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(Singer: 1920 - 1999)
by Leonor Lains
Translated by John D. Godinho
PORTUGAL: RURAL, POOR AND UNDERDEVELOPED
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Portugal has a
population of 5 million people. It’s
an essentially rural country, poor and underdeveloped. Emigration is of about 40 thousand people per year.
The illiteracy rate is around 70%.
On October 5, 1910, Portugal becomes one of the first republics in
Europe. The new regime
mobilizes the country and public opinion is passionately in favor of the
new government. Schools and
education are the priorities. The
legislature enacts laws protecting the rights of liberty and citizenship.
However, the actual exercise of such rights involves great contradictions.
The Republican Party, now in power, acts in a restrictive and
Portugal enters World War I (1914-1918). Political tensions give rise to the dictatorship of Sidónio
Pais. In 1917, Portuguese
forces suffer a terrible defeat in the Battle of La Lys, in France. Tensions worsen between an urban society, in the process of
becoming industrialized, and the rural areas with their traditional and
archaic ways. In Fatima, three small children say that they have seen Our
Lady on top of an olive tree. In
Lisbon, Sidónio Pais is assassinated on December 14, 1918, in the Rossio
Train Terminal. Bento Gonçalves,
the anarchist-unionist leader, takes a trip to Russia during the Bolshevik
revolution. He will be the founder of the Communist Party, in 1921.
In 1920, the Catholic Church rejects the statue of Our Lady of Fatima,
sculptered by Teixeira Lopes, because of its sensuality.
At the foot of Gardunha Mountain, there’s a trumpet player
who is disputed by the two marching bands of Fundão:
the “new style” vs. the
“old style” of music. The
life of a musician is insecure; he
has to provide support for his three children and his wife, who is
pregnant once again. He is a
cobbler, but his trumpet playing has taken up most of his time so he
hasn’t done very much shoe work. He
decides to leave the boondocks of Beira Province, and try his luck in the
capital. It’s cherry blossom time in Lisbon (May and June); while
they’re living on Martim Vaz Street, his wife gives birth to a baby girl:
Amália da Piedade Rodrigues.
Living conditions are bad for the family and the musician/cobbler
can’t to get a job. They
finally return to Fundão, poorer than ever.
Amália, now 14 months old, stays in Lisbon with her grandparents.
|“SING THAT ONE AGAIN – SIX PEOPLE HAVE ALREADY STOPPED TO LISTEN...”|
Amália is the fifth child in a family death is rampant among children
– José and António, still of nine children.
Vicente and Filipe are the oldest.
Pneumonia is spreading rapidly and quite small, are now dead.
Four girls are born after Amália:
Celeste, two years younger; Aninhas,
who dies at the age of 16; Maria
da Glória, who dies shortly after birth, and finally, Maria Odete.
It is now December 3, 1923. In
Manhattan, in the city of New York, a baby girl is born to Greek
immigrants: her name, Maria
Callas. Amália has no toys
but she already knows two or three songs.
Her neighbors ask her to sing and fill her pocket with candy drops
and small coins. These two
little girls will challenge much that has been established for a long
time. Two unique voices, two
“landmarks” between the “before” and the “after”.
One, in the interpretation of operatic music;
the other, in the interpretation of the Fado. In short, they have
come to renovate and innovate.
There’s a military coup d’état.
The parliamentary republic is overthrown. The new regime begins to limit the freedoms of speech and of
assembly – it’s the coming of censorship! Gradually, political parties
and labor unions are declared illegal. Salazar begins his rise to the top
– first, he becomes Finance Minister, and finally, Prime Minister.
Amália is a shy little girl.
The only person who can convince her to sing is her grandfather.
While she’s inside the house, with no one watching, she sings
tangos popularized by Carlos Gardel and a number of other songs.
Her grandfather, while sitting by the window, counts the people who
are attracted by her voice. He
says to her: “Sing that one
again – six people have already stopped to listen...”
