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José Manuel Cerqueira Afonso dos Santos, also known as Zeca Afonso' ( ) or Zeca (August 2, 1929 – February 23, 1987) was born in Aveiro, Portugalmarker, son of José Nepomuceno Afonso, a judge, and Maria das Dores. Zeca is among the most influential folk and political musicians in Portuguese history. He became an icon among Portuguese left-wing activists due to the role of his music in the resistance against the dictatorial regime of Oliveira Salazar that triumphed in 1974, with the pro-democratic leftist military coup of the Carnation Revolution. In the ensuing revolutionary process, Zeca was a very active musician and continued composing political and folk songs, often criticizing the post-revolutionary changes. Years after his death, Zeca Afonso is still widely listened to, not only in Portugal, but also abroad.


Early life

José Afonso, by Henrique Matos
José Afonso was born in Aveiro on August 2, 1929, at 10:30 AM.

In 1930 his parents travelled to Portuguese Angolamarker, a Portuguese colony at the time, where his father had been placed as a judge in the city of Silva Porto (present-day Kuitomarker). José Afonso stayed at Aveiro, in a house named "Fonte das Cinco Bicas", due to some health problems with his aunt Gigé and his uncle Xico, who called himself "republican and anticlerical". In 1933 Zeca travelled to Angola at his mother's request. On the ship Zeca met a missionary who became his companion during the voyage. José Afonso stayed for three years in Angola, where he began his primary education.

In 1936 he returned to Aveiro and in 1937 he travelled for the second time, this time to Portuguese Mozambiquemarker, another Portuguese overseas territory in East Africa, where his parents were now, with his brother and sister, João and Mariazinha.

He returned to Portugal in 1938, this time to the house of his uncle Filomeno, mayor of the town of Belmontemarker. There he finished the fourth grade. His uncle, a fierce fascist supporter, made him a member of the "Mocidade Portuguesa", a youth organization under the right-wing regime of the Estado Novomarker, Zeca would later consider those years among the worst in his life.

He went to Coimbra in 1940 in order to continue his studies. He studied in D. João III high school and lived with his aunt Avrilete. His family went from Mozambique to Portuguese Timormarker, also a Portuguese overseas territory at that time, where his father continued his job as Judge. Mariazinha went with them while his brother João returned to Portugal. With the occupation of Timor by the Japanese, José Afonso received no news from his parents for three years, until the end of World War II in 1945.

University years

In that year he started singing his first songs as a bicho (which means something like a beast or a worm), a traditional rank of the University of Coimbra for high school students (José Afonso was in the 11th grade). He was known as bicho-cantor ("the singing beast"), which granted him the right of not being rapado ("head shaved") by the organized trupes ("groups") of older students who were one of the most important symbols of the university's traditions.

From 1946 to 1948 he worked to finish high school, after two prior attempts failed due to his chaotic lifestyle spent among the older students. He met Maria Amália de Oliveira, whom he married secretly due to his parents' opposition. He travelled with some of the most important university musical groups, as Orfeon Académico de Coimbra, and played football for the Associação Académica de Coimbra. In 1949 he started studying History and Philosophy at the University of Coimbra.

In January 1953 his first son, José Manuel, was born. That year, he released his first recordings, of which no copies remain today.

From 1953 to 1955 he performed the compulsory military service. He was sent to Macaumarker, by then a Portuguese territory, but he was sent home due to health problems. After that he was stationed at Coimbra. He experienced many economic difficulties and divorced. After his military service, and now with two children, José Manuel and Helena (born in 1954), Zeca finished his studies with an 11 (out of 20) with a thesis about Jean-Paul Sartre.

