Grândola, Vila Morena was the song chosen by the Armed Forces Movement to signal the second and definitive warning about the start of the revolution on April 25, 1974, the Carnation Revolution. Two radio stations rebroadcasted the songs that would mark the start of democracy in Portugal. Paulo de Carvalho’s E depois do Adeus (And After the Farewell) gave combatants the warning to take their positions and Zeca Afonso’s emblematic Grândola started the revolution.
Frequently, I write and study about the relationship between art and activism. The Carnation Revolution is one of the most interesting instances, not only for what it meant for Portugal but also for what it meant for a whole generation of artists. The violoncellist Pau Casals turned the traditional Catalan song El Cant dels Ocells (The Song of the Birds) into an international symbol of peace when he decided to include it in all of his concerts while in exile from Franco’s regime. From the United Nations to Carnegie Hall, this song was his way of protest and also a way of supporting other refugees and exiles.
It is incredible to think about how much we can feel when we listen to or see a work that moves us, not just for its historical or political content, but because of its power. This year, New York’s MoMA exhibited “Untitled,” a work by the Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera, an installation of what she calls behavior art –art aimed “not at representing the political, but provoking the political.” In groups of four, in a darkened room and stepping on sugar canes, experiencing that particular work in that particular way moved me and made me feel something as profound as it was incomprehensible: the power of art in society.