I always hate to say never, but I’ll wager that you’ll never find another giant of fado music quite like José “Zeca” Afonso. A massive influence in the cultural milieu that transformed Portugal from a closed-off fascist state into one striving to understand its colonialist role and work towards rectifying it through freedom of thought and spirit. Part socialist teacher, firebrand, and musical trailblazer José was their since the beginning creating protest music and musical protest that helped galvanize many minor and major Portuguese revolutions. This, his final album, solidified just how huge of a loss the music world faced when he passed just two years after the creation of Galinhas Do Mato.
A fighter until the end, José had by 1985 seen his stature grow to unheard of heights simply by remaining steadfast in promoting revolutionary ideas through music no matter the cost. Although he began his professional career as a teacher, Zeca evolved into a tenure in the troubadour circuit, mixing Woody Guthrie-like protest with Dylan-like wordplay. Rebuffing the Portuguese Communist Party’s attempt to co-opt his message – he thought of himself too much a product of the bourgeoisie to pull it off – José instead put his efforts behind performing music that could promote a progressive, democratic ideas. That freedom to work outside typical sloganeering allowed José to go beyond what the burgeoning fado movement was trying to do. To do something far more profound.
That magnificent period from Traz Outro Amigo Também through Coro Dos Tribunais with a true masterpiece, no matter the language, thrown in (1971’s utterly sublime Cantigas Do Maio) showed José remaining one step ahead of anyone trying to pigeonhole his sound, his lyrics, and the overall meaning of his music. Nearly driven out of the music circuit by fascist political police, he found ways to inculcate his ideas in the grander movement outside this or any album. Incarcerated for 20 days, when the fascists simply thought they had enough of him, as soon as he was released José took part in a concert where his rousing epic song to the people of Alentejo, “Grândola, Vila Morena”, became the massive clarion call signaling the beginning of what would become the Carnation Revolution, one ending Marcelo Caetano’s fascist dictatorship in due time.
Having successfully navigated his way through this revolutionary period in the early ’80s José faced something that there’s still no way to navigate through: ALS. As he began solidifying a venerable place in Portuguese culture, José progressively faced the rigors of that disease. Rarely able to hold himself together to sing live and uninterested in being anyone’s monument, by 1985, Zeca decided to recede away from the limelight and release one more album. With mind very alert but body very frail, he chose to sing only a few of the songs you’d hear in Galinhas Do Mato. Entrusting a new generation, and other brilliant fado visionaries, to figure out the spirit and arrangements he wanted, he charted a new final course showing all the fascinating influence exterior Portuguese points of contact had on his own music.
Deeply experimental and in a profound wavelength with African and Latin American music, perhaps in ways that were alien to many ears of world music listeners, it’s a testament to José’s skills as musical mastermind that he brought along people like Jose Maria Branco and Júlio Pereira especially to imagine music looking for something that didn’t exist and musicians like Janita Salomé to breath life into Zeca’s fascinating, new explorations, in a way the master himself would (if he physically could). Simply too many highlights to count, “Moda Do Entrudo”, “Tarkovsky”, the title cut, “Á Proa” and “Alegria Da Criação” distinctly (the cut Zeca did manage to sing completely) hit on that intriguing line of fourth world music. It’s where one forgets what genre (if there is one!) this album exists in and just carry through the sublime expanse of thought in José’s final testament. There’s organic stuff. There’s plenty that’s modern and inorganic, but scoping through the bow, man does the horizon just look so gorgeous. It’s unlike anything else out there.
Forget monuments, this is the stuff that lives far beyond any of that.