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The perfect soundtrack for your trip to Portugal

Of course, when it comes to Portuguese music, everyone thinks of fado first. And rightly so, because this musical style is Portugal’s melancholic music par excellence and has been practiced and continuously developed here for two centuries. Originally developed in the poor districts of Lisbon’s Mouraria, it quickly spread to bourgeois salons and is now performed not only in touristy fado pubs, but also in countless concerts, on television and, of course, on the radio. There is even a station there that is completely dedicated to Fado: Rádio Amália. You will almost always hear this when you get into a taxi in Lisbon. I too am a fan of this melancholic music; I enjoy the constant balancing act between happy and sad, which is sometimes only changed for the repetition of a line and interpreted with astonishingly different effects.

Não sei se dura sempre esse teu beijo
Ou apenas o que resta desta noite
O vento, enfim, parou
Já mal o vejo
Por sobre o Tejo
E já tudo pode ser
Tudo aquilo que parece
Na Lisboa que amanhece

I don’t know if your kiss will last forever
Or just what’s left of that night
The wind has finally subsided
I hardly see him anymore
Over the Tejo
And now everything can be like
What it looks like
At the dawn of Lisbon
Sérgio Godinho

The fascinating Fadista Gisela João

Gisela João actually comes from the north, lived in Porto for a while and then moved to the Lisbon Mouraria neighbourhood in 2011 to make a name for herself as a fado singer. After two years, she found success with her highly acclaimed debut album. Since then, she has been regarded as one of the most important fado voices since the great Amália Rodrigues. She has sung in films, on television, at countless concerts and on Portugal’s biggest stages. I saw her for the first time at a guest appearance at a concert by Sergio Godinho and her sympathetic nature, combined with her extraordinary voice, immediately won me over.

Gisela João interprets a fado classic in the Lisbon Mouraria neighbourhood

Deolinda – a humorous and critical combo from Lisbon

In 2006, the musically talented brothers Pedro da Silva and Luís José Martins met their Lisbon cousin Ana Bacalhau and her later-husband José Pedro Leitão, and while dining out, they came up with the idea of setting the songs Pedro had written about a fictitious Lisbon woman (Deolinda) to music together. This gathering of four musicians, already experienced in other band projects, quickly gave them a breakthrough in the Portuguese music business and in 2008, they sold their debut album in such large numbers that they won double platinum for it. The fictitious Deolinda lives with her two cats and her goldfish in an apartment in one of the many Lisbon suburbs and observes and comments on the world satirically, humorously and also critically from her window. So in 2011, the band, now known all over Europe, landed a hit with their song Parva que Sou (How Stupid I Am), which was celebrated in Portugal as the anthem of a generation. It’s about academics who have to do unpaid work as interns. When we went to a Deolinda concert in London in 2011, which was enjoyed for the most part by Portuguese expats who had just left their homeland for economic reasons, we felt the enthusiasm of the people for this surprisingly performed ironic song. In 2017, Deolinda announced a break for an indefinite period of time, but they left behind a treasure trove of four wonderful albums to enjoy during the wait.

Deolinda invites you to take a playful walk through Lisbon.

The classic Portuguese band project Madredeus

In 1986, the two experienced musicians Pedro Ayres Magalhães and Rodrigo Leão founded the band Madredeus, which is still successful and known internationally today. They invited three more musicians to this project, along with the musically-inexperienced singer Teresa Salgueiro, and rehearsed in the monastery Madre de Deus in the Lisbon district Xabregas, from which they inherited their name. Today, the monastery is very accessible, as it houses the Azulejo Museum, which is well worth seeing. Internationally, Madredeus became famous through the Wim Wenders film Lisbon Story. Lisbon was European Capital of Culture in 1996, and Wenders depicted the charm of the alleys of the old Lisbon districts in his film as impressively as the emotional, classical Portuguese music of Madredeus. After 20 very successful years together, the band split in 2006 and various attempts by Pedro Magalhães and Carlos Maria Trindade to continue the project with new musicians were far less successful than the original line-up.

Madredeus and Lisbon Story from 1996

The contemporary Lisbon singer Luísa Sobral

One Saturday afternoon, Ana returned enthusiastically from the “Music for Babies” course, which we otherwise only sort of enjoyed, and was delighted to tell us that one of the participating mothers was Luísa Sobral and had sung so beautifully that everyone else just wanted to listen. Over the next few weeks, we were both much more motivated to accompany our youngest to this course, but unfortunately I had no opportunity to see the singer live. Just this year, we happened to stumble into a wonderful concert of this well-known Portuguese jazz and soul singer at the very charming little music festival Bons Sons, which takes place every summer in the cosy village of Cem Soldos, near Tomar. The well-attended concert in an orchard on a hillside, which became a natural amphitheatre under the moon in Portugal, also appealed to our children. Since the song Amar pelos dois by her younger brother Salvador Sobral made Portugal the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2017 for the first time, I also knew its composer Luísa Sobral. By the way, this song is still part of the daily repertoire of Ana’s lullabies today.

Luísa Sobral sings in her album Lu-Pu-I-Pi-Sa-Pa about her childhood experiences, and often does so expressly for families with children who are bringing their sleepy kids to school. The album’s name is derived from the P-language popular with Portuguese children and simply means Luísa. For example, this wordplay corresponds to the spoon language I was very familiar with from my childhood, in which the album would have been called Lu-lewu-Ilewi-Salewa.

