Portugal shares the Iberian peninsula with Spain, but where Spain opens mainly to the Mediterranean and the relative shelter of the Bay of Biscay, Portugal faces the wide horizons of the Atlantic ocean, and its music often reflects the country's longtime romance with the sea. Portuguese music has influenced the music born in former Portuguese colonies such as Brazil and Cape Verde, and in due course the music that arose in the colonies bearing strong African influencesreturned to Portugal to exert its influence on Portuguese music. This is particularly true with fadothe Portuguese national style.
Fado is a haunting music, born among the Lisbon working class, that most often speaks of the travails of life and love. American commentators have frequently compared the music to the blues, and, indeed, there is a real resonance between the two genres in terms of the subject matter of the songs and their often doleful nature. Maria Severa is generally recognized as the first fadista (female fado singer). Born in 1820 (died 1846) in the Alfama district of Lisbon, she is reputed to have had a mesmerizing voice. Her lower-class background, Gipsy ethnicity, and alleged involvement in prostitution all mirror the class origins of Fado.
Amália Rodrigues (1920-99) is universally cited as Portugal's greatest fadista. She began her career on the cusp of World War II, in 1939, and recorded approximately 170 albums during her lifetime. Rodrigues was something of an iconoclast who did not hesitate to take fado in new directions and capitalize on the writing of contemporary Portuguese poets in shaping her songs.
Other notable fado artists include Ermelinda Vitória, Carlos do Carmo, Margarida Bessa, Erícilia Costa, Joana Amendoeira, Cristina Branco, and Mariza.
Trás-os-Montes is a folk music named after a largely rural region in northeastern Portugal. Celtic peoples settled in the Trás-os-Montes region, as they did in Galicia and Asturias in Spain, and the local music still bears hints of this ancient Celtic heritage. Trás-os-Montes music is characterized by a cappella vocals. When vocals are accompanied, the most frequently used instruments are bagpipes, bomba and caixa drums. Songs are sometimes sung in Mirandês, an ancient, regional Asturian dialect that at present is only spoken by about 10,000 people.
Portugal also has a history of politically-active musicians who made use of both fado and other indigenous folk music forms in protesting the fascist government (Estado Novo) that ruled from 1926 to 1974. During the 1960s and '70s, the most famous musician in this struggle was José "Zeca" Afonso (1929-87). Together with artists such as José Mário Branco, Júlio Pereira, and Adriano Correia de Oliveira, Zeca created a style of roots revival music known as nova cancão. Zeca and his musical comrades played a significant role in the events that led to the Carnation Revolution April 25, 1974 the nearly bloodless coup d'etat that ended Estado Novo fascist regime and set Portugal on the road to liberal democracy. Nova cancão was further refined, following the Carnation Revolution, into a style known as canto livre. The group Brigada Victor Jara named for the Chilean revolutionary Victor Jara is an exemplary practitioner of canto livre. Philip Van Vleck