José Afonso, the voice of a Revolution

The author of the song that, in 1974, sparked the Carnation Revolution in Portugal was born exactly 94 years ago, on August 2, 1929. He died at the age of 57, but his legacy lives on. In his country and in the world.

Aug 2, 2023 - 20:49
José Afonso, the voice of a Revolution
Photo by Joaquim Lobo

«Grândola, vila morena / terra da fraternidade / O povo é quem mais ordena / Dentro de ti ó cidade.» These single verses (meaning something like «Grândola, brunette village / land of fraternity / The people are who command / Within you, o city») were the ignition of the Portuguese Carnation Revolution of 1974.

In fact, one of the defining moments of the revolution was the broadcast of the song "Grândola, Vila Morena" by José Afonso on the radio (Rádio Renascença), which was the signal for the military units to initiate their actions. This song, with its symbolic lyrics, served as a coded message to launch the revolution, on April 25th 1974.

José Afonso, also known as Zeca Afonso (1929 - 1987), was a Portuguese singer-songwriter and folk musician whose influence on world music can be defined through several key aspects:

  • Political and Social Activism: José Afonso's music was deeply rooted in his strong political and social beliefs. He used his music as a vehicle to express his opposition to authoritarian regimes, colonialism, and social injustices. His songs resonated with people not only in Portugal but also in other parts of the world where similar struggles were taking place.
  • Revolutionary Artistry: Afonso's music played a pivotal role in the Portuguese Carnation Revolution of 1974. His song "Grândola, Vila Morena" became a symbol of the revolution, and its lyrics were used as a call to action for the military coup. Afonso's ability to create music that inspired political change showcased the transformative power of art and culture.
  • Innovative Fusion of Styles: Afonso blended traditional Portuguese folk music with African and contemporary influences, creating a unique and innovative sound. His fusion of genres and incorporation of regional musical elements helped introduce global audiences to the rich musical heritage of Portugal.
  • Cultural Identity: Afonso's music celebrated Portugal's cultural identity and history. His songs often referenced Portuguese folklore, literature, and historical events, contributing to a sense of national identity and pride.
  • Influence on Global Protest Music: While his music was sung in Portuguese, the universal themes of Afonso's songs, such as freedom, justice, and human rights, transcended language barriers. His music resonated with various global protest and social justice movements, becoming a source of inspiration for people fighting against oppression around the world.
  • Legacy of Activism: Afonso's legacy extends beyond his music. He was a prominent figure in the anti-fascist and anti-colonial movements, and his dedication to social and political activism continues to inspire musicians and activists alike.
  • Cultural Diplomacy: Afonso's music helped introduce Portuguese culture to the international stage. His songs served as a window into the struggles and aspirations of the Portuguese people, fostering cultural understanding and empathy on a global scale.
  • Continuing Influence: Even after his passing in 1987, José Afonso's music remains relevant and influential. His songs are still celebrated and performed by artists worldwide, and his legacy lives on through the enduring impact of his music on both artistic expression and social change.

José Afonso's importance to world music lies in his ability to merge artistry with activism, using his music to challenge oppressive regimes, champion social justice, and inspire movements for change. His legacy as a musician and activist demonstrates the profound impact that music can have on shaping societies and promoting a more just and equitable world.


The role of "Grândola" in the world

After the Carnation Revolution, the song "Grândola, Vila Morena" became associated with the spirit of revolution and social change not only in Portugal but also in other parts of the world. The song's role as a catalyst for the events of the revolution and its inspiring lyrics contributed to its status as a symbol of hope and resistance.

The message of the song, which spoke of unity, hope, and the struggle for freedom, resonated with people in other countries who were fighting for their rights or opposing oppressive regimes. The song's universal themes led it to be embraced by various social and political movements globally.

During the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, "Grândola, Vila Morena" was used as a symbol of opposition to racial segregation and oppression. It was seen as a representation of the broader fight for human rights and equality. In the same way, the song's themes of social justice and liberation made it popular among various left-leaning movements in Latin America during a time of political upheaval and social change.

The song's connection to the Portuguese revolution led it to be associated with movements worldwide that opposed authoritarian regimes and advocated for democracy and civil liberties. "Grândola, Vila Morena" found a place within the folk and protest music scenes globally, where musicians often use their art to express political views and advocate for change.

While the song might not have achieved the same level of global recognition as some other revolutionary anthems, its impact was significant within specific circles and movements. Its continued resonance in different contexts highlights the power of music to transcend borders and languages, carrying messages of hope, unity, and resistance.

Viktor Schwarz Member of EA Global Coordination Team