march 2011
border crossings



Deolinda Keeps It In The Family, But Doesn't Keep Quiet


New song, unreleased but performed in concert, speaks to an economically dislocated younger generation

This past January, at four concerts in Lisbon and Porto, the dynamic young Portugese band Deolinda premiered a new song, "Parva que Sou," even before it was released as a CD or video. The lyrics criticize modern Portugal as a place where young people study and earn university degrees but are unable to find meaningful employment. The song's catch line translates as "What a foolish world, where in order to be a slave, it's necessary to study." The title translates as "What a Fool I Am."

"Parva que Sou" gained immediate acclaim as an anthem of Portugal's economically dislocated young generation. Deolinda didn't need the song to put it on the cultural map in its native land--its two album have been topped the charts--but "Parva que Sou" is part and parcel of the band's daring approach to all things musical that is attracting attention in parts of the world far away from the musicians’ home turf.

Deolinda, 'Parve que Sou' in concert--the song that is speaking for Portugal's economically dislocated young generation

Deolinda made its debut in 2009 with Canção ao Lado (The Song Next Door), an irresistible concept album that captures the tension between old and new Lisbon, between traditional fado and the future. In the short time since its Portuguese release at the end of 2008, Canção ao Lado has shot from nowhere into the Portuguese charts and achieved platinum status. The group's wildly flamboyant concerts draw multi-generational Portugese audiences ranging from the band members’ own 30-something age group to grandparents and small children. The secret to Deolindo’s popularity comes in equal parts from the band’s exuberant, often comic performances, the sweet and catchy melodies, and lyrics loaded with emotive references to fado and other lesser-known Portuguese musical traditions. The band is named after the fictional character of Deolinda, a 40-year-old spinster who lives with her cats and goldfish in a Lisbon apartment and watches through her window as the world goes by. This "character" is merrily unmarried, in love and out of love, and writes her own songs by peeking through the curtains of her window, drawing inspiration from the old gramophone records that once belonged to her grandmother and by the bizarre and strange life of her neighbors. The songs are delivered by a dynamic, charismatic singer who goes by the name Ana Bacalhau (literally, Ana Salted Cod). Deolinda and the passing characters Ana introduces us to are the creations of the project's songwriter and guitarist, Pedro da Silva Martins, and are performed with the other musicians, including Pedro's brother, conservatory-trained Luis José Martins on guitar; ukulele, viola and Portuguese cavaco and guitarlele; and double bass player Zé Pedro Leitão, who brings a classical and jazz background to the proceedings (and is now married to Bacalhau). To complete the family-like circle, Bacalhau is a cousin to the Martin brothers. She was singing with the band Lupanar when the Martins asked her to sing four songs they had written. Impressed by their cousin's performance, the Martins then extended an invitation to Lupanar bassist Leitão to join them in the new group, dubbed Deolinda.

Pedro wrote 10 more songs that form the vignettes on the group's first album. As the musicians rehearsed and refined the music, Ana recalls, Deolinda, the character, came to life: "She stands for days listening to records her grandmother left her, watching through the lace curtains all the details of her neighbors' lives. She writes about characters she sees in the streets and adds her own thoughts. For example, Toninho [in the song "Fado Toninho"] is one of the guys that walks around like they own the street, thinking they're so hot. She tames him, through love." Deolinda sings about love affairs between strong women and the tough guys who "don't love them but don't defeat them."

'Um Contra O Outro,' the first single from Deolinda's latest album, Dois Selos e um Carimbo

Though inspired by fado, Deolinda's style differs substantially from that traditional Portuguese music genre. For instance, Deolinda does not use Portuguese guitar as fado would dictate. Also, their songs and lyrics are not serious and fatalistic like classic fados: instead, they largely use humor, irony (often against fado itself) and a fast, happy pace. When performing live, members of Deolinda do not dress in black as traditional fado players do.

Building a reputation by word of mouth, by 2007 the band had recorded Pedro’s songs and were surprised to find record labels excited about their prospects. (In the U.S., Deolinda's album are released by Four Quarters Entertainment.)

