Beyond Fado: Portuguese Music Old and New, From the North to the South

Portuguese band Diabo na Cruz

If you’ve been following the blog and/or the blog’s social media for a while you know I love music. Every now and then I mention Portuguese bands and musicians and post music videos. Even here on the blog, I’ve dedicated a series of blog posts to Portuguese music. 

Why do I do it? For several reasons, really. 

First of all, the way I see it, music is a big part of a country’s culture. Second, although I have nothing against Fado, it really bugs me that Fado is the only musical genre on most people’s minds when they think of Portuguese music. 

Today I want to take you on a musical travel of sorts. Where should we begin? Maybe by going back to the 18th century, when Carlos Seixas lived. 

Even today, he’s not very well known, but the fact is he reached the position of court organist and harpsichordist during the reign of king John V of Portugal. The 1755 earthquake destroyed much of the work he had left, but some of it still made it to today. 

The so-called ethnic music gives us many insights into a culture’s background which, in turn, help us in understanding that same culture. Portuguese culture, obviously, is no exception. 

Michel Giacometti (who I’ve mentioned before because of the work songs he collected) did a tireless job at documenting traditional Portuguese songs. Although he wasn’t the only one focusing on that subject, he left a vital legacy, and without his work many such songs would have forever been lost.

For many, the name Zeca Afonso became almost exclusively connected to the April 25th 1974 revolution. But the truth is we also owe him a lot in terms of the preservation of traditional songs, like this one from the region of Beira Baixa:

If you’re interested in modern day documenting of traditional songs I’d like to introduce you to a project called “A música portuguesa a gostar dela própria” (literally, Portuguese music liking itself). Browse through their videos and, most of all, scroll down to their older stuff. You may be (very much) surprised at some of the things you find there. Disclaimer: if you feel offended by some of the language there, please take a deep breath and do hesitate before letting me know about it. 

For ethnic music with a modern twist, I highly suggest you dive into the music of Gaiteiros de Lisboa, who I’ve talked about before. In truth, they started a style that would later be more or less successfully copied by other groups.

Galandum Galundaina explore, almost exclusively, traditional songs from the area of Miranda do Douro, in the district of Bragança. As you may notice, many of the songs are not in Portuguese – they’re in Mirandese, Portugal’s second official language. If you ever have the opportunity of watching them live, I highly recommend you do so. 

Next, and very much connected to the region of Trás-os-Montes, I bring you a whole album by singer/composer/songwriter Né Ladeiras. The album is based on research done by her as well as by people like Michel Giacometti (mentioned above) and includes several songs in Mirandese. More than just recording traditional songs, she gave many of them a contemporary sound. La Çarandilheira is one of the most well known songs from that album:

Carlos Paredes is, of course, another important name in Portuguese music (some time ago I dedicated a blog post to him). Besides being a brilliant player of music for Portuguese guitar, he also composed – thus making the bridge between traditional and new. “Movimento Perpétuo” is a personal favourite, although I’m sure others share the feeling. 

The 30s and 40s in Portugal were an amazing time for the movie industry. Back then most movies would usually feature a few songs which, not surprisingly, became hits. What’s surprising is that some of those songs stood the test of time and are still known today. If you want to know more about Portuguese music from the 30s to the 50s read my blog post about it. Do I have a favourite song from this era? I have a few actually, and this is one of them: 

The 60s musical scene in Portugal pretty much followed in the footsteps of the romantic songs from France and Italy. The good thing is many of those songs had great lyrics and, of those, quite a few came from the creative mind of Ary dos Santos. Many, if not all, of his poems feature a sort of more or less veiled eroticism – mind you, he managed to do this during a time of open censorship and relying heavily on an ingenious choice of words. This is one of my favourite songs from this era (lyrics by Ary dos Santos):

It’s impossible to talk about the musical scene in Portugal in the 70s without also talking about the April 25th 1974 revolution (you can read more about it here). In several ways, this was a decade of change and music also reflected that. One of my favourite songs from this decade is this one, very much based on a poem by Portuguese poet extraordinaire, Luís de Camões

The 80s… Ah, the 80s! Many agree that this was a golden decade for Portuguese music. There was a feeling in the air of renewed hope and excitement, censorship was over and bands got away with some lyrics which today would be considered “too much” (and which would, definitely, not be aired on national TV). For a quick recap of the rock scene in the 80s in Portugal check out this blog post

My favourite song from that decade? I thought you’d never ask! It’s hard for me to choose just one. One of the greatest 80s bands in Portugal were Heróis do Mar (I’ve written about them here) and this song about Portugal and its “inventor” is one of my favourites:

The 90s saw the birth of quite a few cult bands, like Ornatos Violeta, Madredeus, and Moonspell. Lyrics played a big part in the music that was made at this time and I’d dare say this decade really brought together poetry and music. 

Porto-based Clã are one of the bands that made their debut in the 90s and are still active today with a loyal fan base. They have superb lyrics, an amazing presence on stage, and Manuela Azevedo is the owner of one of the most elegant voices in contemporary Portuguese music (you can read more about them here).

One of my favourite songs from this time is, to some extent, an anthem of sorts for many of us who are now in the 40+ age group:

What can I tell you about the 2000s? In my view, we’re not yet distant enough to talk about clear patterns or trends. One thing I do notice though is a renewed respect and interest in blending the traditional with the contemporary. 

Two great examples of this are Deolinda and Diabo na Cruz. Deolinda draws some inspiration from Fado, both in the music and the aesthetic, but can not be considered Fado. I talked about them on the blog before and highly recommend spending some time listening. 

Diabo na Cruz are one of my all-time musical crushes and one of the best examples of this “blending” that I mentioned above: they put together rock guitars and drums with traditional instruments and rhythms, as well as references to Portuguese lore (ranging from the vocabulary used to stereotypical characters). I could go on and on about their music – believe me – but I’ll just direct you to the blog post I wrote about them

It wouldn’t be fair however to talk about contemporary Portuguese music without mentioning Capitão Fausto: not only because of their music but also because of their work with Cuca Monga, which started as a band of sorts and evolved into an indie record label that keeps a close relationship with its fan base.  One of my favourite songs from Capitão Fausto is this one (note: includes a cute dog):

If you want to explore more Portuguese music (and why wouldn’t you?) I suggest you check out my blog posts where I shared music videos divided by region. The idea was to take you, the reader, on short trips across the country, mixing Portuguese music, culture, and landscapes – even though lockdowns and travel bans were in place. 

We started our virtual tour by setting the mood and then headed off to Lisbon, which meant not only one but two blog posts

From there we made our way to Central Portugal and then to Porto and Gaia. After visiting Minho and Trás-os-Montes we ended up in Alentejo

And if you want even more music you may want to take a look at my Youtube channel, where I have several playlists, divided by decade (yes, it includes a few Fado songs). 

Let me know your thoughts! What band/singer will be listening more to? Which one(s) was a complete surprise?



  1. wow, what a journey through Portugal’s history via my ears! I enjoyed learning more about another country’s music vibe and while the lyrics were impossible to understand the sense of the music’s soul was felt. Thanks for sharing Beyond Lisbon.

  2. Loved it! So fully beyond Lisbon that I had to read it twice: once for the eyes … a second time for the ears. Except for its length, would love to publish (something like) THIS in Portugal Living Magazine!

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