José Afonso

José Afonso, also known as Zeca (1929-1987) has been a great Portuguese singer and composer, an icon of the fight for democracy of his country against fascist dictatorship of Salazar and then Caetano, who oppressed Portuguese people from 1926 to 1974. The "Carnation Revolution" made by the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas, MFA), which restored democracy in Portugal, began April 25th, 1974 with a song by Zeca, «Grândola, Vila Morena», broadcast by Portuguese radio as a starting signal of the popular uprising.

Biography (translated and adapted from:
José Manuel Cerqueira Afonso dos Santos was born on August 2
nd, 1929 in Aveiro, a small town lying south of Porto, to the judge José Nepomuceno Afonso and to the elementary school teacher Maria das Dores Dantas Cerqueira, both having decidedly reactionary ideas. In 1930 José's parents moved to Angola, a Portuguese colony in Africa, due to a job posting, leaving him, for his ill health, in Aveiro with his aunt Gegé and his uncle Xico, an anti-clerical Republican opponent of the authoritarian President Sidónio Pais.
In 1933, under pressure of his mother, José joined with his parents in Angola, where he started elementary school. After returning in Aveiro in 1936, the following year he reached again his family, his parents and his brothers João and Mariazinha, in Mozambique, another Portuguese colony in Africa. In 1938 he came back to Portugal, by his uncle Filomeno, the reactionary mayor of Belmonte, follower of Salazar, which led him to enroll at Mocidade Portuguesa, the youth organization of the regime. José described the years he lived in Belmonte as a horrible time, spent in isolation from the other children.
In 1940 he moved to Coimbra, where he graduated from high school Dom João III. In the meanwhile his family moved to East Timor, a Portuguese colony in Indonesia, which were occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War: José didn't have news of his family until the end of the war, in 1945. Again in 1940 Zeca began to sing serenades of Coimbra, which avoided him to be abused by the bullying students of the city.

In 1948 he completed his high school course, and met Maria Amália de Oliveira, a seamstress of humble origins, which he married in secret, due the opposition of his parents. In 1949 he enrolled in the Faculty of Literature, in the course of Historical and Philosophical Sciences. He went back in Angola and Mozambique with a Orfeão, a recreational choral society, of the University of Coimbra.
In January 1953 his elder son, José Manuel, was born and the following year his daughter Helena came into the world. Zeca's first records were published, two 78rpm of Fados of Coimbra, edited by Alvorada, of which no residual copies are today known. From 1953 to 1955 José performed the required military service: he was assigned to Macau, a former Portoguese colony in China, but for health reasons he stayed in Portugal. Zeca underwent serious financial straits to sustain his family and for this reason in 1958 he sent his two children to their grandparents, in Mozambique. He experienced a serious marital distress, which ended in divorce in 1963.
In 1963 he graduated with a thesis on Jean-Paul Sartre titled "Substantialist Implications in Sartrean Philosophy" and worked as a teacher in Lagos, Faro, Mangualde, Aljustrel and Alcobaça.
Zeca joined the band "Conjunto Ligeiro" as a singer; a former stage mate told: "We were performing dressed with long satin jackets, each of a different color, imitating "mambos" orchestra of Perez Prado, the maximum in that period." In 1957 he performed at "Champs Elysées" theater in Paris.

Zeca travelled again to Angola and then he played, pressed or recorded for the television in France (Paris), Switzerland (Geneva), Germany, Sweden.
José lived in Faro with some colleagues, including Zélia, who later became his second wife.
In May 1964 Zeca held a concert at the Sociedade Musical Fraternidade Operária Grandolense (Workers' Brotherhood Musical Society of Grandola), whence he was inspired to compose his song «Grândola, Vila Morena», which in 1974 will be the signal for the popular uprising against the dictatorial regime.
From 1964 to 1967 he lived with Zélia in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo, capital of Mozambique), where he met again his two children. In Mozambique José lived and taught in Beira, where he set to music Brecht's work "The exception and the rule". In Mozambique in 1965 his daughter Joana was born.
In 1967 he was back in Lisbon, exhausted by colonial system; leaving the eldest son José Manuel in Mozambique with his grandparents. Then he was appointed professor in Setúbal, then suffered from serious health problems, for which he was admitted to hospital for 20 days and later he was expelled from teaching.
In 1969 he lived in Coimbra, where he took actively part in the student movement and in that who tried to reorganize union activity, following Marcelista Spring, a brief opening period of the dictatorship after the rise to power of Marcelo Caetano, replacing Salazar. In 1969 his fourth and last child, Pedro was born. He took part in Festival Internacional de Música Popular in Cuba.
In 1973 many of his concerts were banned by the political police PIDE/DGS and in April he was arrested and detained for 20 days in the political prison of Caxias, where he wrote the poem «Era Um Redondo Vocábulo». At Christmas of 1973 he released LP "Venham Mais Cinco", recorded in Paris, with the participation, in the title track, of the singer Janine de Waleyne.
On March 29
th 1974, Coliseu dos Recreios theater in Lisbon was crowded of people who came to hear various artists, including Zeca, which ended his concert with "Grândola, Vila Morena". MFA members in the audience choose that song as a signal for the revolution, which started less than a month later. The same day of the concert, the censorship warned the organizers that some songs were forbidden, but unexpectedly "Grândola" was authorized , as well as the Brechtian songs composed in Mozambique.
José personally engaged himself in revolutionary movements, and in particular in LUAR. In Italy the extreme-left politics Lotta Continua, Il Manifesto and Avanguardia Operaia released the album "República", recorded in Rome between 30
th September and 1st October 1975 together with Italian musicians in Santini Editions studios. The incomes of the record, never sold in Portugal, were intended to support the Commission of the Workers of the newspaper República.
In 1976 Zeca supported the candidacy for president of Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, the brain of Carnation Revolution.

