One more blog post, three more songs in this series dedicated to short video trips across Portugal.
Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia are obviously of vital importance to the north of Portugal, but there are also other areas in the north that are very much worth exploring. Today, we’ll be going from Viana do Castelo, on the northwest coast, to Bragança, deep in the northeast part of the country.
First stop is Viana do Castelo. The song, I’ll have to admit it, is another personal favourite: “Luzia” from the band Diabo na Cruz (yes, they’ve shown up before). The video was filmed during the celebrations of Senhora da Agonia (literally, Our Lady of Sorrows), one of the most famous religious festivities in Portugal. Attending it is like diving headfirst into the real country: not for the weak. Generally speaking, the whole country is rich in traditions and religious festivities are just one aspect of that. It should also be said that those festivities have an obvious Catholic side to them but they’re actually often rooted in pre-Christian traditions.
This celebration, which dates back to 1772, happens over a period of five days, around mid-August every year and attracts thousands of people from both Portugal and Spain. One of the main attractions is the Procession to the Sea, starring women wearing the costumes and gold filigree which are traditional of Viana do Castelo.
There are so many interesting elements in the video but not all of them are specific to Senhora da Agonia and some of the things shown here can also be found in other similar celebrations across the country.
Right in the first few seconds you can see a sort of costumed figures – the human-sized ones with big heads are called cabeçudos and the tall ones are called gigantones. The players that accompany them are known as zés-pereiras. The first known record mentioning these tall figures in processions dates back to 1265. In Portugal, they’re traditional in the north but you can also find them in some parts of Central Portugal, like Torres Vedras.
Also very important, and there’s really no way of not noticing them, the clothes. Truth be told, this is a fairly complex subject and you’ll notice that they are intricately embroidered but they’re not all the same: they’re variations on the typical dress of Viana do Castelo, along with the numerous long gold chains and earrings the women wear.
Pause the video on the 1:25 mark and you can catch a glimpse of the Santa Luzia sanctuary. And what’s the name of the song again? Luzia! See what they did there?
The people shown dancing and wearing traditional costumes are members of a rancho folclórico. Every piece of land in Portugal that has a name and is inhabited will likely have at least one rancho folclórico (yes, trust me on this). These groups have as their main purpose the preservation of traditional songs and dances from the towns and villages they stem from. You’ll often see young people in these ranchos, as well.
For a softer, even more beautiful version of this song (although live and very minimalist) do check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdkoODNXo5o
Buckle up your seat belts because next we’re going to Miranda do Douro and Bragança with two songs by the band Galandum Galundaina. Miranda is located in the region of Trás-os-Montes, district of Bragança, and very near the border with Spain.
This region, as I mentioned before is known for several things: the rough and breathtaking landscape, the Mirandese language (the second official language in Portugal), the extreme weather (“nove meses de inverno e três de inferno”, meaning “nine months of winter and three months of hell”), the wonderful produce, men in skirts (I haven’t talked about that one yet), the unique costumes (usually associated with Carnival, but also used at other times) and, last but not least, Miranda do Douro.
The first song is called “Siga a malta” and shows bits of a local religious procession called Festa da Santíssima Trindade (literally, Feast of the Holy Trinity), in a village in Miranda do Douro. In this procession the participants will, at one point, walk around the chapel carrying tree branches. In the early 20th century this was the time when people would solve quarrels that had happened during the previous year (many times, involving disputes over land and water).
The next song is a traditional theme and sung in Mirandese. Originally it was accompanied by a specific kind of dance that was a competition of sorts – the lyrics echo just that, being an invitation for the priest to join in on the dance.
The video shows some bits of the city of Bragança but the main focus here, I think, is the language. If you know some Portuguese and/or some Spanish (Castillian, to be more precise), you may be able to notice a few similarities. Mirandese, however, is a distinct language. You can learn a bit more about it here: https://languagelovah.blogspot.com/2012/02/mirandese-language-of-countryside-of.html
If you liked these two last songs and this type of traditional sound I highly suggest you look up Galandum Galundaina. I’ve been a long time fan and have seen them in concert twice! I honestly believe they do a great job at keeping the traditional themes alive but without “crystallizing” them too much.
For the next post we’ll be heading south, to Alentejo!