Early political action

In 1956 he released his first record, Fados de Coimbra (after Coimbra Fado music genre) in 1956/57 he became a teacher and worked in the south of Portugal. Due to his financial problems he sent his children to the Portuguese overseas territory of Mozambiquemarker in 1958, where his parents were at the time. In that year he became enthralled by Humberto Delgado's presidential campaign (which Delgado lost due to massive fraud perpetrated by the authoritarian Estado Novomarker regime. In 1959 he started singing is trademark music style, colored with political and social connotations, in many popular groups around the country. This granted him a growing popularity among the working-class and the rural population. In 1960 his fourth record, Balada do Outono (Autumn Ballad), was released. From 1961 to 1962 he followed very closely the student strikes and demonstrations demanding democracy and the end of the authoritarian Estado Novo regime, which were brutally repressed by the police. He continued releasing many of his songs and introduceed important new guitar arrangements. He played in Switzerlandmarker, Germanymarker, and Swedenmarker, in a group of fado and guitars, with Adriano Correia de Oliveira, José Niza, Jorge Godinho, Durval Moreirinhas and the singer Esmeralda Amoedo. In May 1964, José Afonso played in the Musical Society Workers' Brotherhood in Grândolamarker, where he found the inspiration to compose the song Grândola, Vila Morena, which would be the signal (broadcast by the national radio channel) for the start of the Carnation Revolution in 1974. Also in 1964 the album Baladas e Canções was released. From 1964 to 1967, José Afonso was at Lourenço Marques (now Maputomarker) with Zélia (his second wife); there he met his children. In his last two years there he taught in Beiramarker, where he composed music for the Bertolt Brecht play The Exception and The Rule. In 1965 his daughter Joana was born. In 1967 he returned to Lisbonmarker impressed by the colonial reality and by the Portuguese Colonial War against the independentist guerrilla movement of Mozambique, FRELIMO. However, he left his older son, José Manuel, with the latter's grandparents in Mozambique. José Afonso became a teacher in Setúbalmarker; after that he developed a severe health crisis which left him hospitalized for 20 days. When he left the hospital, he found that he had been expelled from public school teaching because of his leftist politics and because the regime censors considered his songs strongly subversive. His book Cantares de José Afonso (José Afonso's songs) was published. The Portuguese Communist Party invited him personally to become a party member but Zeca refused because of his bourgeois origins. In that year he signed a contract with Orfeu, which would record 70% of his works. Expelled from the teaching job, he became a personal helper for some students and he started singing much more regularly in the popular groups on the south bank of the Tagusmarker river (Margem Sul do Tejo in Portuguese--a fiercely Communist-supporting region with strong popular movements and associations, even before the revolution). By Christmas, Zeca released the album Cantares do Andarilho, with Rui Pato, the first album recorded for Orfeu. His contract was very special: He received 15,000 escudos per month on the condition that he recorded an album per year.

Anti-regime activities

In 1969, with the replacement of António de Oliveira Salazar by Marcelo Caetano, the Estado Novomarker-controlled nation got a very slight taste of democracy, such as permission to rebuild a democratic Labour Union movement. José Afonso joined the movement and supported it by all the means he could; he also took part in the second wave of student rebellion against the regime in Coimbra, an important university town. He released the album Contos Velhos Rumos Novos and the single Menina dos Olhos Tristes which contains the popular song Canta Camarada (Sing, Sing, Comrade!) which became a choice for being adopted by the Portuguese Communist Party as an unofficial anthem, but in the end, it wasn't. He received an award for the best album, which he received again in 1970 and 1971. For the first time in a Zeca album, an instrument other than the guitar was used. His fourth and last son, Pedro, was born.

In 1970 the album Traz Outro Amigo Também (Bring Another Friend Too), recorded in London, in the Pye studios, was released. It is the first album without Rui Pato, forbbiden by PIDE (the fascist political police) to travel. On March 21 he received from the Portuguese press an award for his high quality work as singer and composer and for his decisive influence upon Portuguese popular music. He participated in an International Festival in Cubamarker. By the end of 1971, the famous album Cantigas do Maio (Songs of May), recorded near Paris, in Château d'Hérouvillemarker studios, was released. The album is generally considered the best album of his career. His 1972 album is called Eu Vou Ser Como a Toupeira (I Will Be Like the Mole), recorded in Madrid, at Cellada studios.

In 1973 José Afonso continued his pilgrimage, singing everywhere. Many of his appearances were forcibly cancelled by the PIDE/DGS. In April he was arrested and spent 20 days in Caxias prison (a prison mostly used for political prisoners) until the end of May. In the prison he wrote the poem Era Um Redondo Vocábulo. By Christmas, he published the album Venham Mais Cinco, recorded in Paris and on which José Mário Branco collaborated. Janine de Waleyne, from the Swingle Singers, a famous jazz vocal group, participated in the song Venham Mais Cinco. On March 29 1974, the Coliseu, in Lisbon, got a full house to listen to José Afonso, Adriano Correia de Oliveira, José Jorge Letria, Manuel Freire, José Barata Moura, Fernando Tordo, and many others, who ended the concert by singing Grândola, Vila Morena. Some soldiers from the revolutionary movement that would take part in April in the Carnation Revolution, the MFA, were in the audience and chose Grândola for the coutersign of the Revolution. A month later, on April 25, the Estado Novo regime was overthrown in a nearly bloodless military coup. He released the album Coro dos Tribunais (Courthouse Chorus), recorded in London, again at Pye, with musical arrangements by Fausto. The album includes Brechtian songs, composed in Mozambique in the period between 1964 and 1967--Coro dos Tribunais and Eu Marchava de Dia e de Noite.

