It is today the anniversary of the Portuguese carnation revolution.
Like all radical endeavours in history the upsurge was a joyful affair, at least to start with. An immensely popular song, after April 25th, was entitled Gaibota (the seagull). Poster wit, although perhaps never achieving the insights of May 1968 in France, nevertheless developed into a telling instrument of social critique. The anarchists ensured that it was used as often against the ‘left’ as against more obvious targets. With the joy went a very Portuguese toughness.
The Fado persisted,not as an embodiement of despair and resignation (as claimed by the superficial sociologists ) but as a down-to-earth and uncompromising statement of the life of the poor. I recall a letter Phil once wrote me. He was entering the Alentejo : “The tiny hills begin to roll across the flat countryside. Crouched eucalyptus trees hide in the barren dales. Here is a land of tradition, of rich struggles against elements and of wine, olives and music, of landowners alike, a land of everyday survival, difficult to penetrate except by those who care for it. It is as if the stunted growth of the trees said all that needed to be said about hardship, abandonment, work – about the constant fight against a poor and unyielding soil on which lived giant women and monstrous men. But however ungrateful the land, the spirit was never crippled…”.
Although not songs of revolt the fados testify to this indestructibility of the oppressed, to this deep unity of man and nature. Romany roots endow some songs with a fierce pride, with a scorn for what ‘the bourgeois’ will think or say, enabling them boldly to deal with such themes as women’s right to sexual pleasure. No sentimentality, no soothing syrup. Love may mean pain, but is worth it. No neurotic trendiness. Just things as they are.Is not this the raw material of which revolution will be made?
Here is A gaviota, also known as Somos livres, We are free.
- Carving Out a Bold Destiny for Fado (nytimes.com)
- Captain Vitor Alves: Soldier who played a crucial role in Portugal’s ‘Carnation Revolution’ (independent.co.uk)
- Poumismic (poumista.wordpress.com)