English Version | I'm not the one to blame, you were asking for it*

05 Jun 2021
By Nuno Miguel Dias

From “A menina dança?” to “Nós Pimba”, there is a full treaty of the evolution of consciences in Portugal. After all, we could conclude that, in environments called “rural” or “retrograde”, vulgarity shows a quotidian where sex is regarded as the most natural thing in the world. And that in the big urban centers, ultimately, what dominates is the puritanism a white-collar job demands. But the harsh reality is that Folkloric music, or Música Pimba, unites Portugal under one same idea: having fun! The type of fun that makes one forget all one’s problems, even if just for a second.

From “A menina dança?” to “Nós Pimba”, there is a full treaty of the evolution of consciences in Portugal. After all, we could conclude that, in environments called “rural” or “retrograde”, vulgarity shows a quotidian where sex is regarded as the most natural thing in the world. And that in the big urban centers, ultimately, what dominates is the puritanism a white-collar job demands. But the harsh reality is that Folkloric music, or Música Pimba, unites Portugal under one same idea: having fun! The type of fun that makes one forget all one’s problems, even if just for a second.

Almost a millennial of Portugal and we’re still in the same place. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, get by. As much as they can, obviously. Naturally, it is erudite music (or classical), composed, interpreted and appreciated in the highest circles of society, the one that goes in the record. From the oldest ones to contemporary times, we can easily discover what type of influences our artistic elites fed from, and in what way they set their creativity free. From the Middle Age, where we know only the troubadour songs of D. Dinis, to Modernism, we go through the Renaissance, Classical and Romantic periods, just like the rest of Europe. And with so many other huge names that wouldn’t fit in here. The Cancioneiro Popular (popular songbook), on the other hand, the one that is of interest to this succinct treaty, survived, costly and by sacrificing more than half its authors, via word of mouth. Without someone who dominated the quill with enough interest in what the people were singing in order to document it, there are for sure tons of treasures that are lost forever and, with them, a big chunk of our soul. From that moment, more or less identifiable in time, where the Portuguese educational system expanded beyond just the minority of high society noblemen to the rest of the population who, still as part of a privileged class, mixes with the most diverse portions of its people, both as a necessity for employment (doctors and business people), out of personal interest for the need to create (novelists and poets) or of mere bohemian inclination (popular fests), Portuguese Folkloric Music was finally born. Word of mouth continues to be determinant, but the old songs, the ones perpetuated by the folkloric ranches of the Cante Alentejano that echoed during harvests and in taverns, no longer have a merely local audience. Fado is king and lord in Lisbon, where many Portuguese people already clamber from far more bucolic stops and that, out of longing, searched for that manifested and slightly concealed sense of sadness, with a glass of wine in front of them and, on paydays, perhaps a little dish of iscas. Meanwhile, the shadow of a dictatorship falls over the country, that darkens even more the millions of souls that for a long time already had been overcast by a kind of endemic nostalgia that is born from looking at the sea, waiting for something, and that dies with a black shawl hiding a bun. In that huge ring that is the national daily life, where so often one would fight for survival, we find on one side, the ultra-famous national popular songs claimed left and right by transistors and, later on, by the TV screens in the collectivities, an entire country watching RTP’s Festival da Canção – and, on the other extreme, Intervention Music, with a very strong political character, critical of the regime and as progressive as respectful of the folklore matrix (Zeca Afonso was, after Michel Giacometti, one of the responsible players for the ethnical-musical gathering of information), but that would only reach the classes of society that were the most instructed and aware of the revolutionary ideals. On one side we are left with names such as Simone de Oliveira, António Calvário, Madalena Iglesias, Eduardo Nascimento and Carlos Mendes. On the other side, Sérgio Godinho, José Maria Branco, Fausto (Bordalo Dias), the Salomé Brothers (Janita and Vitorino) and, of course, the irreplaceable Zeca. In a more complete approach, many other names would have had to be included. And yet, it wouldn’t be possible to not mention the birth, in the 50s, of Portuguese Rock by the work of José Cid (the Babies) and Joaquim Costa, the 60s and the resurgence of yé-yé, with the Quinteto Académico, the Gatos Negros and the Chinchilas and, finally, an honorable mention to Linda de Suza, who would bring to tears the vast Portuguese emigrant community in France, many years before Tony Carreira had taken her place, firstly outside and then inside borders, until he became the unquestionable and unavoidable phenomenon he is today.