Revolutionary period

From 1974 to 1975 he became directly involved in the popular revolutionary movements. The PREC (Ongoing Revolutionary Process) became his passion. He performed on March 11, 1975 (the day of a failed fascist coup) in the RALIS (a leftist military stronghold) for the soldiers. Zeca established a collaboration with the extreme-left movement LUAR. LUAR released his single Viva o Poder Popular (Hail to the People's Power) with Foi na Cidade do Sado on the B side. In Italy, the revolutionary organizations Lotta Continua, Il Manifesto and Avanguardia Operaria released the album República, recorded in Rome on September 30 and October 1. The money received from the sales of the album went to support the striking workers of the newspaper República. The album is almost unknown in Portugal and includes the songs Para Não Dizer Que Não Falei de Flores, Se os Teus Olhos se Vendessem, Foi no Sábado Passado, Canta Camarada, Eu Hei-de Ir Colher Macela, O Pão Que Sobra à Riqueza, Os Vampiros, Senhora do Almortão, Letra para Um Hino and Ladainha do Arcebispo.

In 1976 he supported Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho's presidential candidacy. Otelo was an important commander of the April 25 military operations, and Zeca would support him again in 1980. Zeca released the album Com as Minhas Tamanquinhas.

The album Enquanto Há Força, released in 1978, again with Fausto, shows some of Zeca's concerns about colonialism and imperialism and is also a critique against the Catholic Church.

In 1979 the album Fura Fura was released with the help of the popular artist Júlio Pereira. The album contains many songs that were meant to be for theatrical plays. He participated in Brussels in the Anti-Eurovision Festival.

Zeca's last years

In 1981, after two years of silence, he returned to Coimbra with his album Fados de Coimbra e Outras Canções. He played in Paris at the Théâtre de la Ville.

In 1982 he started to develop the first symptoms of his severe disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (motor neurone disease, or Lou Gehrig's disease in the U.S.). He played in Brugesmarker at the Printemps Festival.

On January 23, 1983, Zeca, weakened by the disease, played with some difficulty in a huge show with a full house at the Coliseu with Octávio Sérgio, António Sérgio, Lopes de Almeida, Durval Moreirinhas, Rui Pato, Fausto, Júlio Pereira, Guilherme Inês, Rui Castro, Rui Júnior, Sérgio Mestre, and Janita Salomé. At that show the live album Ao Vivo no Coliseu was recorded.

At the end of 1983 he released Como Se Fora Seu Filho, a political testemonial. It contained the following songs: Papuça, Utopia, A Nau de António Faria, Canção da Paciência, O País Vai de Carrinho, Canarinho, Eu Dizia, Canção do Medo, Verdade e Mentira and Altos Altentes. The city of Coimbra gave him the City's Golden Medal. Thanks Zeca, this is your house, the mayor, Mendes Silva, told him. I don't want to become an institution, but I feel very grateful for the homage, Zeca answered. After that the president, Ramalho Eanes, wanted to give Zeca the Order of Liberty, but Zeca refused to fill the papers.

In 1983 José Afonso was reinstated in his official teaching position, whence he had been expelled in 1968; he was sent to Azeitão. His sickness started spreading and his health got worse.

In 1985 his last album, Galinhas do Mato, was released. Zeca was unable to sing all the themes in the album, being replaced by Luís Represas (Agora), Helena Vieira (Tu Gitana), Janita Salomé (Moda do Entrudo, Tarkovsky and Alegria da Criação), José Mário Branco (Década de Salomé, duet with Zeca), Né Ladeiras (Benditos) and Marta Salomé (Galinhas do Mato). Musical arrangements are by Júlio Pereira and Fausto. The album also included Escandinávia Bar-Fuzeta and À Proa.

In 1986 he supported the presidential candidacy of Maria de Lourdes Pintassilgo, a progressive Catholic woman, who was not elected.