Amália is now almost nine years old and her grandmoter, who can’t read
and write, sends her to Escola da Câmara, a grade school on Tapada da
Ajuda. On the way, she picks
and eats agave figs and steals some flowers for her teacher. She likes to go to school and nothing will keep her away, not
even her asthmatic condition. She
will not stay at home! At
school, her time is hers alone and she has a chance to daydream. There’s no one to tell her to dust, or wash dishes or wash
She’s a good listener and learns quickly. Her classmates call her
“know-it-all.” But there’s one thing she can’t manage to
Her teacher insists that she buy the textbook – her very first
book. When, sometime later,
she is required to buy another book, her grandmother asks her:
“The other one is still new, what do you want another book
At school, she is required to wear a white smock over her dress. One day
Amália is on her way to school, walking though the woods.
The sound of bird songs fills the air.
She sees a little girl dressed in rags, obviously much poorer than
she. Amália takes off the
dress she’s wearing under the smock and gives it to the girl.
When she returns home, her grandmother asks her to take off the
smock so she can wash it. Amália
is embarassed and, feigning surprise, simply says: “Gosh!
I’ve lost my dress!” Her
grandmother’s reaction is to give her a spanking as she bellows:
“Aren’t you the rich young lady, giving away your dresses!”
She graduates from grade school. On
graduation day, she wears a brand new dress which looks very good on her.
It is a pleated turquoise blue dress made of a light, soft, thin
fabric called crepe. It was
the first dress made by a seamstress especially for her.
She’ll never wear it again – since she is keeping it for
another important occasion and...in the meantime, she’s growing.
She’s now twelve and school is over for her!
“WE NEVER COMPLAINED ABOUT LIFE.”
Amália, a hard-working little girl, from a working-class district...
She is now 14 and decides to go live with her parents and her brothers,
who have recently returned to Lisbon.
At her grandmother’s everything was well organized.
Now everything is total confusion.
The house is too small for a couple with five children.
There must be discipline. As
is the custom among the people of Beira Baixa Province, there’s a
certain hierarchy that must be observed. The oldest brother is the boss
among the children – he also metes out punishment.
Amália gets slapped in face many times for singing as she walks
along the street. She loves to do that. The
girls are not allowed to do anything without his permission.
Amália, as the oldest daughter, has to help her mother do the
household chores. She irons
her brothers’ pants and shirts and takes care of their Sunday clothes.
Every day she has to take her brothers’ lunch to the 77,
a tavern in Alcântara, where they order some wine so they can sit at the
tables to eat.
Her grandmother, a tough woman who has given birth to 16 children, has a
good number of grandchildren by now.
Every Sunday she gathers the family. Each one brings something and
they all have lunch and dinner together.
They all have a good time – the older folk sing songs from their
hometown, songs of Beira Baixa. The
young people sing the fado.
The fado has been around for a little longer than a century.
It’s a type of urban music born and nurtured in Lisbon’s
working districts. With the advent of radio and recording techonology, the
voices of fado singers such as Ercília Costa, Ermelinda Vitória, and
others, find their way to a growing public.
Amália’s mother sets up a small fruit stall at Cais da Rocha (Rocha
Docks). Amália quits her job
at the factory in Pampulha so she can help her mother. Now, in this noisy atmosphere, among the colorful stands of
fruits and vegetables, one hears the vendors’ sales pitches – actually
short ancestral melodies, remembrances of the country people of Beira
Baixa, Trás-os-Montes, Minho.
These people are so poor that their poverty, to them, is something quite
natural. No one complains.
This is their fate. If the weather is cold, they stay close to a metal pan
with burning coals; if it
rains, they bring out pots and pans and spread them out so as to catch the
rain. If it starts raining while they are asleep, they just shift out of
the way ...“and, to boot, there’s a flea under the blanket,” as Amália
will write later in her memoirs. “But we never complained about
life. Sure, we knew there
were people who were different from us, otherwise there would be no
revolutions. But I never heard anybody talk about that.
It’s the privileged classes who discuss that type of thing, not
the poor. And, after all is
said and done, there’s also classe
discrimination among the poor. We
were like social outcasts.”
On Saturdays, Amália discovers the movie reruns at the Alcântara Movie
Theater, where they show films long after their first run at Lisbon’s
principal movie houses. She
sees Camile, of 1937, with Greta
Garbo. She drinks vinegar and
exposes herself to cold drafts so she can catch tuberculosis like her
heroine. Her greatest wish is
to be a performing artist. She’s
now 16 years old and Celeste, her inseparable sister, is 14.
