The Sound Of Portugal

Portugal open their Euro 2012 campaign this evening against Germany. Six, eight, ten years ago this would have been a fine contest but its fair to say the team of Cristiano Ronaldo and ten lesser players is not expected to trouble the German machine too much this evening.

Portugal is famous for fado music, which, unusually for folk music, has its roots in cities, notably the port city of Lisbon where many cultures met and merged over the centuries. Fado combines elements of traditional Portugese folk with Moorish and African influences.

Now, the Portugese have a word “saudade”, which has no exact translation in English. Roughly, it means “nostalgia” or “homesickness” but it also implies a bittersweet longing. Strange that English doesn’t include a word for this, as its something the English feel very deeply, especially at times of great national feeling such as – oh, I dunno, the Diamond Jubilee. Or a big football tournament.

“Saudade” pretty much nails the lyrical content of fado music. Songs are often about lost or unrequited love, death and general sadness. The sad, bittersweet lyrics are sung over beautiful plaintive melodies, sung in a wistful, yearning manner.

Despite that description, it doesn’t sound anything like The Smiths. This is Aldina Duarte, quite up-tempo.

Ana Moura, one of Portugal’s best-loved fadistas, with a more wistful song, more typical of the genre:

You can download Ana’s music here:

http://www.emusic.com/listen/#/artist/ana-moura/11640335/:

Other sites are available but iDon’t like them much so iDon’t see why iShould mention them. (you see what iDid there?)

Ana is also on twitter here:

https://twitter.com/#!/ana_moura

For every person who follows @AnaMoura on twitter, there are 3 who follow @AnnaCalvi (below)

Moving away from Fado, here are a few random links to Portugese bands you may find interesting.

Classic prog rock band Petrus Castrus :

And another one – Tantra. Bit like early (aka “good”) Genesis. The guy on the far-right makes Peter Gabriel look like Peter Noone.

The Skalibans! This starts off quite promising with a huge brassy punk intro, slips into a respectable ska beat (not too sure about the vocals though). Somebody’s dad had a Dexys album by the sound of it.

Finally, coming full circle in a way, a song called “Saudade” (see above) by Portugal’s biggest rock act of the seventies and eighties, Herois do Mar (Heroes Of The Sea)! Synth pop! With mandolins! – almost a prototype British Sea Power, at least to these ears.

So, a random selection but some excellent sounds there. I’d be interested if you know of any other Portugese music I should be aware of?

That’s all until tomorrow, when I will be “doing” Italy.

Waving Flags

I do love the old Queen. Still just as classy as ever as you can see from this video clip here

If you caught any of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert last week, you will have seen an array of popular British music acts from down the years. It all seemed very pleasant in the middle of an extended Bank Holiday weekend, with everyone in such a good mood.

There was Cliff Richard, Paul McCartney and Tom Jones (and of course Elton John!)  representing the old guard, Madness on top of Buck House and Jessie J and JLS among the current acts. Grace Jones and her amazing hula-hoop stole the show for me but that could be because deep down I suspect I am a gay man trapped in a straight man’s body.

And all I’ve heard since then is either “That was fantastic, what a great selection of bands” or “What a load of rubbish, we’ve got way better bands than that they could have had”. Polar opposite views, but they share a common assumption – we do pop music better than the rest of the world combined. You’ve only got to look at their charts – they’re all full of British music.

Erm – newsflash. The reason we, as English speaking people, think our music is better than the rest of the world’s is that we can’t speak French, Russian, Swahili, Punjabi, Dutch, Chinese or Swedish.

And the reason the charts in so many other countries have so many English speaking records is that a large percentage of the world’s population learns English from the cradle.

And you know why they speak English? That’s right. Its because the most powerful nation of the past 100 years is English speaking. And it ain’t England, or Britain, its the USA.

I listen to a lot of music. A lot. Because I’ve lived my whole life in England most of it is British or American. Its easy to get parochial on this point, but its also incorrect.

You only have to spend a short time abroad (and by that I mean mixing with the locals, not just staying in the Brit bars) to realise that there is a hell of a lot of music out there – some good, some bad, some great, but all of it worthy of a listen, and worthy of consideration in exactly the same way “our own” music is. And in the cases where different countries’ music has fused, its interesting to see the different takes on a familiar beat.

There’s a huge project to be done by somebody  on the music of the world (NOT “World Music” which in this country simply means another bunch of obsessives with another exclusive musical club – the arrogance of lumping the entire non-English speaking world into one category is so damn English)

Unfortunately, this is not that project. I don’t have the time as I have a day job and a relationship to hold down.

But over the next few weeks, to coincide with the 2012 European Football Championships, I will be featuring a random sample of music from each of the sixteen countries taking part. There is absolutely no plan or rhyme or reason for the selections, other than I love them all, and they won’t be bands everyone knows (so if you guessed Abba for Sweden, Demis Roussos for Greece and James Last for Germany, then guess again)

All are well worthy of your attention although it has to be said it isn’t always for purely musical reasons (you’re gonna LOVE Russia!)

To kick off, then, here are a couple of vids from great European bands whose countries unfortunately didn’t make it to Euro 2012 :

Its a mystery to me how Belgium, with Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard, managed to avoid qualifying. They would have graced the tournament. It is also a mystery to me why this band are not huge. They even sing in English fer Chrissakes.

This lot are brilliant – saw them at the Thekla in Bristol a few weeks ago. They will go further than the Norn Iron football team ever will, with or without Neil Lennon.

And finally, ending on an “up”, Norway didn’t quite sneak in but Katzenjammer are the best band I’ve seen in a very long time. Dig this cheesy madcap trumpet ride!


Okay, back tomorrow with the first of the sixteen countries, ahead of the first day’s matches.

One last thing about Elton. I was so relieved when he didn’t do Candle In The Wind with the Diana words. That would have been awkward turtle and no mistake.