The 25th of April is to blame. From that 1974 morning on, Portuguese people no longer had to worry about the Lápis Azul nor with concealing a whole culture restricted by fear. It meant much more than Freedom. It was about making up for lost time. Grândola, Vila Morena carried the news of a consummated revolution, but it is Paulo de Carvalho with E Depois do Adeus that gives the order to move forward. Pop is out on the streets. A little more rock and roll with the UHF, GNR and Xutos e Pontapés, a little more glam with the brave António Variações, slightly lighter with Heróis do Mar, Lena d’Água’s Salada de Frutas. Older generations take great pleasure in Marco Paulo and the popular song tradition, but those who were born into freedom move on to the festive Sitiados and Ena Pá 2000, or over to a set of options that has proven to be very vast in term of options, going from Sétima Legião to Moonspell, from Madredeus to Da Weasel, from Primitive Reason to Clã. It was during those fruitful 90s that the term “Música Pimba” was born, by the hand of Emanuel (“E se elas querem um abraço ou um beijinho / Nós pimba nós pimba”). The concept already existed before. Only it was defined as Música Popular Portuguesa, meaning, Portuguese Folkloric Music. Sometimes even as Light Music (Música Ligeira). But it was during that golden age that “folklore” artists stopped doing seasonal performances. With the birth of two more television stations that competed with unheard-of fervor for the extremely valuable audiences, Iran Costa, his Bicho and so many others would occupy full afternoons of our kids and adults who were impatiently waiting for the glorious moment when Macaco Adriano would come out of his cage and jump around Ruths Marlenes and Romanas of life. Far away were the years of Revista à Portuguesa, where the criticism to the regime or the “mischief” had to be highly concealed as to not perish at the hands of the Censorship Regime of Salazar. Singers could no longer set free their vulgar imagination that characterized the Portuguese environment every time we were allowed to be ourselves. Endless metaphors with double meanings, sex all around, drama stories, un-matched love affairs, a whole roll of possibilities the most erudite crowds would despise, but only until the third glass of cheap wine in a countryside fest in August. From that moment on, all composure falls apart with the first chords, always cheery, to allow for the one true thing that matters to come through: fun. Pure and simple. That being said, the author of this text doesn’t agree with the definition “Pimba Music”, no matter how official it is. It could have been Música Popular Portuguesa Brejeira (MPPB), (Portuguese Vulgar Folkloric Music), for example. Only so that we wouldn’t have to include it in the Portuguese Folkloric Music section, which wouldn’t look so good when our “sister” The Brazilian Folkloric Music has names like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque in it. When it comes to MPPB there are very clear rules. Or maybe just the one: simplify. The melodies are basic, harmonization is lacking, arrangements can feed on folklore or easier Anglo-Saxonist pop, and the lyrics should be funny and, you guessed it, highly sexual. Why? Because it’s catchy, you can dance to it, and because no one will elaborate on the “excellent quality of that accordion player” or on the “incredible performance of that bass player” after a concert during the Feiras Novas of Ponte de Lima, the Santos Populares in the locality of Pena, in Lisbon, or the Festas de Corroios. It is notable how within this musical genre it is possible to outline two different subgenres. Because ultimately, softer artists such as Ágata, Emanuel, José Malhoa, Nel Monteiro and the Zimbro group (with their classic Apita o Comboio, mandatory in every wedding) slowly gave place to more hardcore versions, by the works of Rosinha or Ana Malhoa, being that the folkloric rhythms were replaced by others more African inspired, from kuduro to funaná. Only Quim Barreiros manages to upkeep his level of vulgarity, which goes from “smelling his Maria’s codfish” to “putting his car in his neighbor’s garage”, continuing to be the great champion of audiences in any concert he decides to throw. And forget the parties in the most rural parts of the country and in the midst of Portuguese emigrant communities. Pimba Pimba during academic weeks’ celebrations and a karaoke night out with friends. Fess up. And yes, it is fun!