They decide to run away on a boat, as stowaways, dressed as men so
as not to be bothered by anybody. They wear their brothers’ suits.
It’s six in the morning...a half-hour
later they’re back home again.
“BECAUSE THE FADO IS NOT MEANT TO BE SUNG; IT SIMPLY HAPPENS.”
Guernica is bombed by German airplanes.
Dictatorship is everywhere in the Iberian Pensinsula.
In Portugal, Salazar continues in power; in Spain, Franco begins
his tenure. Hitler invades
Poland. The Portuguese
regime, the “New State,” requires a professional identity card for
fado singers; without it,
they can’t sing in public. The
fado is no longer restricted to the streets and alleyways of Lisbon, or to
out of the way retreats or taverns. Now,
it can be found in the “fado houses”such as Solar
da Alegria, Retiro da Severa, Luso, which cater to more sophisticated
and bourgeois audiences, with greater purchasing power.
It is at one of these “fado houses,” the Retiro da Severa, that Amália makes her professional debut, in
1939. The following year she
sings at the Solar da Alegria,
under an exclusive contract and with her own repertoire. She makes her stage debut at the Maria Vitória Theater, in a
revue entitled Ora vai tu, playing
the role of a fado singer wearing the traditional black shawl.
She marries Francisco Cruz, the lathe worker and amateur guitar
Young Amália impresses everyone who hears her. She sings with great dramatic intensity because “the only
thing that matters is to feel the fado.
The fado is not meant to be sung; it simply happens. You feel it,
you don’t understand it and you don’t explain it.”
During the war years, a segment of Lisbon’s bourgeoisie is living la
The intellectuals are upset. The
democrats side with those Europeans who fight the nazi beast. Salazar
wavers. There are spies everywhere, from both sides, the allies and the
nazis, disputing the best spots of Lisbon’s nightlife, in the nighclubs
and fado houses.
Amália asks for, and gets, a divorce.
She’s now 23. She’s
independent, she’s young and enjoys a good time.
She is making good money and feels very comfortable in Lisbon.
Life is a party. There’s a criss-crossing between restaurants and nightclubs;
there are war refugees and Spanish girls. She sings every type of song that happens to be popular at the time and
her public is always highly pleased.
She dances everything in vogue:
sambas, waltzes. She’s
courted by everybody and is followed by fado lovers wherever she goes,
from the Negresco to the Tokai to
In 1943, she is a big hit when she makes her foreign debut, in Madrid, at
the invitation of the Portuguese ambassador. This is the beginning of a very successful international
career. In 1944, she goes to
Brazil. Delirium! Her stay
was scheduled to last six weeks, but it’s extended to three months. Here she makes her first recordings, in 78 r.p.m.
The nazis are defeated in 1945. Salazar’s
opposition goes overboard. There
are meetings, manifestoes, petitions. The Movimento de Unidade Democrática (Movement for Democratic Unity) is
organized. Lopes-Graça and poets like Carlos de Oliveira, José Gomes
Ferreira and João José Cochofel (among others) write the “Heróicas”
to be sung in the streets of Lisbon.
It’s all pure delusion...
It’s now 1949. António
Ferro is acting as a kind of minister of culture for Salazar’s
government. He’s supported by the modernist nationalist wing of the
artistic world. Almada
Negreiros, the painter, is one of the outstanding figures of that sector.
Amália has already been a big hit in Brazil and Madrid.
Her records are now sold in 16 countries.
She goes to London and Paris for the first time, at the invitation
of António Ferro, who considers
her a great singer and an intelligent woman.
Whenever there’s a need to brighten up an official reception, he
invites her to sing and charm those present. “He showed me off as the
best thing they had to offer, but he never helped me become Amália
Rodrigues.” Never was she
praised by anyone in the government. António Ferro was really the only
person who always treated her with respect.
Salazar, himself, would only refer to her as the
“I COULD HAVE BEEN MANY THINGS, IF I WEREN’T WHAT I AM.”
Amália sings at the Argentina Opera House, in Rome.
In 1950, a number of shows are put together in support of the economic
reconstruction of a Europe lying in ruin. It’s the famous Marshall Plan.