The debut album's title, Canção ao Lado (The Song Next Door), refers to influences from Portugal's musical styles including fado, Cape Verdean morna, and Brazilian music. The mellow "Não sei falar de amor" ("I don't know how to talk about love") reflects a Brazilian influence, a reminder, says Ana, "that we can't escape Elis Regina and Chico Buarque." "Clandestino" recreates the atmosphere of Old Portugal under the dictator Salazar, before the Revolution. "It's about a couple; the woman has been persecuted by the police and doesn't know if her lover is coming back that night or not. He comes and brings a gift for her and their baby, but the police arrive and she defiantly sings, 'I kissed him and took him in my arms...'" Deolinda leave the song unfinished because, Ana explains, the song is also about the universal tragedy of forbidden, "unfinished" love. Fado, Portugal's most famous musical song form, runs through the collection although Deolinda are quick to note that even these songs are best described as "fado with a twist." No black shawls (the fado symbol of tragic women) appear in these songs, or on Deolinda's lead singer. Instead, Ana wears brightly patterned costumes influenced by the rural folk traditions of Portugal (including the regions of Madeira and Estremadura), matching their colors to the music, and adding modern touches that underscore the group's musical influences, which clearly stretch from traditional to pop. Different as their perspective is, there is nothing ironic here: Deolinda's fado songs are heartfelt and honest. "O fado não é mau" ("Fado isn't bad") is an irresistibly bluesy showcase for Ana's voice--here the Deolinda character expresses both her attraction to fado's overwhelming melancholy, and her ambivalence. She swears never to sing fado because "it corrupts the soul with demons," yet concedes, "Without fado and without love, what is left?"



A DeoLinda Snapshot

Excerpts from a RootsWorld perspective

The group does not play straight fado, which is often dark and stormy--the archetypal singer being the late Amalia Rodrigues, who performed in a black shawl as if in mourning, and seemed to shout down the fates. Other rising singers, such as Mariza, Dulce Pontes and Ana Moura, have broadened fado's dark palette, but stayed close to tradition. Deolinda has a more playful approach, but still has palpable affection and respect for the tradition. The group is named for a fictional young woman the members created; she loves fado and the group's songs are seen through her eyes as she watches contemporary Portugal go by. Lead singer Ana Bacalhau describes the girl Deolinda as "the sum of our four personalities."


"We grew up listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana," Bacalhau said, but these young Portuguese who "didn't have that prejudice…took our grandparents' records and started listening to them." Now the band can play at a summer festival with modern fadistas like Mariza and have an audience of 30-40,000. "It's becoming as popular as pop and rock," she said. "We sort of made peace with the musical form."


Whereas traditional fado is typically played with a Portuguese guitar and perhaps another guitar and bass, Deolinda broadens the sound but does not electrify it. On the wonderful opening number, "Mal Por Mal," they mix a walking blues bassline with Bacalhau's strong fado-esque voice.

The songs’ playful attitude toward fado is plain in the lyrics: in "Movimento Perpetuo Associativo" Bacalhau sings as two characters: One wants to seize the day and conquer the world: "Now we change things for the better/Now we have the strength to move forward." The other wants to hang back, maybe take a nap: "Not now, my belly hurts/not now, it's going to rain today." The chorus sings in a strong voice filled with resolution but repeats the line: "You go on without me and I'll meet up with you later."


The group's latest album is Dois Selos e um Carimbo (Two Stamps and A Seal), which has topped the charts in Portugal. Bacalhau said it's a continuation of the group's journey telling Deolinda's story, but playing with tradition in a few new ways. She said, "The thrill of it is to experiment."

Deolinda, 'Fado Toninho,' from the group's first album, 2009's Cançao Ao Lado



Deolinda in America:

At Joe's Pub, New York City, October 16, 2010

(Excerpt from a Huffington Post review by world music journalist, producer and musician Michal Shapiro)

As the music most associated with Portuguese culture, Fado is dark, passionate and as the name indicates, it is concerned with fate. The form has regained its popularity in Portugal and the rest of the world due in great part to a new crop of divas who, while acknowledging the influence of the great Amalia Rodriguez, have personalized the genre, each in their own way. While a discussion of Fado is important to understand where they are coming from, the Lisbon-based Deolinda is not a Fado band. The influence of the music is very much there, but the tone is utterly different. It is whimsical and playful and even when it gets serious, it never gets quite as brooding as Fado. Ana Bacalhau's vocals resonate with its phrasing and emotion, but never descend to its stoicism about life and death. Instead, the repertoire deals with social interactions and human frailties using a poetic wit.

Deolinda, 'Fon-Fon-Fon,' from the group's debut album, Cançao Ao Lado

Deolinda's debut, Cançao Ao Lado, is available at

DeoLinda's second, and current, album, Dois Selos e um Carimbo, is available at

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