Grandola Vila Morena

Jose Afonso, c.1970s
Arranged: Miguel Heatwole, 1998

Europe’s first fascist dictatorship, established in 1926, was also the last to fall and kept the people of Portugal in an oppressive darkness for more than fifty years. After decades of painful war in Portugal’s overseas empire the morale of younger officers had reached a serious decline by the early 1970s. An attempt by the dictatorship to require officers to serve for ten years at a stretch, without leave to visit their families back home became one of the factors converting demoralisation into rebellion. A clandestine organisation of left-leaning officers plotted an insurrection to take place in April 1974.

A signal had been arranged that would notify the rebel soldiers that the coup was beginning. A cryptic message in the army newspaper had advised that they be listening at midnight on April 25th to Radio Renascita, a Catholic Radio station broadcasting from Lisboa, Portugal’s capital city. At the designated moment Grandola Vila Morena, an anti-fascist song by dissident musician Jose Afonso was heard on the censored airwaves. Throughout the night rebel troops took up positions in and around the city and announced that the dictatorship had fallen. Gunfire was narrowly averted by the disobedience of junior officers to their fascist commanders, and throughout the day people filled the streets with their singing. Many of them taking up the song of the moment.

Grandola is a sun-baked town in the south of the country and was chosen by Jose Afonso as typifying the ideals of brotherhood, equality and empowerment that had for so long been coldly suppressed.

Lyrics:

Grandola vila morena,
Terra da fraternidade,
O povo e quem mais ordena
Dentro de ti o cidade.

Em cada esquina um amigo,
Em cada rosto igualdade.
Grandola vila morena,
Terra da fraternidade.

A sombra duma azinheira,
Que ja nao sabi’ a idade,
Jurei ter por companheira,
Grandola a tua vontade.

Translation:

Grandola, sunburnt village, land of brotherhood! The people are the ones who rule inside of you, oh city! On every corner a friend, equality in every face. Grandola, sunburnt village, land of brotherhood! In the shade of an oak tree that didn’t know its age I swore to take your will as my comrade, Grandola!

More notes:

It ought to be said that our version of the song is not traditional, and with the exception of a few dozen members of Sydney’s Portuguese community, is completely unknown to the people from whom it came (naturally we hope this situation may change in time). However the original tune and words do form the basis of the arrangement, and the first verse is a faithful reproduction of the original. Miguel has however given each verse a different treatment, adding new harmonies as the melody is passed around the choir from part to part. At the point where the sopranos take up the melody a complex polyphony begins to push apart the melodic phrases and creates the impression of many currents tugging in different directions – much as one finds in popular political movements! As the melody makes another circuit of the choir a more cohesive sound is achieved as the polyphony diminishes, and parts begin sharing the text at the same point in time. At the final verse all voices are united in a homophonic grandeur that lets us hear the sopranos at the very height, and basses at the very depth of a community choir’s vocal range. Grandola!

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Author: solidaritychoir

Activist choir in Sydney Australia

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