The man behind the music

When you see videos about Portugal, whether they’re official tourist videos or not, there’s a good chance they’ll have music and there’s also a good chance that music has an amazing guitar – the guitar sounds something like an acoustic guitar but… not quite. That’s because it’s probably a Portuguese guitar.

Yes, you read that right – a Portuguese guitar, with 12 strings. Its origins are not well known and there’s some debate about it, but what I’d like to do now is let you know the man that is probably playing that guitar: Carlos Paredes. He didn’t invent it and he wasn’t the only one playing it, but he became very well known because of his relationship with his music.

Carlos Paredes (1925-2004) was the son, nephew and grandson of players of Portuguese guitar and he started playing it himself at the very young age of four. But he didn’t just play the Portuguese guitar, he also composed and he took this guitar beyond its traditional role in the fado* (mainly the Coimbra fado).

He was a reserved type of person but there a few things things about him that fascinate me: his character, the passion with which he played and the love he felt for his music.

However, he didn’t actually make a living from his music. The man of a thousand fingers, as he was also known, worked most of his life in a Lisbon hospital, archiving X-rays – he said he truly loved his music and it didn’t feel right to make money from something you feel true love for. That, you see, is because he saw music as a living entity, not a ‘thing’.

During the time of the dictatorship one of his co-workers denounced him for being a member of the Portuguese Communist Party. Two episodes are known from this time which, to me, clearly show his character. While in prison the other inmates thought Carlos Paredes was going insane because they would see him walking around in his cell, pretending to be playing his guitar, but the truth is he was composing music in his head. After leaving prison and when going back to work at the hospital, he passed by one of the men who had denounced him and he greeted him, showing he was able to forgive.

For the last 11 years of his life he suffered from a disease in the central nervous system, which meant he was not able to play and which, I am sure, also meant great pain.

About death he said something like this: “When I die, my guitar also dies. My father used to say that, when he died, he would like his guitar to be broken and buried with him. I would like to do the same. If I have to die.”

He edited several albums but perhaps Movimento Perpétuo is the one I’d advise if you don’t know anything from him: if you don’t desperately want to play a guitar by the time you finish listening then I feel sorry for you.

*You may know something about fado and maybe you think it’s just sad music, but the truth is there are several types of fado and not all of them are ‘sad’. But that’s for another post!


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  1. Thank you for introducing me to Carlos Paredes. Enjoyed listening to him with my coffee this morning, but afraid I may have to leave the guitar playing to the rest of my family.

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