The international opinion about Portuguese Music is that it’s Fado. Since 1939, when Amália Rodrigues, wowed audience wordwide with the songs of the urban poor fado has been the internationally popular genre from Portugal. Nowadays her younger heirs like Mariza, Mísia and Camané, Cristina Branco, Ana Moura and so on kept the Fado legacy alive and dominate the record stores at the Worldmusic section. The dominance of Fado overshadows the other genres even other folk genres like the Trás-os-Montes. In fact rock music sort of arrived to Portugal in the late 1950s with Joaquim Costa playing rock ’n roll after his example Elvis. The regime wasn’t to keen on this modern music and Costa found a hard time to record any songs (only one EP was officially released). The regime rather fancied crooners like António Calvário who brought more chanson-type music and was safe enough to be the first representative to the Eurovision in 1964.
The growing left-wing resistance in the Sixties used music as a protest method singing about freedom, equality and democracy, mainly through metaphors and symbols. Gathered under the moniker ‘Nova canção’ the first to record his songs was Jose ‘Zeca’ Afonso in 1960. For a long time he would stay the only one although a small YeYe scene emerged with Paula Ribas as the most prominent singer.. It would take the death of dictator Salazar to give room for more musicians to come out of exile and record their songs like Sérgio Godinho and Luis Cilia. In the underground, beatgroup Quarteto 1111 (with Jose Cid as main performer) introduced the young crowd to modern music. Quarteto’s 1970’s debut album is a classic in Portugese popmusic. More light bubblegum teenmusic was made by young female singer Tonicha.
The small lifting of cultural oppression also gave Portugal the opportunity to hook on to rockmusic and a vibrant underground progressive rock scene emerged by 1971 with Petrus Castrus (Mestre), Jose Cid (10,000 Anos Depois Entre Venus E Marte and Onde Quando Como Porquê Cantamos Pessoas Vivas with Quarteto 1111) and Tarantula (Kingdom of Lusitania), the latest being considered by many to be one of the first Portuguese metal acts. After the revolution of 1974 left wing protest music developed itself as ‘Canto Livre’. Singers like Jorge Palma and Fausto emerged combining folk and symphonic music with more modern singer/songwriting.
The scene hit mainstream in 1980 with the release of ‘Ar de Rock’ by Rui Veloso, which was the first popular Portuguese rock album. In the 1980s, Veloso’s success lead to the creation of several rock and roll bands, which became popular with youths growing up in the post-1974 modernized Portugal. Bands like UHF, Heróis do Mar and Trabalhadores do Comércio, solidified the need for a solid rock scene, as they were all ephemeral bands. However, other bands would be luckier. Xutos & Pontapés are arguably the biggest success case in the Portuguese rock scene, becoming the first band in the country to celebrate 30 years of career. Their early works had close roots to punk and rockabilly, but later incorporated folk influences into their sound, becoming more diverse. Other projects include GNR, Taxi and Peste & Sida, which turned to ska as an inspiration. It was not all underground, acts and singers like Lena d’Água, Adelaide Ferreira and Da Vinci started their careers mid-eighties with melodic popsongs.
During the 80s, synth pop became even more prevalent in Portuguese popular music. One of the most unique figures was António Variações, a hairdresser from Lisbon that blended contemporary music genres with traditional Portuguese rhythms and melodies. He died in 1984 of AIDS leaving only two albums, but his impact on Portugese pop is large and remembered to this date.
Another synth genre called Pimba found its roots In the popular and simple folktunes but completely rebuild them with keyboards and synthesizers. Sometimes called the ‘Schlager of Portugal’ they are simplistic catchy songs with rough lyrics frequently driven by metaphors with sexual meanings, or focused on basic and clichéd romantic stories. Musically it is pop in its purest form, light and fleeting but great for a party. Singers like Emanuel and Ágata build highly successful careers on the genre but are looked down upon by any serious fado-artist.
By 1990 the musical scene changed with Heróis do Mar splitting in Rádio Macau and Mler Ife Dada. In the end of the 90’s, two big bands rose to prominence: Silence 4, a four-act from Leiria, with lyrics in English, and Ornatos Violeta, an alternative rock act from Porto. Both disbanded after the second album, at the turn of the millennium. Singer David Fonseca of Silence 4 started a succesfull solo career after that turning into a key figure in the Portugese indie scene.
Fado made a return mid-nineties when pop singer Dulce Pontes broke internationally thanks to her version of ‘Canção do Mar’ being used in the movie ‘Primal fear’ (with Richard Gere in a leading role). Her genre ranges from jazz to pop and over the years she did not limit herself to fado. Folkpop combo Madredeus gained much critical acclaim with their melodic apporach to the classic Portugese sound.
The decade starting in 2001 has seen the appearance of some popular groups as Toranja (Lisbon), Wraygunn (Coimbra) and Pluto (considered the follow-up to Ornatos Violeta).In the late 20th century, Punk Rock has also seen a rising popularity in Portugal. In the beginning of the 90’s, bands like Censurados, Peste & Sida (swapped between ska and punk) or Mata-Ratos, helped to revive Portuguese Punk, and inspired more underground acts to thrive. As Censurados disbanded in 1995, their lead singer, João Ribas, went to form the more hardcore-oriented Tara Perdida. In the early 2000s new punk bands started to form with a more mature attitude towards sound but still keeping the underground spirit, like Clockwork Boys, The Sadists and Facção Oposta. In other genres Rui da Silva (house), Moonspell (metal), Buraka Som Sistema (electro/kuduro/breakbeat), Da Weasel, Sandro G (hip hop), Blasted Mechanism (experimental electro-rock), Wraygunn (rock, blues), and became popular in the 2000’s.
Besides the punk and rock genre more significat and typical Portuguese indiemusic grew at midway of the decade with Finished with my ex, Paus and Linda Martini as prime examples. In 2017, after 53 years, Portugal finally won the Eurovision with ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ sung by Salvador Sobral.