Carlos Paredes – 1971

Imagine launching a revolution without even saying one word. That’s the revolution in sound and in history that Carlos Paredes from Coimbra, Portugal was able to achieve. Fado, the blues music of Portugal, has melodies and sentiment informed from hundreds of years of colonial rule. The further the naval empire stretched, the more outside influences from colonies in Africa, South America, and Asia would blend into this long created sound that already had lineages in Arabic and Gypsy music. In Lisbon especially, mariners would come home and sing in hybrid styles learned from musicians in these other territories. What they sang with was usually the accompaniment of a Portuguese guitar, a small 12-string guitar that construction-wise resembled a mandolin but most sounded like a zither or bozouki (high and buzzing instruments, with octave harmonics).

There was a problem though. Most Portuguese guitars used to play Lisbon-style fado, which valued singing over musical instrumentation, were highly ornamented and expensive. This made fado, a great boon for night clubs and tourist areas where people could pay a premium to hear stories of Portugal’s great past and mawkish lyrical regalements. Its the stuff that made that kind of fado popular with foreigners and nationalists but deeply oppressive for musicians and activists who wanted to use that musical experience to challenge beliefs and norms.

In Coimbra, Artur Paredes a local fado musician revolutionized the fado community by performing with simpler constructed guitarras portuguesas and changing the intonation of the guitar itself to give it a far wider range (both in notes to play and a sound that could linger longer and blend more with other instruments). This wider berth could finally give it wider provence on which to compose and perform on an equal stage with Fado vocalists. This change, which valued innovation over tradition, soundly teed off the Lisbon school of Fado — why did a city with no marinheiro or worldly tradition have the stones to think they can play Fado in such a way? Well, Artur couldn’t explain why, but the teaching and values he instilled in his son, would go one step further, and try to make the case that Fado could be otherworldly.

From a young age, his mother hoping to avoid placing the troubles his father ran into as a Fadista steered him into safer instruments. At high school, she would enroll him in piano and violin classes. However, secretly, he would run away from school and practice the Portuguese guitar like his father. They finally give in and let him study his passion. By then, he graduates from high school and tries to maintain a respectable life. In between time practicing, he would work as a clerk at a hospital in Lisbon. However, there was a secret life he lived. During off times, he had joined the Partido Comunista Portugues (PCP) and would attend secret meetings that would later come back to haunt him. In 1958, he was accused of being a Communist by a business friend and sent to spend years in jail by laws imposed on such thoughts by the Portuguese fascist Antonio Salazar.

In jail, refusing to renounce his Communist beliefs, he had to languish by as the world moved on around him and he didn’t have access to the guitarra he used to devote his time to. No matter, in prison he humbly went by practicing as if he had a guitar in his hands. He would pace his jail cell and sit down going miming fingerings and strums as if he had that precious instrument in his hand. It didn’t matter if other inmates thought he was going crazy, in his mind he was arranging and composing music. Showing his stature as a man, when he was let out and went back to work he would pass by the same person who denounced him to the authorities and greet them civilly, friendly as if nothing had happened. Carlos, felt betrayed but was already moving forward physically and mentally, forgiving the person who sent him torment.

Somehow, word of his compositional and performance talents got to fado artist Amália Rodrigues. Famously, she was so emotionally floored the first time she heard Carlos’s playing that she hit him in anger for making her feel such a way. She instantly hired him as her accompanist and arranger. True to his humble way, he would keep his day job while at night he would linger long enough to play gigs with Amalia and record sessions as needed. During his time then he would record tracks like “Os Verdes Anos” which served as anthems for youth protest movements in Portugal. Sometime around 1967, the Columbia record label signed him and let him have his first go at recording the free minded work he always had in mind. Carlos’ Guitarra Portuguesa album was that revelatory album.

Carlos recording Movimento Perpetuo

Completely doing away with the vocalist in Guitarra Portuguesa, he himself would make the guitar sing the Portuguese blues melodies he heard in those quiet moments of his. Working with a classical guitarist to accompany him, they set about to reimagine traditional songs that showed the influence of Beethoven or other Romantics forgotten from years before, with some insanely moving cyclical guitar modes that he’d come up with growing into his instrument. It was the first sign of what he had to say without having to say it. It was the sound of mainland Portugal. However, four years later, in 1971, with better confidence and knowledge around the recording studio he made a statement that cemented him his place in musical history.

Movimento Perpetuo (Perpetual Movement) is the more than apt title of his new found explorations. As if, sonically painting the entire scope of Portuguese feeling and movement (whether spiritual, musical or physical) he used the Portuguese guitar to go into modes that it quite never went to before. You hear this in the little details, one thing I never forget when I hear his music is the sometimes barely audible inhales and exhales from Carlos’s breath as plays his guitar. Something about the tone he achieves from this guitarra portuguesa as it works mutually with basses, classical guitars, flutes and pianos (instruments rejected by the Lisbon school) their work goes into the range of the divine, you can hear a complex structure of music with beauty that provides room for deep feelings of reflection. When you catch his breath you’re hearing the weight of emotion that he himself felt from his playing.

With 12-guitar chords he sounds like a full orchestra plumbing undiscovered melodies from Angola, the coast of Brazil, or using oriental modes from Macau, and from the many ports of his own country, reflective emotions that were always there in the background of the Lusophonic people. Some of the tracks on the album are extremely reflective, you’ll hear that in the bonus tracks I’ll place near the end here, but some of them are just invigorating, life affirming works of art where the brilliance of that guitarra Carlos plays, plays like a lantern guiding you through sonic worlds that you’ve probably never heard like this before.

Little wonder then, that after releasing this album rather than live off and seek fame after starting this new Coimbra Fado style he receded back into quotidian life, filing radiographs in the same hospital he’d work nearly all his life, and preferring to perform his music to students and educators rather than tour and make a living from his music. His quest was seemingly to enlighten others to the power of an instrument/idea many writ of as antiquated and a relic of the past, in its own way informing something grander spiritually. In some of the videos you’ll see below, notice the the faces of the young students feel that same feeling Amalia felt, as this much older man plays his timeless music. Its a unique groove that will always be there every time you take a deep breath (whether the music is there or not), its a place you’ve been before even if you forget it at times, all you have to do is listen…

A wake up song, for the kids…

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Listen to Canto do Amanhecer at Grooveshark.

From Movimento Perpetuo, the magnificent “Canção” (Song)…

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Listen to Canção at Grooveshark.

and my personal favorite, “Variações Sob Uma Dança Popular (Variations on some Popular Dance)”, which starts at the 17:18 minute mark…

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or you can listen to at Grooveshark.