The first shows were in the tormented city of Berlin. There are people from all the countries that have joined the
American Plan. The selection
centers on operatic singers, but Portugal has no famous singers in that
category. Amália is the only
well-known artist. “They
had heard some of my records, so they decided to chose me.” She sings the Portuguese poets Pedro Homem de Mello
and David Mourão Ferreira. Ireland, a country where
popular music has very strong roots, is also represented by singers of
Amália manages to break a taboo in Rome by singing at the Argentina
Opera House. Also on the bill
were the opera singer Maria Caniglia, the violinist Jacques Thibault and
the tenor Fiorenzo Tasso, accompanied by a symphony orchestra. The
contrast couldn’t be greater. Amália
is the only singer of popular music.
She shakes like a leaf, having by her side only the Portuguese
guitar of Raul Nery and the base guitar of Santos Moreira:
“Three nobodies who knew nothing about music playing right next
to a an enormous symphony orchestra.”
When she walks on stage, she looks so frightened that the people in
the front rows look at her with kindness in their eyes:
“I think the audience was on my side, even before I started.”
She is a huge success. When
she leaves the stage, she laughs and cries at the same time.
“I had the only conniption fit I’ve ever had in my life.
Everyone off-stage had gathered around me, trying to cool me with
their fans and saying: Perchè
piangere? Un sucesso! Un trionfo! Perchè piangere? (Why cry? You were a
success! A triumph!
Why cry?) And I kept
crying and laughing, laughing. It was so scary...because fado singers in the old days had
greater inferiority complexes than we do today. I did away with those complexes in the fado.
That night, I did quite a lot, without realizing it.
It was an extraordinary show for me and the reviews were fabulous.
When I left the theater, everybody was waiting for me and they were
shouting: Brava! Brava! Brava!”
During one of her stays in New York, Danny Kaye invites her to be in a
Broadway show with him. “Who
knows, maybe if I had accepted and things had gone O.K., as they always
have for me, maybe I could have gone on to something really big. I could have been a lot of things, if I weren’t what I am.
But at that stage, I wasn’t able to sing with Danny Kaye, even
though we did become great friends.”
In 1954, she goes on a tour of Mexico.
Hedda Hopper, a famous Hollywood columnist at the time, suggests
that she wear a white dress with a low neckline and give up the black
shawl. She also suggests that
Amália wear a read rose in her hair.
Amália has to explain to her that the red rose worn that way is
typically Spanish and that she is from Portugal, from Lisbon.
She is taken by her agent, Blackstone, to the Hollywood studios where she
watches the shooting of Someone at
Last, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. She finds everything very
strange since one of the scenes is repeated seventeen times, while in
Portugal an actor is not allowed to make any mistakes because there’s
not enough film to repeat the scene even once.
This is how she describes meeting James Mason to her biographer,
Victor Pavão dos Santos: “There
was a Portuguese lady with me and she was all a twitter because she saw
James Mason. I had to
apologize to him and tell him that not all the women in Portugal were like
She doesn’t stay in the United States at this time because she simply
doesn’t feel like it. She
sings on television for the first time in New York, on NBC’s “Eddie
Fisher Show,” sponsored by Coca-Cola “...which I had to drink, but I
really didn’t like it at all.” She
makes a recording of fado and flamenco.
They open a bank account for her to stay a while longer and is
invited to record two long-playing albums with songs written by Cole
Porter, Gershwin, and Jerome Kern. She
is very pleased with the invitation, but she refuses because she’s had
her fill of America: “I’ve never had to work in my life and now, if I were to
make an album with American songs, I’d have to keep rehearsing and
working. I like to sing
without having to think that I am singing.
That’s the only way I know how to sing.
And if I had to worry about the English lyrics, I’d lose my
|THE BALLAD OF THE PASSING WIND|
Amália, joins Manuel Alegre, Pedro Homem de Melo, David Mourão Ferreira and Alain Oulmain...
She’s accepted by some and booed by others, but she’s ignored by no
one. She decides to sing the
so-called fado/song and develops a new, more insolent way of singing it.
