who have come this far also know people like Diabo na cruz, a more modern group that mixes Portuguese oral tradition with rock and roll, and one of its components, B Fachada, who decided to continue his career as a solo singer and songwriter, in one of the independent references of the moment. Although we have already delved into this in the article about current Portuguese music.
With this small summary as a sample, we propose, as lovers of the wonders that Portugal has, to review Portuguese song and remember some of the best songs in Portuguese, as well as the most famous ones, mainly the old ones.
9 famous Portuguese songs. From the 50s to the 90s
If we open our eyes and ears to popular Portuguese songs, we will realize that it is often not necessary to know a language perfectly to capture the emotions that music tries to convey. A clear example of this phenomenon occurs with fado, capable of giving us chills simply by hearing the moving voices of the fado singers, their way of interpreting the song, and the way they live what they sing with such intensity, transporting listeners to those worlds of nostalgia and feelings. Just listen to Amália Rodrigues talking about Portuguese hospitality or Carlos do Carmo singing to Lisbon.
But the same happens with other famous songs in Portuguese, because man (Portuguese) does not live by fado alone, creating very diverse emotions such as solemnity and pride in defending rights, the benevolence of Maria Albertina or the peace and tranquility of Pica do 7.
Next, we will comment on some of these songs that constitute a good sample of what Portugal has to offer us musically.
Uma casa portuguesa, by Amália Rodrigues
The queen of fado sang this song for the first time in 1953. It can be said that it is the most famous fado of the 50s, although its magic and charm are eternal. In it, Amália Rodrigues tells us about the saudade of the artist’s house, Portuguese hospitality, with a cheerful rhythm and much instrumental accompanied by Portuguese guitar and Spanish guitar.
Amália’s professional career lasted 40 years, although the most successful period was the years 1950 – 1970. With over 30 albums on her resume, Amália is the Portuguese artist who has sold the most records. She had the opportunity to perform in Paris, Madrid, and even Mexico.
Verdes são os campos, by Teresa Silva Carvalho
This Portuguese song is as calm and restful as you would expect from its origin. Teresa performed it in 1977, and accompanying her voice, we hear the characteristic Portuguese guitar, as well as wind instruments, as part of what we would call typical Portuguese song. Based on a sixteenth-century poem by Lisbon poet Luís de Camões, the song speaks of nostalgia and memories inspired by something as simple as a field.
Teresa had her biggest success in the 70s – 80s, with a discography of over 10 albums and several versions of the famous Portuguese singer and songwriter José Afonso. At the end of the 1980s, she decided to leave the stage and lead a private life on all levels.
Canção do mar, by Dulce Pontes
Performed by Dulce in 1993, it is surely one of the most famous Portuguese songs outside its country, due to all the versions made by various Portuguese fadistas, as well as the audiovisual productions in which it has appeared.
Originally composed in 1950 by Ferrer Trindade, in Dulce’s version, you can hear Arabic influences. It’s a powerful song, an ode to the sea as captivating and powerful as it is dangerous, to the sea that separates us from our homeland and makes us long for what remains there.
Dulce has a discography of over ten albums and various collaborations with artists of all kinds, such as Greek singer Elefthería Arvanitáki or Spanish tenor José Carreras.
Inquietação, by José Mário Branco
José Mário Branco, who passed away at the end of 2019, was a Portuguese singer and songwriter representing the protest song in his country. For this reason, he had to go into exile in France during the Salazar dictatorship. With over 10 albums and many collaborations with international artists, he also composed music for theatre, cinema, and television.
In the song Inquietação from 1999, we can hear drums played with brushes, a double bass that adds a touch of swing to the music, the Portuguese guitar, a piano, and even a saxophone. José Mário tells us about memories of the past and uncertainty about the future.
Lisboa, menina e moça, by Carlos Do Carmo
Carlos do Carmo is another of the most famous Portuguese fadistas, the son of the also famous fadista Lucília do Carmo. His family ran a fado house in Lisbon, which he took over after his father’s death, so it can be said that he was imbued with Portuguese music from birth.
He participated in Eurovision in 1976, held in The Hague, with the theme Flor de verde pinho, based on a poem by Manuel Alegre, and has twenty albums, several live performances, and EPs. He performed Joan Manuel Serrat’s El drapaire in Portuguese, and in 2007 appeared in the film Fados by Carlos Saura, along with Mariza and Camané.
This song from 1976, with significant presence of the Portuguese guitar, is a love song in Portuguese to his city, Lisbon, and its mythical places.
Para os braços da minha mãe, by Pedro Abrunhosa and Camané
This music was originally composed by Pedro Abrunhosa (whom we talked about in our list of calming night songs) and is performed with Camané in an acoustic version with piano and violins accompanying both voices. It is one of the Portuguese songs that best represents the essence of the typical Portuguese song, and conveys nostalgia for home, our roots, and our family.
Carlos Manuel Moutinho Paiva dos Santos Duarte, known as Camané for everyone’s convenience, is a fadista who began his career by winning a fado-focused music competition in 1979. He has nearly a dozen records and is a very versatile artist: he has been a crooner, chansonier, canzonetista, bolero, and bossa nova singer and sings in various languages.
Grândola vila morena, by José “Zeca” Afonso
This song could be defined as the revolutionary song par excellence, symbol along with the carnations of 1974. Simply with José Afonso’s voice and a background sound like soldiers marching, this song inspires solemnity, respect, and the fight for rights that they want to snatch.
The song, banned by the oppressive regime, served as a password for the start of the Carnation Revolution on April 25, 1974, a revolution that brought democracy to Portugal after almost 50 years.
His professional career consists of more than 20 albums, and his songs have been interpreted by artists as diverse as Dulce Pontes, Madredeus, Siniestro Total, Joan Baez, Amélia Muge, Sérgio Godinho, or Patxi Andión. He is also famous for all the songs dedicated to Coimbra throughout his career, abandoned in the early 80s due to sclerosis that cost him his life in 1987.
Canção de engate, by António Variações
The singer and songwriter António Variações had a difficult childhood, working from a very young age, then serving in the military in Angola and seeking life later in London and Amsterdam, places where he learned a new way of living that is reflected in his music, innovative and pioneering for the time.
António was an eccentric musician who mixed various genres and has been recognized as the composer of some of the greatest rock, pop, blues, and fado songs in Portuguese. This original and different style quickly helped him find success. It can be said that he was the Portuguese Tino Casal.
This song, which talks about a fortuitous passion, was released in 1984, although it seems more modern, shortly before the premature death of its author at just 39 years old, due to AIDS. Despite this, his music continued to influence Portuguese song, and compilation albums with his songs have continued to be released.
A minha casinha, by Xutos & Pontapés
Xutos & Pontapés is a Portuguese rock group that started its career in 1978. With over ten albums, some internal crises with changes in the group’s members, and a commendation from the Order of Merit by the President of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio, in 2004, the band’s last album dates back to 2014, although the group is still active. We look forward to updates.
This simple lyric song that speaks of longing for home has the rhythm of the most famous rock songs: the guitar, the drums, and that arrogance in singing that makes you want to move your body from the first chords.
(Madrid, 1988). Azahara P. Navas has a degree in Chemical Engineering from the Complutense University of Madrid and currently works as a language translator with knowledge of English, French, German and Greek.