Zeca performed in Brussels at Counter-Eurovision Festival, in Paris at Theatre de la Ville, in Bruges at Festival de Printemps and on January 29th 1983 in Coliseu dos Recreios theatre of Lisbon again, where he started to show the first annoyance for his disease, diagnosed in 1982.
After his ban from school, in force since 1968, Zeca was reinstated to teaching, with the chair of History and Portuguese at the Escola Preparatória of Azeitão, near Setúbal.
José didn't like honors: he rejected Ordem da Liberdade, a decoration awarded by the President of the Republic, and after his death his widow Zélia refused the posthumous award of the same decoration; he instead accepted the gold medal of the city of Coimbra, even though he specified he didn't want to become an institution.

José Afonso died of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at 3:00 AM of 23
rd February 1987 at Setúbal hospital. The next day, thirty thousand people followed his funeral. The funeral procession took two hours to walk through the 1,300 meters from S. Julião Secondary School (currently Sebastião da Gama) to Senhora da Piedade cemetery, in Setúbal, where he was buried. His coffin, covered with a red flag with no symbol, as demanded by José, was carried by his closest friends. A footage of his funeral can be seen on YouTube, by the Júlio Pires Library of Mação. On November 18th 1987 José Afonso Association was created with the aim of helping to achieve the artistic ideas of Zeca.

I apologize for any error in English translation:
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Discography (from: Desta canção que apeteço. Associação José Afonso, Câmara Municipal de Grândola, 2011)
Fados de Coimbra (1953) Single/78 rpm Melodia;
2. Fados de Coimbra (1953) Single/78 rpm Melodia;
3. Balada do Outono (1960), EP/45 rpm, Rapsódia;
4. Coimbra (1962) EP/45 rpm, Alvorada;
5. Coimbra Orfeon of Portugal (1962) LP/33 rpm, Monitor, USA;
6. Baladas de Coimbra (1962) EP/45 rpm, Rapsódia;
7. Baladas de Coimbra (1963) EP/45 rpm, Rapsódia;
8. Baladas de Coimbra (1963) EP/45 rpm, Rapsódia;
9. Cantares de José Afonso (1964) EP/45 rpm, Columbia (2 editions, the first censored);
10. Baladas e Canções (1964) LP/33 rpm Ofir (2 edizioni) (*) (in CD (1996) EMI); IMAGE
11. Baladas e Canções (1967) EP/45 rpm Ofir; (*)
12. Baladas e Canções (1967) EP/45 rpm Ofir; (*)
13. Baladas (1967) EP/45 rpm Ofir; (*)
14. Cantares do Andarilho (1968) LP/33 rpm Orfeu (2 editions); IMAGE
15. Menina dos Olhos Tristes (1969) Single/45 rpm Orfeu;
16. Contos Velhos Rumos Novos (1969) LP/33 rpm Orfeu (2 editions); IMAGE
17. Traz Outro Amigo Também (1970) Orfeu; IMAGE
18. Natal dos simples (1970) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
19. Resineiro engraçado (1970) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
20. Chamaram-me cigano (1970) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
21. Menina dos Olhos Tristes (1971) Single/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
22. S. Macaio (1971) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
23. No Vale de Fuenteovejuna (1971) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
24. Cantigas do Maio (1971) LP/33 rpm Orfeu; IMAGE
25. Canto moço (1971) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
26. Os eunucos (1972) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
27. Eu Vou Ser Como a Toupeira (1972) LP/33 rpm Orfeu; IMAGE
28. Venham Mais Cinco (1973) LP/33 rpm Orfeu; IMAGE
29. Grândola, Vila Morena (1973) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
30. Cantigas do Maio (1973) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
31. Maio, maduro Maio (1973) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
32. Coro da Primavera (1974) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
33. A morte saiu à rua (1974) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
34. Ó Vila de Olhão (1974) single/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
35. Coro dos Caídos (1974) single/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
36. Coro dos Tribunais (1974) LP/33 rpm Orfeu; IMAGE
37. O que faz falta (1975) single/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
38. Viva o Poder Popular/Foi na Cidade do Sado (1975) single/45 rpm LUAR IMAGE
39. República (1976) LP/33 rpm Lotta Continua/Il Manifesto/Avanguardia Operaia; IMAGE
40. Com as Minhas Tamanquinhas (1976) LP/33 rpm Orfeu; IMAGE
41. Os Índios da Meia Praia (1977) single/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
42. Enquanto Há Força (1978) LP/33 rpm Orfeu; IMAGE
43. Grândola, Vila Morena (1979) EP/45 rpm Orfeu; (*)
44. Fura Fura (1979) LP/33 rpm Orfeu; IMAGE
45. Fados de Coimbra e Outras Canções (1981) LP/33 rpm Orfeu; IMAGE
46. José Afonso in Hamburg (1981) LP/33 rpm Verlag Arbeiterskampf;
47. Ao vivo no Coliseu (1983) LP/33 rpm Orfeu; IMAGE
48. Zeca em Coimbra (1983) MaxiSingle/45 rpm Foto Sonoro (published against the author's will)
49. Como se fora seu filho (1983) LP/33 rpm Sassetti; IMAGE
50. Galinhas do Mato (1985) LP/33 rpm Transmédia; IMAGE;
(*) work including songs already published in previous records

Baladas e Fados de Coimbra (1982) LP/33 rpm Edisco;
2. José Afonso (1983) LP/33 rpm Orfeu;
3. José Afonso agora e sempre (1987) 3 LP/33 rpm Transmédia;

Cantares de José Afonso. Nova Realidade.
Cantar de Novo. (1971) Nova Realidade.
José Afonso. (1972) Paisagem

page created: February 15th 2015 and last updated: March 1st 2015