She enthusiastically sings fados composed by Frederico Valério, Raul Ferrão
and Frederico de Freitas, with a “more complex musical structure, with
refrains and quatrains, when compared with the simplicity of the stanzas
in the old fados of pure lineage.” (Raul V. Nery)
Amália lends a new brilliance to the fado. According to musicologist
Nery, she sings the traditional repertoire with a different touch “...subordinating
the regular rhythm of the melody to the whims of poetic diction, with
surprising pauses and new embellishments which she had found in the songs
of Beira Baixa.”
She crosses all barriers and cultural prejudices. Amália has
the gift of reconciling the urban with the rural, the cultured with the
popular, through her unique
quality of voice, full of sensual and musical emotion.
Guided by her great intuition, she begins to sing the great poets of the
Portuguese language, from the troubadours to Camões, from Bocage to
contemporary poets, such as Pedro Homem de Mello and David Mourão who now
write works for her. She
meets the Franco-Portuguese composer Alain Oulmain:
“One day I was in a camping site
and I was introduced to Alain Oulmain, who had composed a song
thinking of me, Vagamundo (The Wanderer).
I heard it and I liked it. He showed us a few others and I went
against the opinion of many of those present who felt that this type of
music was too complicated. It’s
true, the guitar players did have to learn those new harmonies Alain was
bringing us which were foreign to the fado, since the fado is poor in
harmony. Alain was born in
Dafundo, in Portugal, but he is French.
He has great artistic sensibility;
he was raised in a special environment.
Then he heard me sing and felt that my sensibility was very close
to his. He makes it possible for me to fly.”
Amália’s sense of humor is characteristic of Lisbon, typical of Alcântara,
a working classe district where they cultivate a corrosive type of humor
almost as a way of life. She
jokes about herself and her talent. She
tells a story to her biographer about her first appearance on Portuguese
TV, in 1958. “There was a
fly buzzing around me. The
fly sang better than I did. Whenever
there were flies there, and I think they were always there, people would
pretend they didn’t see them. But
I did, so I shooed it away. After
that they would talk about nothing else but the fly.”
Whenever she finds herself in complicated situations, she manages
to get her courage by having a quick and ready answer.
Once, someone asked her about the decorations and other honors she
received during the Salazar dictatorship and she promptly answered: “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t even get up from my big
chair. I didn’t pass through life;
it was life that passed through me.”
During the sixties, for economic and political reasons, many Portuguese
emigrate, en masse, to richer countries in Europe. Colonial war breaks out in Angola; student movements
demonstrate against Salazar’s repression.
Many Portuguese who oppose the regime are forced to go into exile.
In Algeria, the exiled poet Manuel Alegre receives a letter from
his friend Alain Oulmain asking for permission for Amália to sing Trova
do vento que passa (The Ballad of the Passing Wind), a poem that was
already a point of reference for the Portuguese anti-fascist resistence
when sung by Adriano Correia de Oliveira.
The new version is included in Amália’s album Com
que Voz (With What Voice) (1970).
In 1962, the first record with songs by Alain Oulmain is released and is
well-received by the cultured elite.
For some, it’s not fado. The
guitar players themselves recognize that they have a rough time when they
play Oulmain’s music. José
Nunes would always say: “We’re going to the opera.”
Her great sensibility and intuition lend a certain political dimension to
the fado entitled Povo que lavas no
rio (You, People, Who Wash in the River), one of Pedro Homem de
Mello’s poems, which she selects without knowing quite why. The same thing happens with one of Armandinho’s old fados
– it becomes a hymn to those dissenters imprisoned in the city of
Peniche. Soon it becomes
known as the Peniche Fado and
its sale is forbidden by the government.
Amália says: “When
I sang it, it was just the sadness of love, which is a much more beautiful
feeling, and much more painful, than any idea about revolutions.
Nothing could be further from my mind than the idea of prisons.”
In 1966, she travels to the United States once again.
She performs in places which are usually off-limits to popular
singers, such as the Lincoln Center and the Hollywood Bowl.
She is informed, by telephone, that Alain Oulmain has been arrested
by the Portuguese Secret Police. She
does everything she can to help set him free and taken to the
Pope Paul VI visits the Sanctuary of Fátima and Sister Lúcia,
the only survivor of the three children who saw Our Lady. He also
decorates the director of the Secret Police.
Photographs, facts, fados...
