The Essential António Variações Playlist
There is no particular reason for putting this playlist together at this very moment; there are no special rereleases coming out (at least that I’m aware of), it’s not António’s birthday, and 2017 doesn’t mark any special anniversary of his death. The motivation for doing so is then plain and simple: if you don’t know António Variações yet, you definitely should.
Although António was one of the true originals, a breakthrough artist who defied the limits of Portuguese music by reinventing it from the inside and delivering something “between Braga [city in the North of Portugal] and New York,” as he would often explain whenever he was asked to define his sound, his career was very short-lived. He only released two albums, Anjo da Guarda and Dar e Receber, with the latter coming out a mere month before his untimely passing at 39 (a victim of AIDS-related complications).
António’s eccentric looks and mannerisms also made him a fashion icon within the Lisbon underground scene, and they were as eclectic as his views towards music: his omnipresent beard (he was a hairdresser before getting his big break) and colourful outfits, sometimes vaguely reminiscent of Renaissance and traditional clothes, made sure his presence never went by unnoticed whenever he was found dancing his heart out at Trumps or Frágil, two of the hippest Lisbon clubs in the early ‘80s.
Described by the people who knew him as a kind soul and loving friend, he channelled his energy and originality through his performances, which grabbed everybody’s attention from the first second to the very last. As his music-reading abilities were virtually non-existent, he’d often sing his songs, instrumental parts included, directly into a tape recorder that he would later give his studio musicians and producer so they could figure out how to translate it into actual playable notes — and it always worked like a charm.
There are considerable differences between Anjo da Guarda and his swan song Dar e Receber, most of them due to the backing musicians and producers that appear in each: while his first LP was recorded with members from New Wave/Pop band GNR, for Dar e Receber he used musicians from Heróis do Mar, with bassist Pedro Ayres Magalhães and keyboardist Carlos Maria Trindade taking production duties into their own hands. This resulted into two very different — yet equally brilliant — LPs, with the second one being slightly more nocturnal in both its theme and arrangements, which probably also derived from António’s deteriorating health at the time it was recorded.
He never really got to promote Dar e Receber either; by the time single ‘Canção do Engate’ (an ode to late-night sex encounters, literally meaning “Song to Hook-Up”) hit the radio, António had already been admitted to the hospital following a strong pneumonia that wouldn’t respond to any treatments. Due to the lack of information regarding AIDS in those days (a blood test to confirm his condition had to be ordered from the United States), he was kept isolated from other patients and received few to no visitors apart from his fellow musicians and closest friends.
When he succumbed to pulmonary complications on June 13th 1984 — coincidentally, both poet Fernando Pessoa’s birthday and Lisbon bank holiday St. António’s Day — his funeral was arranged so that the coffin be sealed before public exposure. Controversy never ceased to surround the circumstances of his death, since his family always refused to accept that he was either HIV-positive or a homosexual.
His legacy, however, lives on. Not only have multiple artists throughout the years listed António among their main influences, but the several tributes and cover versions that keep surfacing every now and then showcase the versatility and freshness of his music. He has also become an important symbol for the LGBT community, mainly due to him remaining true to his own identity and values, not caring about what others expected of him. António Variações’ importance is then felt not only music-wise, but also through the way he dared to reinvent masculinity-related concepts in post-dictatorship Portugal, which places him among the likes of Prince and David Bowie.
Here’s an essential playlist of his work, though you should really be listening to his albums in full.
‘É P’ra Amanhã’
‘O Corpo É Que Paga’
‘Povo Que Lavas No Rio’ (originally a fado by Amália Rodrigues)
‘Anjinho da Guarda’
‘Canção do Engate’
‘Dar e Receber’
‘Erva Daninha Alastrar’
‘Canção’ (lyrics from a poem by Fernando Pessoa)
Originally published at The 405 on March 7th 2017