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Music of Portugal

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Music of Portugal

The music of Portugal includes many different styles and genres, as a result of its history. These can be broadly divided into classical music, traditional/folk music and popular music and all of them have produced internationally successful acts, with the country seeing a recent expansion in musical styles, especially in popular music.

In traditional/folk music, fado has had a significant impact, with Amália Rodrigues still the most recognizable Portuguese name in music, and with more recent acts, like Dulce Pontes and Mariza. Regional folk music remains popular too, having been updated and modernized in many cases, especially in the northeastern region of Trás-os-Montes. Some more recent successful fado/folk-inspired acts include Madredeus and Deolinda, the later being part of a folk revival that has led to a newfound interest in this type of music.

In popular music, there is a significant number of popular genres. These include rock, with popular acts including Xutos & Pontapés, The Gift (alternative rock), Fingertips (pop rock), Blasted Mechanism (experimental electro-rock) and Wraygunn (rock, blues). Also hip-hop, with acts such as Da Weasel, Boss AC and Sam the Kid. Acts such as Moonspell (metal) and Buraka Som Sistema (electro/kuduro/breakbeat) have had significant international success. Other popular modern genres in Portugal include dance, house, kizomba, pimba, pop, reggae, ska and zouk.

The musicality of the Portuguese language has also inspired non-native speakers to use it in their recordings, for example Mil i Maria.


Portuguese music was influenced by music from Ancient Rome's musical tradition brought into the Iberian Peninsula by the Romans and the rich artistic Europen tradition. Its genres range from classical to popular music. Portugal's music history includes musical history from the medieval Gregorian chants through Carlos Seixas' symphonies era to the composers of the modern era. Musical history of Portugal can be divided in different ways. Portuguese music encompasses musical production of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.

Classical music

Portuguese music reflects its rich history and privileged geographical location. These are evidenced in the music history of Portugal, which despite its firm European roots, nevertheless reflects the intercontinental cultural interactions begun in the Portuguese discoveries.

A short list of past and present Portuguese musicians with important contributions must necessarily include the names of composers António Carreira or Manuel Rodrigues Coelho; singers such as Luísa Todi, Elisabete Matos or José Carlos Xavier; pianists such as Maria João Pires or Sequeira Costa; cellists such as Guilhermina Suggia.

Folk music


Amália Rodrigues, the Portuguese singer known as Queen of Fado.

Fado (fate in Portuguese) is a musical style, which arose in Lisbon as the music of the urban poor. Fado songs are typically lyrically harsh, accompanied by a wire-strung acoustic guitar or the Portuguese Guitar. It is usually sung by solo performers, with the singer resigned to sadness, poverty and loneliness, but remaining dignified and firmly controlled. In 2011, Fado was inscribed on Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. It is claimed that fado origins are older, going back to the 15th century, when women cried with longing for their husbands that sailed to the never ending seas.

In Late in the 19th century, the city of Coimbra developed a distinctive scene. Coimbra, a literary capital for the country, is now known for being more refined and majestic. The sound has been described as "the song of those who retain and cherish their illusions, not of those who have irretrievably lost them" by Rodney Gallop in 1936. A related form are the guitarradas of the 1920s and 30s, best known for Dr. Antonio Menano and a group of virtuoso musicians he formed, including Artur Paredes and José Joaquim Cavalheiro. Student fado, performed by students at Coimbra University, have maintained a tradition since it was pioneered in the 1890s by Augusto Hilário.

Starting in 1939 with the career of Amália Rodrigues, fado was an internationally popular genre. A singer and film actress, Rodrigues made numerous stylistic innovations that have made her probably the most influential fadista of all time.

A new generation of young musicians have contributed to the social and political revival of fado music, adapting and blending it with new trends. Contemporary fado musicians like Mariza, Mísia and Camané have introduced the music to a new public. The sensuality of Misia and other female fadistas (fado singers) like Maria Ana Bobone, Cuca Roseta, Cristina Branco, Ana Moura, Katia Guerreiro, and Mariza has walked the fine line between carrying on the tradition of Amália Rodrigues and trying to bring in a new audience. Mísia and Carlos do Carmo are also well known fado singers.Ricardo Ribeiro and Miguel Capucho are one of the best male fado singers of the new generation.

Regional folk music

Transmontana Bagpipe
The Portuguese musical instrument Cavaquinho used in traditional music.

Recent events have helped keep Portuguese regional folk (rancho folclórico) traditions alive, most especially including the worldwide roots revival of the 1960s and 70s.

The people of the Azores islands maintain some distinct musical traditions, such as the traditionally fiddle-driven chamarrita dance.

Music in Madeira is widespread and mainly uses local musical instruments such as the Machete, rajao, Brinquinho and Cavaquinho, which are used in traditional Folklore dances like the Bailinho da Madeira. Famous performers of contemporary music include Max, Luís Jardim and Vânia Fernandes.

