The years after the Carnation Revolution (Revolução dos Cravos or simply O 25 de Abril, since it started on April 25th 1974, now a national holiday) which deposed the 48-year old authoritarian dictatorship of [o] Estado Novo (lit. “New State”, in the way dictatorships have a way of fashioning themselves new and good when they’re anything but) brought on not just enormous political changes – multiparty democracy, pure universal suffrage, decolonization – but also great changes in the social mores of the country, especially amongst the generation that grew up in the aftermath of the revolution.
The 80s musical scene showcases these new ideas in an extraordinary fashion: unshackled from the tight constraints to both musical imports, young people started ditching fado and the Portuguese version of the French chanson for bolder rhythms like rock and punk and a more intense lyrical exploration of the self, of the individuality that was regularly curbed during the dictatorship years (the música de intervenção, lit. “intervention music” – politically-charged tunes which were an active form of resistence against the dictatorship – had quickly become obsolete after the country settled into democracy).
While many singers could be named in this context, there’s no figure as ideosyncratic and fantastic as António Variações (1944-1984), who in his short-lived but incredibly iconic career lived many lives, and showed that it was possible to blend traditional sounds with modern tendencies (a gay hairdresser in a still deeply conservative country, he was nothing but brave in his openness to be himself more than anything, a path unfortunately cut short by AIDS), a feeling which captures really well the best of what Portuguese music can do.
Being gay myself, Variações is a personal idol of mine, and I hope his tremendously powerful and heartfelt songs – which have both incredible philosophical density and devastating emotional acuity, truly universal in every sense of the word if you’re willing to embrace them – will be able to resonate with all of you too. Enjoy!
“O Corpo é que Paga” (It’s the Body that Pays) – Portuguese lyrics here
“Estou Além” (I’m Beyond) – Portuguese lyrics here
“Canção de Engate” (Seduction Song) – Portuguese lyrics here