José Afonso died at Setúbalmarker on February 23, 1987, at 3 AM, a victim of the sclerosis that had been diagnosed in 1982. His funeral in Setúbal was attended by 30,000 people. The funeral procession took 2 hours to cover 1300 meters. His coffin was covered by a red flag with no symbols as he had asked, and it was borne by Sérgio Godinho, Júlio Pereira, José Mário Branco, Luís Cília, Francisco Fanhais, and others.


On November 18, 1987, the Associação José Afonso (José Afonso Association) was created with the objective of fulfilling Zeca's intentions in the areas of Portuguese music and art.

In 1991, the city of Amadoramarker inaugurated a 12' statue of Zeca Afonso in the city's Central Park.

In 1994, within the programme of Lisboa-94, European Capital of Culture, on June 30 a festival in homage to Zeca took place. Many Portuguese musicians, both veterans and younger artists, joined in the tribute festival, called Filhos da Madrugada ("Children of Dawn", a title taken from one of Zeca's most famous songs). Earlier that year, BMG had released an album with the same title of the festival, and with the same artists performing their own versions of Zeca's songs.

Performers at this event included Brigada Victor Jara, Censurados, Delfins, Diva, Entre Aspas, Essa Entente, Frei Fado D'El Rei, GNR, Madredeus, Mão Morta, Opus Ensemble, Peste & Sida, Resistência, Ritual Tejo, Sérgio Godinho, Sétima Legião, Sitiados, Tubarões, UHF, Vozes da Rádio, and Xutos & Pontapés.

Thirteen years earlier, Zeca had remarked that "If rock is the musical style that youth prefers, then we should ask for good quality rock music".

In 1995 José Mário Branco, Amélia Muge, and João Afonso, Zeca's nephew, released another album in homage to Zeca, called Maio, Maduro Maio that included many of his songs and two of Zeca's previously unreleased songs, Entre Sodoma e Gomorra and Nem Sempre os Dias São Dias Passados.

For the 10th anniversary of Zeca's death, in 1997, EMI released for the first time in CD format the 1964 album Baladas e Canções.

In 1998, Vitorino and Janita Salomé took part in a concert in homage to José Afonso, included in Expo'98's programme.

In 2007 he came in 29th in Portugalmarker's election of Os Grandes Portugueses (The Greatest Portuguese).


  • 1960 – Balada do Outono, Rapsódia
  • 1962 – Baladas de Coimbra, Rapsódia
  • 1963 – Dr. José Afonso em Baladas de Coimbra, Rapsódia
  • 1964 – Ó Vila de Olhão, EMI/Valentim de Carvalho
  • 1964 – Cantares de José Afonso, Columbia/Valentim de Carvalho
  • 1964 – Baladas e Canções, Ofir
  • 1967 – José Afonso, ?
  • 1968 – Cantares do Andarilho, Orfeu
  • 1969 – Menina dos Olhos Tristes, Orfeu
  • 1969 – Contos Velhos Rumos Novos, Orfeu
  • 1970 – Traz Outro Amigo Também, Orfeu
  • 1971 – Cantigas do Maio, Orfeu
  • 1972 – Eu Vou Ser Como a Toupeira, Orfeu
  • 1973 – Venham Mais Cinco, Orfeu
  • 1974 – Coro dos Tribunais, Orfeu
  • 1974 – Viva o Poder Popular, LUAR
  • 1974 – Grândola, Vila Morena, Orfeu
  • 1975 – República, Lotta Continua/Il Manifesto/Vanguardia Operaria
  • 1976 – Com as Minhas Tamanquinhas, Orfeu
  • 1976 – José Afonso in Hamburg, Portugal Solidaritat
  • 1978 – Enquanto Há Força, Orfeu
  • 1979 – Fura Fura, Orfeu
  • 1981 – Fados de Coimbra e Outras Canções, Orfeu
  • 1983 – Como se Fora seu Filho, Sassetti
  • 1983 – Ao Vivo no Coliseu, Sassetti
  • 1983 – Zeca em Coimbra, Foto Sonoro
  • 1985 – Galinhas do Mato, Transmédia

  • 1987 – Os Vampiros, Edisco
  • 1993 – Zeca Afonso no Coliseu, Strauss
  • 1997 – Baladas e Canções, EMI (2nd edition)
  • 2001 – José Afonso, Movieplay
  • 2007 – As Últimas Gravações, CNM

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