Review Summary: "The most historical and refferencial of all the Portuguese popular music records." - Viriato Teles
While living in exile in Paris since 1969, José Afonso wrote songs with many Portuguese and African influences, which arrangements and musical direction by José Mário Branco are as original as appropriate. Also noteworthy is the fact that each song has a unique arrangement. Until then, José Afonso recorded albums with a very rudimentary instrumentation. By 1971, at Strawberry Studios in Herouville, France other possibilities were offered. In addition, there were excellent instrumentalists, such as percussionist Michel Delaporte, bassist Christian Padovan or flutist Jacques Granier. With the traditional guitar, José Mário associated trumpet, flute, accordion, piano and various forms of percussion, which definitively reveal the greatness of the poet-singer José Afonso. Also there's a great variety of instruments, such as darbuka, bongos, tombs, Brazilian tambourine, adufe, bellows whistles, and guimbarda; innovative solutions, even for today.
This record is one of those that manages to combine tradition and modernism in an exemplary way. From Delaporte’s beat counting on the opening "Senhor Arcanjo" and his congas marking the tempo where a circular, loop-like guitar phrase enters, bass pinpointed on the first beat and embellished by flurries of whistles and assorted percussive rustles, down to the haunting and moving eulogy to the PIDE (Secret Police) murdered Catarina Eufémia on "Cantar Alentejano" anchored on Boris inspired acoustic guitar work and intermittently and ecclesiastically elevated by ethereal choirs; and from the gorgeous "Maio Maduro Maio" with Padovan’s electric bass encircling the subliminal guitar work and Granier’s delicate flute, as occasional percussions, trumpet notes and choirs behave as antidotes to Afonso’s intentionally fragile vocal flourishes, pass the berimbau driven, ternary pulse of the hypnotic witches dance on "Ronda das Mafaricas" with António Quadros' lyrics, the subliminally Fender Rhodes embellished, pendular poem of "A Mulher da Erva" and down to the striking finale of "Coro da Primavera", bass, flute and percussion launched, with intensity increasing guitar motifs which open the door for a grandiose organ fuelled refrain, odd and unexpected percussive sounds and Tony Branis trumpet like a call to arms.
It’s impossible to ignore the vital role of José Afonso's lyrics here, its words although not explicitly political, are vibrantly social-conscious, sarcastic and full of hidden meanings; even so, the album’s magic appeal resides in the eclecticism of its songs’ structures, which albeit laden with Folk motifs are arranged in tasteful, inspired, progressive and actually never heard before ways, chiefly thanks to the subdued but extremely efficacious arrangements, which enhance the powerful melodies, the irresistible hooks and the both sweet and defiantly manner in which Zeca Afonso sings a program mostly composed by himself; with the exception of "Milho Verde", a traditional Portuguese song.
All in all, Cantigas do Maio
is, as Viriato Teles once said, "the most historical and refferencial of all the Portuguese popular music records", and pointed as a landmark and high point in the career of the artist, musician, singer and poet José Afonso. An innovative album at various levels within the career of its author, partly due to the innovative musical staging of record's procuder José Mário Branco. Futhermore, its historical importance also makes this record a piece of Portugal History, when "Grândola, Vila Morena" was played at Radio Renascença, on the morning of April 25, 1974, as the second national signal, at 0h20, to warn the revolutionaries that the maneuvers could proceed safely, which led to the fall of the fascist regime.