Amália continues to sing the left-wing poets: Ary dos Santos, Manuel Alegre, O’Neill, David Mourão-Ferreira.
In 1968, dictator Salazar falls from a chaise-longue and becomes
incapacitated; he is
substituted by Marcelo Caetano, a university professor.
The Secret Police temporarily closes the Instituto Superior Técnico. The following year, there’s an election in which, for the
first time, there are candidates from the two most important factions
opposing the regime, the democratic movements MDP/CDE* and CEUD**. There’s electoral
fraud – the representatives elected
to the National Assembly are all from the so-called Liberal Wing.
There follows a wave of labor strikes throughout the country.
In 1969, Amália receives a decoration from Marcelo Caetano at the
Brussels World’s Fair. That
same year, she goes on tour to the then Soviet Union.
Once again, audiences are fascinated by her peculiar voice.
She never becomes overly impressed by all the positive events in her life
– she remains true to herself, always acting casually regarding her
successes and her talent. Amália
keeps nothing which is related to her career as an artist. In her own words: “I
spent my life being surprised by what was happening to me, but I never
struggled and I never suffered to get anything, to obtain what people call
‘success’. Perhaps I
didn’t fully enjoy the things that I have lived through.
Still, I realize that I’m the only Portuguese artist well-known
1971: Zeca Afonso records an
album called Cantigas de Maio (Songs
of May), which includes Grândola,
Vila Morena. Amália is
in Paris. She visits Alain
oulmain and meets Manuel Alegre, a poet who is recovering from a serious
ilnness and is hiding in Alain’s house.
It’s the beginning of a great friendship and of intense
collaboration. Manuel Alegre
admits that he was a bit confused upon meeting her. He says that when he
was in exile, in Algeria, he used to play her records and “...I could
feel a bit of Portugal right there, with me, because, to be truthful, no
one but Amália can express what I call our ‘Atlantic quality’, that
melancholic and nostalgic feeling we call saudade.”
When she is stirred by emotion, her manner of singing becomes so intense
that she ends up crying. “Once
I was on a boat, in Vila Franca. That
night I sang the Fado Cravo and
people around me kneeled at my feet.
Why did they kneel? Because I felt a very strong emotion...I
don’t even know what to call it.
Perhaps I am not creative, but when I sing
I create. And to
create, I need music. When I
started singing, the fado was very confined, like a house with only one
room, and my way of singing gave it two more rooms.
Nothing in that room would give me a chance to be free.
My voice wanted to get away, but the door was always locked. So I had to sing my own way.”
|OH, SANITY THAT BRINGS ME PAIN|
The tourist trade was one of the most aggressive activities in Portugal,
during the sixties. It projected an image of a peaceful country (even
though it had been at war for several years) in songs such as April in Portugal, abounding with sun (even though the rainy season
is in April), with lots of Fado,
Football and Fatima. These were the F’s
that supported Salazar’s Fascism.
Thus, Amália is taken as one of the F’s to the point where she is
attacked by some radical left-wing militants (some of whom will, later on,
become members of right-wing parties).
Many are unaware of her generosity and contributions to the
National Committee to Assist Political Prisoners (Comissão
Nacional de Socorro aos Presos Políticos), during the fascist years.
Rubens de Carvalho, a communist Congressman, writes that “...she
did so in the same passionate and perhaps naïve way as she used when she
thanked her Salazarian benefactors who gave her, a simple plebeian, the
chance to appear on stage, handling a microphone.”
Once again, Amália sings Mãe
Negra, embalando o filho branco do senhor...(Black Nanny, Rocking Her Master’s White Child to Sleep...), which
she had sung during the sixties in Angola and Mozambique.
This song was on the black list of Salazar’s censors, since it
was part of the repertoire of the Resistance. And during the April
Revolution, in 1974, she sings the Fado
de Peniche. At the same
time she participates, together with Morais e Castro, actor, lawyer and a
Communist, in general assemblies held at the Vasco Santana Theater, to
explain the effect of the Revolution on the activities of performing
The Portuguese Democracy finally renders her the greatest and most
sincere homage. In 1980, she
is decorated with the Official Degree of the Order of Prince Henry, the
Navigator, by the then President Mário Soares, who considers her “a
conservative woman, believing in God and naturally apolitical, who knew
how to get along well with the Revolution
of the Carnations.” She
tells him that “...the difference between you and those of the previous
regime is that you invite me to sit at your table.
