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Zeca Afonso


Zeca Afonso



José Manuel Cerqueira Afonso dos Santos, also known as Zeca Afonso (August 2, 1929 - February 23, 1987) was born in Aveiro, Portugal, son of José Nepomuceno Afonso, a judge, and Maria das Dores, housewife. Zeca is among the most influential folk political musicians in Portuguese history. He became an icon among Portuguese left-wing activists due to the role his music played in the resistance movement against the fascist dictatorial regime of Oliveira Salazar. The resistance triumphed in 1974, with the pro-democratic leftist military coup of the Carnation Revolution.


When Zeca was one year old his parents traveled to Portuguese Angola, a colony at the time, where his father had been placed as judge in the city of Silva Porto (present-day Kuito). Zeca however stayed behind at Aveiro, in a house known as "Fonte das Cinco Bicas" [fountain of five springs].


In 1933 Zeca travelled to Angola at his mother's request and remained for three years, returninged to Aveiro in 1936 and in 1937 once again visited his parents who now were residing in Portuguese Mozambique, another Portuguese colony. In 1938 he returned to Portugal, this time to the house of his uncle Filomeno, a fierce fascist supporter and mayor of the town of Belmonte.


Zeca finished the fourth grade and was forced by his uncle to become a member of the "Mocidade Portuguesa", an authoritarian state sponsored youth organization under the auspices of the right-wing regime of the Estado Novo [New State], Zeca would later consider those years among the worst in his life.


In 1940 he went to the university town of Coimbra in order to continue his studies, and attended D. João III high school while living at the home of his aunt Avrilete. By now his parents had moved from Mozambique to Portuguese Timor, another colonial possession. With the occupation of Timor by the Japanese, José Afonso received no news from his parents for three years, until the end of World War II.


In that year he started singing his first songs as a bicho (a low rank of indoctrination for incoming students, which means beast or worm), a traditional rank at the University of Coimbra for high school students (José Afonso was in the 11th grade at the time). He became known as the bicho-cantor ("the singing beast"), which granted him the right of not being rapado ("having his head shaved") by the trupes ("groups") of older students who formed separate associations and which was a university tradition.


From 1946 to 1948 he worked to finish high school, after two prior attempts failed due to the chaotic lifestyle he spent amongst the older students.  He met Maria Amália de Oliveira, whom he secretly married because of his parents' opposition. During this time he traveled with some of the most important university musical groups, as Orfeon Académico de Coimbra, and played soccer for the Associação Académica de Coimbra. In 1949 he started studying History and Philosophy at the University of Coimbra. In 1953, the year his son was born, he released his first recordings, of which no copies remain.


From 1953 to 1955 he performed compulsory military service and was sent to Macau, another Portuguese colony, but returned to Portugal due to health problems. The following years he faced many economic difficulties and divorced. After his military service, and now with two children, Zeca concluded his university studies with a thesis on Jean-Paul Sartre.


In 1956 he released his first commercial record, Fados de Coimbra (in the Coimbra Fado music genre) while working as a teacher in the south of Portugal. Due to his financial problems he sent his children to live with his parents in the Portuguese overseas territory of Mozambique in 1958.

In that year he became enthralled by Humberto Delgado's failed presidential campaign (Delgado lost as a result of massive fraud perpetrated by the Estado Novo regime).


In 1959 he started singing his trademark music style, colored with political and social connotations, joining many popular groups around the country. This granted him a growing popularity among the working-class and the rural population.


By 1960 his fourth record, Balada do Outono (Autumn Ballad), was released. From 1961 to 1962 he closely followed the student strikes and demonstrations which demanded democracy and the end of the authoritarian Estado Novo regime. This period affected him deeply as Zeca witnessed the brutal repression of the student protestors at the hands of the police.


He continued releasing many of his songs and introduced important new guitar arrangements. He played in Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden, in a group of fado and guitars, with Adriano Correia de Oliveira, José Niza, Jorge Godinho, Durval Moreirinhas and the singer Esmeralda Amoedo.

In May 1964, José Afonso played in the Musical Society Workers' Brotherhood in Grândola, where he found the inspiration to compose the soon to be unforgettable song Grândola, Vila Morena


In 1967 he returned to Lisbon impressed by the colonial reality and by the Portuguese Colonial War against the guerrilla movement of Mozambique, FRELIMO. After being hospitalized for 20 days he learned that he had been expelled from public school teaching because of his leftist politics; government censors considered his songs strongly subversive.


In 1973 José Afonso continued his musical pilgrimage, singing everywhere. Many of his appearances were forcibly cancelled by the political police PIDE/DGS. In April he was arrested and spent 20 days in Caxias prison (housing mostly political prisoners).


On March 29 1974, the Coliseu, in Lisbon, had a sold out crowd to listen to José Afonso, Adriano Correia de Oliveira, José Jorge Letria, Manuel Freire, José Barata Moura, Fernando Tordo, and many others, who ended the concert by singing Grândola, Vila Morena. Some of the soldiers from the revolutionary movement that would take part in the Carnation Revolution, the MFA, were in the audience and chose Grândola as the secret signal. A month later, on April 25, the Estado Novo regime was overthrown in a nearly-bloodless military coup.


In 1982 he started to develop the first symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease. On January 23, 1983, Zeca, weakened by the disease, played with some difficulty in a huge show with a full house at the Coliseu.


The city of Coimbra gave him the City's Golden Medal. "Thanks Zeca, this is your house," the mayor, Mendes Silva, told him. "I don't want to become an institution, but I feel very grateful for the homage," Zeca answered.

That same year he refused the Medal of the Order of Freedom, an honor bestowed by the President of the Republic.


In 1983 José Afonso was reinstated to his former teaching position but his health quickly deteriorated. His last album, Galinhas do Mato, was released in 1985.


José Afonso died at Setúbal on February 23, 1987. His funeral was attended by 30,000 people. The procession took 2 hours to cover 1300 meters. His coffin was draped by a red flag bearing no symbols, as he had requested.


[excerpted from wikipedia]



Amália Rodrigues, the Legendary Voice of Portuguese Fado

Sings - Grândola, Vila Morena




Musical Tribute to Zeca Afonso






Posted  April 23, 2009

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