Trás-os-Montes' musical heritage is closely related to the music of Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias. Traditional bagpipes (gaita-de-fole transmontana), a cappella vocals and a unique musical scale with equal semitones have kept alive a vital tradition. (Miranda de I Douro), some artists such as Galamdum Galundaina sing in Mirandese language. Also the Pauliteiros folk dance is popular. Some residents sing in both Portuguese and Mirandese.

Folk/traditional music acts include: Dazkarieh, Cornalusa, Gaitúlia, Strella do Dia, Fausto, Notas e Voltas, Roberto Leal, Ronda dos Quatro Caminhos, Terra a Terra, Tonicha, Cândida Branca Flor, Óióai, Janita Salomé, Uxukalhus, Frei Fado D'el Rei, Gaiteiros de Lisboa, Roncos do Diabo, Dâna, Dulce Pontes, Sangre Cavallum, Teresa Salgueiro, Vitorino and Xaile.

Popular music

Famous artists and bands included in the past Cândida Branca Flor, Tonicha, Paco Bandeira, Paulo de Carvalho, José Cid, Linda de Suza, Madalena Iglésias, António Variações, Duo Ouro Negro, Roberto Leal and Ornatos Violeta. Nowadays some of the most popular acts are Aurea, Amor Electro, The Legendary Tigerman, Madredeus, Sétima Legião, Rádio Macau, GNR, Xutos & Pontapés, Quinta do Bill, The Gift, David Fonseca, Buraka Som Sistema, Sam The Kid, Mil i Maria and Boss AC. Other popular music include bands born out of Portuguese telenovelas, with the first wave of such bands including 4Taste and D'ZRT, who went on to gain national popularity. Portugal has been participating in the Eurovision Song Contest since 1964, its best result being the 6th place achieved by Lucia Moniz's folk inspired song "O meu coração não tem cor" in 1996, penned by Pedro Vaz Osorio. Since then Portugal never had a Top 10 place.

Electronic music

In electronica, Underground Sound of Lisbon was a musical project that brought international attention to the Portuguese DJs, namely Rui da Silva – the only Portuguese musician to reach #1 on the UK charts – and DJ Vibe, Pete tha Zouk. Some other important names of this kind of music are Buraka Som Sistema and Micro Audio Waves. In Porto, the hometown to numerous talents such as Nuno Forte, Drum n' Bass styles are immensely popular, and the city has hosted various important international names in the genre such as Noisia, The Panacea and Black Sun Empire. Also, in the Psychedelic Trance genre there are a worldwide famous project: Paranormal Attack.

Experimental and Avantgarde

Portuguese music has a striving experimental underground musical scene since the 80's, with some exponents attaining international attention. Notable groups and musicians in this genre are Osso Exótico, Ocaso Épico, Telectu, Carlos Zíngaro and Pedro INF.

Heavy metal

Moonspell live in Kraków, Poland in 2007.

The biggest exponent of heavy metal music in Portugal are the bands Moonspell, Ava Inferi, Ramp, Heavenwood, Corpus Christii, Reaktor, W.C. Noise, Tarantula and Attick Demons, which have achieved international recognition, and have signed record deals with some of the most important international Heavy Metal Labels such as Century Media and Napalm Records for Moonspell, Massacre Records and Listenable Records for Heavenwood, Season of Mist for Ava Inferi, Pure Steel Records for Attick Demons, Candlelight Records for Corpus Christii, Nuclear Blast Records for Reaktor and AFM Records for Tarantula.

Heavy metal made by Portuguese bands is sold in all major records / music shops in all European countries such as Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Poland and Turkey. Moonspell, Heavenwood and Attick Demons achieved markets such as East Europe / Russia, Asia, North and South America, furthermore Attick Demons achieved recognition in Japan by being the only Portuguese heavy metal band to have a Japanese release to date, through a Japanese label.

Others bands like Miss Lava, Holocausto Canibal, Sirius, Factory of Dreams, Ramp, Decayed, Filli Nigratium Infernallium, Morte Incandescente, Gwydion, Switchtense, Grog, Bizarra Locomotiva, Thee Orakle, More Than a Thousand and Oratory also achieved some international recognition.

Hip hop

The beginning of the 21st century was the origin of a new wave of Portuguese Hip Hop singers, who adapted foreign sounds to the Portuguese reality and who sing in Portuguese. Some of the best examples are Dealema, Da Weasel, Valete, Regula, NGA, Boss AC and Sam the Kid.


People such as Mário Barreiros (drums), Mário Laginha and António Pinho Vargas (piano) and the singer Maria João have long and noteworthy careers in the field, despite experimenting, sometimes with notable success, other genres of music, and a more recent generation is following their footsteps, notable the pianist Bernardo Sassetti, Carlos Bica, João Paulo and the singers Jacinta and Vânia Fernandes.