In the old days, they always received me very well, they liked me a
lot and they loved to hear me sing, but it was different – I was only
received at the end of the socializing and mingling...to sing.”
She always liked to write verses: “Things
that I felt”, she says, recognizing that she is not a poet.
A record album is released with her poems entitled I
Liked Being Who I Was. In
1997, she publishes a book, Verses,
confirming her poetic vein: “Oh, how unhappy was my childhood/ Oh, how
my love was all in vain/ Oh, life was everything but good/ Oh, sanity that
brings me pain.” Her verses are rousing echoes of her unique voice;
they linger as popular reminders of a poetic expression tinged with
lyricism and death wishes: “Come, death, tarry no longer/ Oh, how painful is this
loneliness/ So close to madness.”
City officials pay her homage at Lisbon’s City Hall. She releases an album of poems simply called Segredo (Secret), but begins to have financial difficulties which
force her to sell some of her real estate assets.
“the voice of the Portuguese Diaspora, the voice of the earth, the voice of distance and of affairs of the heart, with the magnitude of billowing waves and the touching discretion of secluded sanctuaries.”
|“WHEN I SING, I LISTEN TO MYSELF...”|
ão Bento is an old district of Lisbon where traditional aromas are
intermingled with others coming from distant shores, from Cape Verde.
At the top of the wide steps, guarded by two marble lions, there is
a large building in classic style – it’s the Portuguese Parliament.
To the left, just a short distance up the street, there’s an 18th
century style house with friendly, flowered banisters – it’s Amália’s
home. When she passes, with that melancholic bearing so peculiar to
her, her contagious smile lightens everyone around.
Amália likes to sing as she walks along the street:
“When I sing, I listen to myself, and when I listen to myself I
end up crying.” The market, the bakery and the traditional shops are
meeting points for the simple people of the neighborhood.
One of her neighbors speaks of Amália’s honest concerns with the
needy: “Her generosity
forced her to go through financial difficulties.”
The yellow house in São Bento is now silent. There is a white linen tablecloth spread over the railing of
the veranda, a symbol of solidarity with the people of Timor.
Now, all the windows and verandas along the path of Amália’s
bier, from São Bento to the Basilica of Estrela, are decorated with white
Lisbon weeps. Flowers and
white handkerchiefs wave goodbye and
Amália’s fados are heard everywhere – in the streets, in
passing cars, in the shops. Deep
in the heart of the people of Lisbon, there’s grief and sorrow.
It’s six in the evening and a gentle veil of sadness covers the
city. A large crowd fills the
wide stairs leading to the great Basilica dominating Estrela Square. The tolling of bells announces the arrival of Amália’s
bier; emotions run free.
Never has a crowd of this magnitude shown such greatness of character.
Men, women and children – they are all superimposed, round and
voluminous images that fade into one great whole. There are gleaming faces, shining heads, hair colors that are
neither blond nor brunet, all of them cramming into the Basilica.
There are no distinctions between the young and the old, between
the beautiful and the ugly. All differences vanish regarding
time, people, things. Amália
is lying in state in the central nave.
Everything goes out of focus;
everything is absorbed by us...
A woman, holding a bouquet of white daisies, stands and waits.
This is good-bye to “the best ambassador of Portugal to the whole
the world.” Another
mournful lady whispers: “There
goes a part of our lives. She
is the point of reference of our youth.” In spite of the night cold just before dawn, nobody leaves.
They all wait patiently for their turn to reach and touch the coffin.
One hears the quiet whimpering of women.
Evanescing signs of the times, thousands of people, farewell to the
“diva of the fado.” Someone makes a sudden gesture to escape the
watchful eyes of the police: one last kiss, one last touch.
A young man admits he doesn’t like the fado, “but when I hear
her sing I get goose bumps.”
Amália is now resting in the Lord’s peace: “Even if he
doesn’t exist, I believe in Him,” she used to say.
*MDP/CDE - Movimento Democrático Português/ Comissão Democrática
Eleitoral de Unidade Democrática (Electoral