Musicians of Coimbra's song yearn for better days

Artists linked to Coimbra song face problems common to other cultural areas in the context of pandemic, but crisis assumes specificities in a University City sought by thousands of tourists from all over the world.

In the week in which cafes and restaurants began to gradually reopen across the country, the musicians of Coimbra heard by the Lusa agency are unanimous in anticipating a picture of financial difficulties with no end in sight.

“Everything is completely stopped,” laments Manuel Portugal, of the Fado Hilário association, which operates in Alta, just a few dozen meters from the Sé Velha, and whose activity is part of the tourist routes in the city of Mondego.

The “great impact” of the general confinement and other restrictions of the covid-19 pandemic are expressed mainly in the lack of work of the musicians involved in the cultural project, “still with no defined perspectives” for the coming times.

“This part is very scary”, says the guitarist to Lusa, who dynamizes two groups of music linked to the student and popular environments of the city: Fado Hilário and Grupo de Guitarras e Cantares de Coimbra.

Manuel Portugal has participated in the organization of the festival “Currents of a single river – Meeting of the song, fado, music and guitars of Coimbra”, an initiative of the City Council whose third edition is scheduled for October.

The program will undergo adaptations as a result of the new reality, since the postponement of a tribute show to Rui Pato, who about 50 years ago accompanied José Afonso to the viola in some of the records and shows by the creator of “Grândola, Vila Morena” .

Owner of the Republic of Saudade, a restaurant that focuses on entertainment for tourists centered on the song of Coimbra, Pedro Lopes is also involved in the genesis of “Currents of a single river”, when Coimbrã intensified its candidacy for European Capital of Culture in 2027.

The musician is enthusiastic about the festival in the autumn, despite some adjustments, but expresses concern about the future of artists, various operators and events related to fado, guitars and Coimbra music in general.

“It is a great disgrace, we have absolutely nothing”, he tells Lusa, noting that the city's musical tradition “is in a good moment”.

Pedro Lopes plays the viola and is part of the Na Cor do Avesso project, in addition to the República da Saudade group, which operates in the restaurant, which has now reopened and used to welcome tourists from different countries, especially Americans who visit Portugal and the Douro River and of course Coimbra .

“But until July, at least, everything is blocked at the level of the shows. We don't have high expectations. It is a pity that we cannot be with the public ”, he says.

More connected to Portuguese popular music, singer João Queirós is frequently invited to fado concerts and ballads in Coimbra.

Created by António Portugal (1931-1994), brother-in-law of the poet Manuel Alegre, the Guitar and Singing Group of Coimbra was reactivated by the son of the musician, Manuel Portugal.

João Queirós even joined the group in both phases, with António Portugal and the director of Fado Hilário.

“We lost money, because we have no work, no salary. Whoever is in this environment is paid a lot for the piece ”, he stresses to Lusa.

Nuno Encarnação plays the guitar in the Fados Group Capa Negras de Coimbra, since 1991, when he was still attending the University of Coimbra (UC).

The exceptional situation of the pandemic constitutes “a severe blow for those who like music” and for artists, according to the ex-deputy of the PSD.

“We understand that there can be no gatherings. But music is made with the interaction of the public ”, he tells Lusa.

Nuno Encarnação understands that Coimbra's fado, being interpreted as “street serenade”, does not compromise the need for “space between people”.

Finally, Manuel Portugal recalls that the Portuguese musical tradition is “not classified”, despite being valued in the context of the consecration by UNESCO of the University of Coimbra, Alta and Sofia as a World Heritage Site.

“This is an opportunity to get together and study a serious classification of Coimbra's musical heritage”, proposes the guitarist.

More than 30 thousand students attend the UC and other higher education establishments in Coimbra. The historic, academic and touristic city is still far from the singular bustle in the streets and monuments.

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