Review Summary: From Portugal, with love.
As a Portuguese person myself i find José Afonso
(commonly shortened to "Zeca") to be one of the most brilliant, passionate, important (artistically, politically, personally) and overall one of the best singer-songwriters to have ever done it. His song “Grândola Vila Morena” held powerful sociopolitical weight in my country as it was weaponized as a song for the “peaceful revolution” against the until-then-current state of political dictatorship - hosted first by Coimbra university professor António de Oliveira Salazar and then succeeded by the more moderate Marcelo Caetano, but always perpetuated by a violent police organ called PIDE - that took place in Portugal in 1974, a decorated moment in Portuguese history known as Dia da Liberdade (“Day of Freedom”, April 25th). Afonso's discography generally is impeccable too, I’d recommend listening to any of his beautiful works. I'm from the exact same city in Portugal that Afonso lived in for some 15 years, him having been an individual perpetually fascinated with the Coimbra brand of Fado music and even having countless releases comprised of renditions of its standards and ballads.
Venham Mais Cinco, released only a mere year before the aforementioned political revolution took place, is undoubtedly a product of its time and its country's political circumstances, hence its main genre tagging being a form of singer/songwriter music made from political resistance and in protest against oppressive regimes and national liberation fronts waging wars with aims to colonize other countries. Given the radical sensorship that the oppressive regime held in Portugal, many of these tracks' political observations are subtle and understated, but nevertheless trenchant, defying and truly incisive as Zeca not only was a gifted singer/songwriter but also a sharp writer, incredible lyricist and progressive political and philosophical thinker - the title track and "A formiga no carreiro" are perhaps the record's most famous songs and definitely its most political, with the latter specifically sounding like one of the earliest stanzas of what would, 20 years later, be called "freak folk".
The record is not just bashing you over the head with Portuguese politics for 30 minutes though, as it allows its influences to branch further and wider while still remaining profoundly, beautifully patriotic, incorporating elements of psychedelia, medieval music and cante alentejano (a form of traditional Portuguese music based on polyphonic vocal music from the region of Alentejo, Portugal), thus contributing to a truly varied experience. "Adeus ó Serra da Lapa" and "Se voaras ao mais perto" especially emphasize such eclecticism on "Venham mais cinco", showcasing Zeca's affection for regional Portuguese music and thus this record's cante alentejano influence in spades, my favorite being the former for its breathtaking vocal harmonies and amateurly-played horn section blooming a childlike, playful feeling strikingly reminiscent of Japanese outsider experimental act Maher Shalal Hash Baz
. Zeca's lyrics too seem to be of limitlessness, ranging from sardonic, humorous tracks recurring to history, social archetypes and mythological figures ("Nefertite não tinha papeira", "Paz poeta e pombas") to songs that feel embedded in some sort of quasi-spirituality and thus feel borderline mystical in their expressivity - the perfect "Era um redondo vocábulo" especially, incorporating a buzzing string that could very well be a sitar and thus giving this ghostly folk ballad a lingering, droning, meditative emphasis that truly brings it to coalescing, crystalline fruition - it's one of the best tracks i've ever heard in my life, i'm pretty sure.
Speaking of perfect tracks I must highlight "Que amor não me engana" as well, a medieval-sounding progressive folk love ballad so touching in all its ethereal splendour and truly forlorn in its stoic and still vocals - were Zeca replaced by some eccentric elf and you'd very well think you were listening to a transcendental well-kept-for-the-ages Thunder-Perfect-Mind-era Current 93
song. "Gastão era perfeito" is a more energetic oddball by comparison, yet just as musically gorgeous, lyrically puzzling and truly immaculate song on here, serving as a confounding yet vibrant and climactic send-off to a wonderful album. I can't really fault this record on most things - i guess the spoken word bits on "Paz poeta e pombas" are sort of corny and too pompous for my tastes, though it's still a fine song and in no way does it detract from "Venham mais cinco" as a full musical experience, as it stands as one of the best folk, singer-songwriter and politically-minded records you're bound to hear in your life. I could only hope i'm doing my humble part in spreading the word of José Afonso's beautiful art, urgent message and incredible music.