Amália (III)

19 Apr

Cover of Trova do Vento que PassaA glance through the part of Amália’s discography covering the years leading up to the Portuguese Revolution of 1974 reveals a bewildering array of material: fados (both castiços and canções), Portuguese folk songs, popular Lisbon marches, medieval poetry, French chansons, Italian and Spanish songs, Brazilian bossa nova, American show tunes, Christmas songs, and more. Throughout this period Amália remained steadfastly apolitical, though a number of her collaborators did not remain so distant; David Mourão-Ferreira, José Carlos Ary Dos Santos, Alexandre O’Neill and Manuel Alegre were all leftist poets who wrote works either specifically for her or which were requested by her or Alain Oulman to be sung in concerts and on recordings. It was Oulman who approached the exiled Manuel Alegre for permission to include his ‘Trova do Vento Que Passa’ [Ballad of the Wind That Passes], a piece associated with the anti-fascist movement, on the 1970 album Com Que Voz. The recordings put out under her name in 1974 are perhaps the most telling: a reissue of Mourão-Ferreira’s ‘Abandono’, now openly referred to by its alternative title ‘Fado Peniche’ in reference to the prison that had held many of the regime’s political prisoners (the song had been banned during Salazar’s rule); a single of Alegre’s ‘Meu Amor É Marinheiro’ which, with its cover photo of a navy recruit, played on the popularity of the armed forces following their role in the Revolution; a single of ‘Trova do Vento Que Passa’ backed by Mourão-Ferreira’s ‘Libertação’; and a version of Afonso’s ‘Grândola Vila Morena’.

Cover of Um Homem na CidadeIt was Amália’s simultaneous ability to court these poets while remaining free from the persecutions of the Estado Novo that came to infuriate many people and that still divides opinion on the singer now. For her critics, Amália’s political naivety smacked too much of the populism peddled by Salazar himself; this was hardly helped by the fact that fado and Amália had become synonymous and that, as fado now became tarred through association with the old regime, so, many felt, should its foremost proponent. This, allied to the sheer excitement of the new forms of music springing up in the wake of the canto de intervenção movement and imported Anglo-American rock music, helped to push fado out of the spotlight in the early days of democracy. Yet fado did not go away and neither did Amália, though her career took a definite downward turn within Portugal for a few years. It was during this period that Carlos do Carmo emerged as the new lantern bearer of fado. Less politically naive than Amália, Carmo brought a commitment to the ideas of the Revolution together with love, deep knowledge and experience of fado gained from his mother, the famous fadista Lucília do Carmo, and from the fado house he inherited from his father. Carmo worked frequently with the poet José Carlos Ary dos Santos and attempted, like Rodrigues and Afonso before him, to bridge the music of the city with that of the countryside. His most notable achievements in this respect were the albums Um Homem na Cidade (1977) and Um Homem no Pais (1983), built upon Santos’s lyrics.

Amalia RodriguesWhen Amália did return it was in triumph, performing to packed houses and initiating a new series of recordings which, though they would often veer towards the gimmicky, nonetheless paved the way for her powerful albums of self-written material at the beginning of the 1980s. It is perhaps worth considering Geoffrey O’Brien’s discussion of the return of Burt Bacharach in the 1990s when considering both Amália’s post-Revolution comeback and her audience’s willingness to re-embrace her. The songwriting process that Bacharach and his colleagues symbolize is comparable to the creative process of fado canção, which can be seen as the driving force behind the musical period covered in Fado and the Place of Longing. Like Rodrigues’s ‘classic’ period, Bacharach’s period was one of professionals – a Hollywood-style division of labour – as opposed to the singer-songwriter style that would come to dominate afterwards; O’Brien describes the process as ‘a combination of perfectionism and commercialism’.  Eduardo Sucena’s survey of songwriters, musicians and singers provides a good overview of how this relationship worked itself out in the fado world. As with the professional songwriters that O’Brien writes about, the creators of the fados canções produce a situation where there can be ‘no assumption … that the listeners could produce such a record themselves’. This allows further for the adoption of star persona than would be the case with more amateur forms of music making, leading to a situation where the performer’s career becomes mythologized and lived through by the performer’s public. It is the identification of the parallel existence of star and public that ensures the possibility of return:

In such a process, the myth of the original career is amplified by the myth of the return. Each step of the comeback is charted as part of a legendary progression: years of glory, years in limbo, years of triumphant rebirth. The past is symbolically brought into the present, so that through the contemplation of Bacharach and his music … latter-day devotees can gain access to a realm of lost bliss.

(Geoffrey O’Brien, Sonata for Jukebox: Pop Music, Memory, and the Imagined Life (New York: Counterpoint, 2004), pp. 8-9 – see also pp. 20-21 for the discussion of professional songwriters).

Amália hardly endured ‘years in limbo’ but it was very much the case that the spectacular nature of her past ensured her a place in the public consciousness that not only outlasted the brief unpopularity she experienced in the mid 1970s but enabled her to be reborn in the ‘latter-day devotees’ who would pioneer the novo fado of the 1990s onwards.

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