The time has now come, to demystify the prejudice, whether the one adjacent to the term “Música Pimba” or “Portuguese Folkloric Music”. Because there is, indeed, prejudice. That should be urgently combatted by opening one’s arms wide open to simplicity. And to do so, we will go on by using an example that might look like a paradox. We’ll show you it’s not. We talked to someone who actually understands the subject. He is, unquestionably, a composer. The owner of a powerful voice. This article would be lacking had we not chatted with The King. This is meant to be read all night long Hmmm Hmmm. Ladies and gentlemen, Toy. Born and raised in Setúbal, he was in a local collective when he took his first steps, at only 5 years old. At 10 he joined a theater group and, after finishing up high school, emigrates to Germany where he worked as a mechanic, but also as a producer for many artists, as a vocalist in a jazz band and member of yet another German band called Prestige: “I studied to become an accountant. Knowledge doesn’t take up any space, thus I’m not bothered by having studied something I don’t regularly practice. My musical training was conducted by my father, who taught me the C and D on the guitar. And a friend of his “enlightened” me a little on drums. Everything else I learned by myself”, he explains. He is being modest. While still living in Germany, when he was still going by as António Manuel Neves Ferrão, he released the song Dias de Paz, on Radio Triunfo and, on Ovação [both record labels] the single Depois de Ti. Meanwhile he wrote the tunes Portugal Sonhado, Tanto Mel, Tanto Amor and Lembro-te for the record Sedução, by Marco Paulo. He returned to Portugal in 1988 and became using his school nickname as an artistic pseudonym. It is as Toy that he built a successful career, in a path that began by finishing 3rd on RTP’s Festival da Canção (with the theme Mais e Mais), moving on to a contract with Valentim de Carvalho and later on with Espacial [both Portuguese record labels], and at the beginning of the 90s, the success of his song Estupidamente Apaixonado gets him an invitation to be the musical director of television programs and to be the author of the main theme of the soap opera Olhos de Água. In 2002, the song És Tão Sensual was already blasting everywhere, even before it barged into our houses within the show Na Casa do Toy, where we got to know him alongside all his friends and family, without secrets: “My ideal day starts with waking up without an alarm, swimming in the ocean, having lunch with people I love, spend the afternoon with people who speak the same language as me, about culture and music, and wrapping up the night happy and knowing I’m loved”, the man in love with his origins and his people claims, in a deeper level: “The relaxed way our people place their claims has helped me become less restrained and become braver in my actions and when writing music. Art has transformed me into a humanitarian activist. My songs have given me enough visibility for me to share what I believe in, so I can be useful to this society I am a part of, that we are all a part of.”