The songwriters Jorge Palma and Sergio Godinho

Sergio Godinho and Jorge Palma can now be regarded as the very first stars of the Portuguese music scene. Both have spent some time in exile because they refused military service in the ex-colonies, then came back to Portugal after the Carnation Revolution and started different careers as musicians here. Sergio Godinho as a poetic songwriter, actor and theatre director, Jorge Palma as a songwriter and rock musician, who also spent many years as a street musician in Paris, Spain, Brazil and the USA. He is also respected in Portugal for his independent lifestyle. In September 2015, the two recorded a very interesting album together during a live concert: Juntos ao Vivo no Theatro Circo.

Extract from the concert by Jorge Palma and Sérgio Godinho in Braga (September 2015)

Carefree mix from Almada – the band Oquestrada

The band Oquestrada was founded in 2002 by the actress and musician Marta Miranda and the French musician Jean Marc Pablo in Almada, on the south side of the Tejo opposite Lisbon. The band’s name refers to their desire to be a mobile entertainment orchestra close to the street and thus to make music and entertain people’s lives. They released their first album in 2009 and have been extremely successful nationally and internationally ever since. We saw Oquestrada for the first time in 2011 at a relatively large concert at the Centro Cultural de Belém and were thrilled by their cheerful and lively performance.

The singer-songwriter JP Simões

The Portuguese writer, musician and actor John Paul Nunes Simões has been very successful in various band projects since 1995 (Pop Dell’Arte, Belle Chase Hotel, Quinteto Tati). Since 2007, he has released several albums as JP Simões, in which he shows himself to be an outstanding storyteller with a guitar. In his album Rome (2013), he refers to society’s indifference to bomb attacks and wars with the song Goste de me drogar. The protagonist, who strolls through the city centre of Lisbon, hardly notices the destroyed, empty houses, the accident victims, and wants to look the other way, prefering to numb himself with drugs because neither he nor anything else can change. On his remarkable new album Tremble like a flower, he sings in English under the new pseudonym Bloom, producing songs that are more reminiscent of folk than of anything he has produced before.

Tiago Bettencourt covers António Variações

As lead singer of the band Toranja, Tiago Bettencourt released their first album Esquissos with this band in 2003, which was already very successful. After that, they stayed in Canada and released more albums with the band Mantha. Here, Bettencourt sings a famous piece by the outstanding musician António Variações, who received a highly acclaimed biopic treatment (Variações 2019) this year as a dazzling personality of the early 1980s.

The remarkable singer Márcia

Ana Márcia de Carvalho Santos from Lisbon has been a successful singer since 2009. Before that, she studied painting, produced documentaries and finally attended a singing course at the Escola de Jazz Hot Clube. This club is the oldest existing jazz club in Europe and is located at Praça da Alegria in Lisbon. Márcia’s success is based on a careful interaction of her very precise voice and a simple acoustic accompaniment. She sings engaging songs, and she always enjoys collaborating with other Portuguese singers, as in this very successful piece with JP Simões.

The troubadour with sideburns, Samuel Úria

The so-called Troubadour with sideburns, Samuel Úria, became known as a member of the FlowerCaveira movement. This is an independent record label that exclusively releases music in Portuguese, and all songs are recorded at home. Since 2008, Samuel Úria has been very well received by Portuguese music critics for all of his record releases so far.

Our Spotify soundtrack for your trip to Portugal

Maybe you already want to get in the mood for your upcoming trip, are looking for a good playlist for your time in Portugal or would like to set the tracks for your beautiful Portuguese summer holiday? Here, I have compiled a list for you with the extensive support of my partner. This list is of course unspecific and by no means exemplary of Portuguese taste in music. It is rather a compilation of mostly current happy and melancholic pieces, which in my opinion set the scene of the Portuguese emotional state quite well and at the same time will please your children. I have concentrated exclusively on Portuguese-language songs, as I believe that the language can give you an even more intense impression of Portuguese culture. Of course, the individual titles invite you to continue browsing.

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Fado in Lisbon:

Tasca do Chico
Here, you’ll find authentic amateur fado; although the bar in Lisbon’s Baixa guarantees a greater experience, the more touristy branch in the Alfama (Rua dos Remédios 83), where you can also reserve a table, is more suitable for families. Here, however, one is encouraged to have a small dinner. This is not easy for vegetarians. When I’m there, I order a Caldo Verde soup: “Sem Chouriço”.

The performance of fado is also taken very seriously here and at the multiple about 20-minute demonstrations, you should absolutely avoid speaking. If your children can’t do that, I would advise against visiting these places.

Azulejo-Museum (Madre de Deus Kloster):
Museu Nacional do Azulejo

Family-friendly music festivals in Portugal:
In summer there are many music festivals all over the country, many of which are family-friendly.

Here are some examples:

The Andanças Festival
(Castelo de Vide)

Bons Sons
(Cem Soldos, Tomar)

The World Music Festival Sines

Further suggestions:

Salvador Sobral wins the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 with his song: Amar pelos dois for the first time for Portugal.

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