Renewed Interest in Portuguese Traditional Music: a Bridge Between the Old and the New

Special Feature on Portugal - Part III - Portugal - 29 Jan 2015
International recognition for Portuguese traditional music in 2014 ++ The dialogue between the old and the new in contemporary Portuguese popular music ++ Possible consequences of this dialogue. by Denise Pereira
++ continues its Special Feature on Portugal with Part III. You can find Part I that takes a closer look at the major developements in Portugal's recent history here. Have as well a look at Part II and learn more about the political system of the Portuguese Republic. ++

International recognition for Portuguese traditional music in 2014

During 2014 Portuguese popular and traditional music received international attention and recognition following the nomination of Fado, a renowned Portuguese music genre to the list of UNESCO’s World’s Intangible Cultural Heritages in 2011. In November of last year Carlos do Carmo became the first Portuguese musician to be awarded a Grammy Award, “The lifetime Achievement”, by the Latin Recording Academy. Do Carmo, now 74 years old, is a famous Fado singer, who started singing in O Faia, a Lisbon located Casa de Fados (a place where you can enjoy diverse performances of this music genre while having a meal) owned by his parents. He became a very well-known singer, both in Portugal and Europe, celebrating his 50-year long career in 2014.

Furthermore, Cante Alentejano, a traditional a capella polyphonic singing, in which a solo singer alternates with a choir, that is associated with working in agriculture or in the mines, also incorporated the aforementioned UNESCO’s list. The candidacy intended to contribute both to the preservation and transmission of such a cultural tradition to the new generations, and also to attempt at improving the economic development of the southern Portuguese region of Alentejo, where the origins of Cante Alentejano lie.

A documentary by the director Sérgio Tréfaut named Alentejo, Alentejo (2014) intended to explore the meaning and impact of the UNESCO’s classification to the communities and settings where Cante is still being practiced today. This film intended to explore the nature of this type of singing and the life of its performers with the aim of promoting this regional cultural practice mainly to an audience outside Portugal. Furthermore, the documentary aims to discuss questions concerning the tensions between modernity and tradition which acute in this region, mainly trying to understand the meaning of such cultural endeavour today. It also discusses whether future generations still have a feeling that the music is a part of their cultural heritage, as well as if it is possible for a regional cultural expression to survive in a globalised world.

In these last few decades Portuguese popular music has been consistently recovering folkloric music traditions and instruments, incorporating them in their song writing while being simultaneously influenced by international popular and rock music. This appropriation and reinterpretation has allowed for the establishment of a dialogue between tradition and contemporaneity. Such dialogue permits the younger generations to get in touch with musical practices that are mostly unknown in the urban areas, since they are associated with rural working and social rituals. It also allows for the new generation of Portuguese musicians to question how to preserve the old roots while transforming and redefining what Portuguese contemporary music is, and how such traditions could evolve in a globalised and urban environment.

The dialogue between the old and the new in contemporary Portuguese popular music

Some bands explored the combination of Fado in their songs, in diverse degrees and styles, either through the use of the Portuguese guitar, the appropriation of poetic themes, the usage of some visual elements on the performance act, or through the transformation of such elements.
The band Madredeus, founded in 1985 and still composing and recording albums nowadays, Deolinda, a band whose debut album was released in 2008, and Oquestrada, the music act performing at the annual Nobel Prize Concert in 2012, are a few examples of well-known, international acclaimed music acts that explore this fusion.

The number of bands combining tradition and modernity is rising, and also the musical traditions explored and revived are becoming more varied, being such bands not only inspired by Fado, but also by rural old-style songs and instruments characteristic from diverse regions of Portugal. Some new musical acts are more concerned with recovering the traditional songs and instruments, without a proper concern about combining them with modern song composition, in an attempt to preserve Portuguese musical and cultural heritage.

Examples of such music acts, to name only a few, are Lavoisier, a couple who reinterprets traditional and popular Portuguese songs using mainly an electric guitar and voice; Galandum Galundaina, a quartet from the city of Miranda do Douro, defining themselves as a band that is recovering and modernising traditional songs from their region, who sings in Língua Mirandesa, an official language circumscribed to this region, spoken by 5,000 to 10,000 people approximately, and Sopa de Pedra, an all-female collective that sings a capella folk songs from all over Portugal, with choral arrangements prepared by themselves.

The award Megafone was created in 2010 being attributed to musicians, entities or collectives whose work pays tribute to Portuguese traditional music, while also proposing its renovation. One of the winners of the first edition of this prize was Tiago Pereira, the director and videographer responsible for the project “A Música Portuguesa a Gostar Dela Própria” [Portuguese Music Enjoying itself]. Such initiative started in 2011 and consists of a web channel and archive of videos containing the performances of several Portuguese musicians, filmed at a great variety of spots. It intends to celebrate Portuguese music, in its entire diversity, including a multitude of different music genres. The video recordings vary from amateur performances, professional music groups, to folkloric groups. Such register will be kept for posterity and can be used for future research endeavours, proposing also some answers to the question “What defines Portuguese Music”?

Possible consequences of this dialogue

It seems that the increasing acceptance and acclamation of Portuguese traditional music abroad stemmed from the popularity and interest in recovering, reviving and readapting musical traditions within Portugal. If such a dialogue between the old and new keeps on developing itself, it will surely become a great way to preserve the cultural heritage in a constantly developing society. It can also help to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas, improving the bonds between younger and older generations, while encouraging the development of the country’s music scene.

Source: Nuno.galveias | pd

Portuguese music band Deolinda performing in Oeiras

PT_2015-3_Spec_Carlos do Carmo
Source: José Goulão | CC BY-SA 2.0

Carlos do Carmo, famous Fado singer

Source: Joergsam | CC BY-SA 3.0

Southern Portuguese region of Alentejo

Related topics

A Música Portuguesa a Gostar Dela Própria
Cante Alentejano
Carlos do Carmo
Galadum Galundaina
Sérgio Tréfaut
Sopa de Pedra
Tiago Pereira
UNESCO’s World’s Intangible Cultural Heritages

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