2 de maio de 2008

Texto de Marcello Carlin sobre "Grândola, vila morena"

As the field recordings sampled on Charlie Haden's original Liberation Music Orchestra album proved, if emotion and purpose are expressed sufficiently strongly then both will be felt regardless of the listener's knowledge of the language in which they are being expressed - and this extends to all of Tropicalia from 1968 onward, from the reactionary audience booing Caetano Veloso offstage for going electric to the mellow bitterness of Tom Jobim's Matita Pere, the most extreme balancing case of sweet music and enraged lyrics in all of pop.

I knew a fair bit about Zeca Afonso's life - Portugal's Guthrie, Dylan and Jara in one; committed revolutionary, a central player in the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship who did his time, both within Portugal (in prison) and outside Portugal (in exile but still fighting for the righteous cause, and died in 1988, not quite sixty, from complications arising from Lou Gehrig's disease (thus was he also the Portuguese Mingus) - but little about his music other than knowing this song from the version performed by Haden's LMO on their 1982 album The Ballad Of The Fallen. Regular BiA reader Nuno has very kindly sent me copies of two of his key albums and I am enormously grateful for both, since Zeca's records are currently next to unobtainable in any format in Britain.

Of these, 1971's Cantigas do Maio seems to me his clear masterpiece; a blueprint for revolution, both politically and musically. Despite my lack of understanding of the Portuguese language Zeca's voice - Seeger sturdiness meets Jobim smoothness - transmits his feelings with more than sufficient power. Although the record is not exclusively political, the tang of the radical is palpable throughout all nine tracks - the berimbau-directed bounce of "Ronda dos Mafarricas," the percussion-only delivery of the Gal Costa hit "Milho Verde," the seamless transition from flute/acoustic fluidity to hard trumpet/electric bass edge throughout "Maio Maduro Maio," the devastated (and proto-Bon Iver) howl which blows acridly through "Cantar Alentejano," the subtle post-psychedelic effects throughout the record as a whole, and the climactic "Coro da Primavera" which alternates between a slippery groove which puts me in strange mind of the Mayer/Harriott Indo-Jazz Fusions records and defiant, free-tempo but slow motion choral anthemising.

But "Grândola Vila Morena" is for voices and massed marching feet only; celebrating the spirit of brotherhood and collaboration in the titular town, its procession is proud with no wish for turning. In April 1974 this recording was played on Portuguese radio as a signal for what would be termed the "Carnation Revolution" to begin, which shortly led to the deposing of the Salazar regime with roughly equal amounts of consequent freedom and problems. Zeca's immortality was assured, and although its humble dignity does not immediately mark it out as a revolutionary anthem, its quiet determination was instrumental in helping reshape this damaged society. An orchestra of music which helped liberate, the banner of the newly risen, and the most fitting of songs to celebrate on this May Day.

Retirado daqui

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