This is a relatively new sound in Portugal. Despite being an Iberian country, Portugal never had clear influences from the Caribbean beats. This style came to the country in the 90s, following a Spanish and world trend. Examples of Latin music singers in Portuguese are Ana Malhoa and Mil i Maria.


Pimba music is the Portuguese version of the euro Schlager or the Balkan Turbo-Folk. It's named after the 1995 hit Pimba Pimba, by Emanuel.[1] Some of its biggest names are Emanuel, Ágata, Suzana, Micaela, Ruth Marlene and Quim Barreiros. This genre mixes traditional sounds with accordion, Latin beats and funny or religious (mainly kitch) lyrics.

Political (Música de Intervenção)

Sculpture of Zeca Afonso in Grândola.

During the reign of the Estado Novo fascist regime music was widely used by the left-wing resistance as a way to say what could not be said, singing about freedom, equality and democracy, mainly through metaphors and symbols. Many composers and singers became famous and persecuted by the political police, some of them being arrested or exiled, such as Zeca Afonso, Paulo de Carvalho, José Mário Branco, Sérgio Godinho, Adriano Correia de Oliveira, Manuel Freire, Fausto, Vitorino, Júlio Pereira and some others.

José Afonso began performing in the 1950s; he was a popular roots-based musician that led the Portuguese roots revival. With artists like Sérgio Godinho and Luís Cília, Afonso helped form nova canção music, which, after the 1974 revolution, gained socially-aware lyrics and became canto livre. The biggest names in canto livre were Banda do Casaco and Brigada Víctor Jara, groups that seriously studied and were influenced by Portuguese regional music.

After the Carnation Revolution, that same music was used to support left-wing parties. Political ideas and causes, like the agrarian reform, socialism, equality, democratic elections, free education and many other were a constant presence in these songs lyrics, often written by well-known poets like José Barata-Moura, Manuel Alegre or Ary dos Santos.

Reggae and Ska

More underground but very prominent are Portuguese reggae and ska. Some of the more famous bands of these types include Primitive Reason, Three and a Quarter and Purocracy. This music is popular among young people, with its main roots based in Lisbon and the surrounding areas.


Portuguese rock was born in the 1980s, with acts like Pedro Abrunhosa. Clã (pop rock), Grupo Novo Rock (pop rock and rock), Fingertips, (pop rock), Blasted Mechanism (experimental electro-rock), Faithfull (soft rock), Suspiria Franklyn (punk-rock/new wave), Riding Pânico (post rock), Linda Martini (post/noise rock), peixe : aviao (post-rock), Ornatos Violeta (indie rock), Stereo Parks (Indie Rock), A Book in the Shelf (grunge rock), Dream Circus (grunge rock), Decreto 77, (punk rock), Mazgani (alternative) or Green Echo (experimental dub), are other important acts.

The indie and alternative rock movements are also popular in Portugal. Some indie and alternative bands and artists from Portugal are Os Pontos Negros, Memória de Peixe, We Trust, B Fachada, Linda Martini, The Glockenwise, Capitão Fausto, Frankie Chavez, Stereoboy, First Breath After Coma, Samuel Úria, indignu, Quelle Dead Gazelle, Noiserv, Best Youth and Big Summer.


The highest exponents of this kind of music in Portugal are Tony Carreira and Marco Paulo (both, and even other performers, have a certain level of overlap with the Pimba genre, even partial or just in certain songs). The poet-singer-songwriter Fausto Bordalo Dias, a significant contributor to the modern romantic genre, can be compared to Leonard Cohen.

Singers of Portuguese-descent

There are several popular musicians of Portuguese descent. Luso-francofonic artists include Linda de Suza (Portuguese born and later an immigrant in France) and Marie Myriam, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1977. Nelly Furtado reflected some of her Portuguese origin, especially in lesser-known songs in her first albums (songs like "Scared" sung by Furtado in English and Portuguese, "Nas Horas do Dia" and "Força"). Portugal-born Nuno Bettencourt's heritage is also reflected in the title of Extreme's 2008 album Saudades de Rock. Steve Perry, former lead singer of rock group Journey is American of Portuguese ancestry, as is Aerosmith's Joe Perry (both their original paternal family names being Pereira). The lead singer from Jamiroquai, Jay Kay is descendent from Portugal through his father. Ana da Silva, founding member of the cult post-punk band The Raincoats is also of Portuguese origin. Others include Katy Perry and DEV.

See also


  • Cronshaw, Andrew and Paul Vernon. "Traditional Riches, Fate and Revolution". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 225–236. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

External links

  • (French) Audio clips: Traditional music of Portugal. Musée d'Ethnographie de Genève. Accessed November 25, 2010.
  • Portuguese Music Information Centre
  • Folk and Trad music and dance News, interviews, reviews, photos and music
  • Portuguese Music By Gina Modesto in Accessible Portugal Online Magazine
  • Portuguese Composers Database
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