Meaning, Toy’s imaginary foes way beyond the music he writes. And he does it without seeking labels (only wine ones, preferably those coming from Setúbal’s Peninsula, ideally from Casa Ermelinda Freitas and, to reach paradise, alongside a plate of cabidela): “If what they say I write is pop music, and that means all the music that is made for the people… I’m ok with that. Pop comes from popular, and folk from folklore. In the case of Portugal, having rhythm, popular culture, color and joy or nostalgia, all depends on the author. If there is a national songbook, even if I am as patriotic as it gets and not one bit nationalist, then that’s ok too. I believe that by being a singer of this kind, I will be a little bit of each. Above all, I am a musician, period.” About his long-spanned career, the success and some ups and downs, Toy doesn’t abandon his simplicity nor some unattachment: “Everything has value. There are always things in life that touch us more, but those who do it less are just as important. There is a sense of wholeness that completes us. I would do it all again. What was good was good, and what wasn’t as great taught me to reflect and change something. And this goes from my personal life to my professional one. The best compliment I ever received on my music was endless cheering. The worst? I can’t even recall. That is why I don’t really have a favorite place to play in. I am happy wherever I am wanted, loved and, above all, respected”, he declares, with the save that, even during less-than-great times in life, you’ve got to look on the bright side: “For example, people have thrown water on a brand-new smoke machine, thinking it was on fire. And I’ve had one time where I was left looking at this truck filled with dirt because we questioned the lack of dirt in electric connections. Even if it is obviously hard to forget how, on the day my mother died, I had to give to perform live because I couldn’t cancel. Or even the night my digestion stopped in the middle of the stage.” About his influences, favorite artists and Portuguese icons: “I can’t spend too long without listening to Pink Floyd and Tom Jones. But if I could only listen to one song for the rest of my life, it would have to be Smile, by Charlie Chaplin. Around here, I believe Zeca Afonso, José Cid and Rui Veloso are masters. But everyone in the new wave of Fado fascinates me, given that Amália and Carlos do Carmo will always be the greatest. But Duo Ouro Negro and the Trio Odemira are also very dear to me”, which redirects us to his three records, titled Recordações, where he interprets themes from other artists and that attest for a level of musical culture above average. If it’s a night of fun, we come back to humility. Picture a karaoke: “I like having fun and, in those circumstances, I won’t unleash all the vocal potential. Sometimes what comes out is a Spanish ballade or something more Tom Jones.” About dreams, he pushes modesty to the side: “I would love to play with a huge orchestra, sing in emblematic spectacle rooms or being successful worldwide”, but he quickly returns to his natural habitat: “I can’t complain. I’m healthy and live off something I love to do. So many people don’t have the same chance.” He recognizes, however, that nowadays, within the environment he has managed to build a career in, things don’t just depend on having a beautiful, powerful and tuned voice: “A good voice, yes. But if alongside a pair of good legs, a pretty face, and great audio and/ or video production, well, everything counts these days” and, to the sacramental question “Can you still do it all night long?”, the politically correct answer was: “It depends”! Yes, it depends on age and heart, we know all too well.

It’s important not to forget that, as the maximum expression of our culture, Portuguese music has always been a mirror of our society. Hence why we must analyze, although in an empiric way, some lyrics. Let’s take an artist who is absolutely unavoidable in the field, whose biography on the Central de Artistas’s website starts with “Rosinha was born on a cold winter morning on the 5th of January 1971. She grew up and at the age of 10 she felt the taste for music awaken within her, she enrolled in a music school in the area of Pegões Velhos and started taking her first musical steps there.” We’re sold. Shall we move on, with a moment of poetry, loosely translated, meant to be proclaimed respecting all due pauses and indications: “The other day in my room / I looked closely / Saw such a big crack / From the ceiling to the floor / I called for my love right away / See how he could fix it / But he said straight away / Only I can go in there / It’s a pleasure to see / So closely how he does it / First he swipes his fingers / See if it can hold / He wets it / So the paste can go in nicely / And then with the trowel / He just rubs / The only one that touches my crack is my love / He knows what to do, yes he does.”Note the souplesse with which all this sexual conceptualization resorts to technical terms of construction, to the point where we’ll never look at a talocha, meaning, a trowel, the same way ever again. There is, above all, an unquestionable sense of feminist liberation. There is a claim: “Because I want to, because I can, and because I feel like doing stuff with a trowel and no one should criticize me for it, just dance and move on”, which translates into some sort of adverse female empowerment. Where prejudice and more old-fashioned predispositions rule. This, my friends, is courage. Or, in MPPB language, it’s “having balls”. We went from a macho Quim Barreiros, who thinks that because he bought a pressure cooker, he has free access to certain holes, that can suck on a goat’s breasts only because it belongs to him or asks Teresa to suck his popsicle, arguing it has a raspberry taste, when we all know the man doesn’t have the necessary flexibility to curate the taste of his further out-of-reach anatomical regions. Rosinha climbed many steps in a potentially hostile environment and declares she holds the power. Whether it is her cat that licks her little bird (and as a result, there is the fact that she gets all wet), or confessing that her love has many horns, justifying it clearly: “Because I know he likes horns sometimes I can get him some, I have a neighbor that lives close by and helps me with that, such an angel.” Fascinating, isn’t it?

* Free translation from the original title, A culpa não foi minha, tu é que querias festa, a lyric from the song Aguenta-te com Esta, by Toy.

Translated from the original, as part of Vogue Portugal's Music Issue, published in june 2021.

Nuno Miguel Dias By Nuno Miguel Dias

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