By Jose Oliveira, Rock At Night EU Editor
We couldn’t finish this year and the celebrations of the 50 years of the Woodstock Festival in the USA, without telling to the world that in Portugal, long before French May 68 and Woodstock 69, the quest for freedom was higher. The resistance to the dictatorship imposed by Salazar during forty years, also went through artistic fights, although often clandestine.
In the same city where I was born (Coimbra) there is a guitar player who since 1962, was the sideman of JOSE AFONSO. One of the most influential folk and political musicians in Portuguese history. He became an icon due to the role of his music in the resistance against the dictatorial regime of Oliveira Salazar.
We received RUI PATO, at the Hotel D. Luis, which has one of the most beautiful views that Coimbra has to offer. He was very generous, telling us his memories of their musical fights and how at the age of sixteen, he managed to be the sideman of one of the most watched and censored Artists of the Fascist regime. A very emotional meeting!!!
RAN – RUI, during a decade in the sixties you’ve been the guitarist of JOSE AFONSO. His protest songs against the Salazar fascist regime were a hope for freedom in Portugal. How did this happen?
RUI PATO – Let’s say that in 62, I began to become aware of certain students and social movements that happened here in Portugal. That year, a first major student crisis touched Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra (the three main Portuguese student towns at that time) with many students expelled from their Universities.
At that time, I was still a high school student but that’s when I had a contact with JOSE AFONSO (also well known as ZECA AFONSO), the most important protest folk singer. He was looking for someone able to do some music arrangements that already existed in Latin America and even in France (Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens, Léo Ferre). These influences, the student movements and the beginning of our Colonies War, it all turned into internal combats, a weapon for the search of freedom! And I ended up always at the forefront, playing guitar, side by side with ZECA AFONSO and other singers as ADRIANO CORREIA DE OLIVEIRA in this kind of fight. Helping Portugal to dream about Freedom!
RAN – How did you, being 16, living in Coimbra, meet JOSE AFONSO?
RP– It happened just because in Portugal, at that time, nobody was playing Classical Guitar. It was something we heard abroad. Specially in Spain and in South America. I was the only guy to play fingered (harpeggio) Classic acoustic guitar. I had started to listen to Narciso Yepes, Armando Reis, Segovia records and trying to be able to play what they played. Then, I bought some guitar methods too and got better on the knowledge of the classical fingered guitar. But one night, I was sleeping when my father and his friends came into my house near midnight, woke me up to introduce me to the famous ZECA AFONSO!!!!! So he started to play his new songs and I immediately thought that all that was so badly accompanied !!! So I tried to add something to the theme he was playing. He started singing and my improvisation on the guitar caught his interest. “This is exactly what I wanted”!!!! he said, amazed, to discover my guitar play. Then friends started to say that this was very cute, saying that you had to find a way to record that. So, JOSE AFONSO, right there in my house said that if that was recorded it will be with RUI PATO, this 16 years old kid!!!
Our first album was recorded, in a mobile studio. I’ve played with ZECA from 62 to 69. Most of them shows were clandestine, because we were in full SALAZAR period!!! As you know, many people were sent to jail, just because they were speaking about politics! It was completely forbidden. My musical career had always been a fighting’s life! Because Music doesn’t only have its playful part. The lyrics can also bring a message and that message can bother a lot of people! !!! It bothered them so much that I was punished by the PIDE (International State Defense Police) They expelled me from the University in 69!!!!
RAN – You have been an illustrious pulmonologist and even became the director of a reputed hospital in Coimbra. How could you reconcile these two facets: student and musician?
RP – I started to be very requested to accompany other artists but I was always able to complete these two facets. Between 62 and 69 was a more fruitful period from an artistic point of view. I accompanied ZECA in all the shows and in all the recordings he made. So I had a perfectly feverish activity. I started studying Medicine in 65 and have been graduated in 72 !!! It is under this atmosphere that I spent most of these University years !!
RAN – We lived in the same town (Coimbra), the same neighborhood but I never saw you very connected with Rock n’ Roll. Did you receive a strong Classical influence from your Parents?
RP– Yes, I did. My father‘s records were a big influence. I still keep all of them. In my father’s intellectual circle of friends, there was a lot of interest on French and Italian music (Brassens, Brel, Mouloudji) Jacques BREL became my favorite one. Well, that’s true. It could sound very strange but I loved French movies and French Music. At that time, I was already very influenced by all the student and contest movements, and I thought Music should have a mission !! Don‘t forget that at midnight, we used to listen to Radio Moscow as well. (laughs). But I also had time to meet lovely girls and go to balls!! (laughs) I started to enjoy Anglo-Saxon music much later with BOB SEEGER, JOAN BAEZ, BOB DYLAN… those who already brought a contest spirit against the Vietnam War. Also the French artistic movement caught from May 68. Later, the French called “Yé-Yé Wave” has also touched Portugal. My artistically strong period is full of Vietnam War, French May 68, the Cuban Revolution, the beginning of the Colonial War in Portugal, with soldiers returning in coffins. Well, I always thought it was stupid to consume music without being linked to all this !!! Our generation was divided into protest music, which served causes, but we also had to flirt and dance!! (laughs) And then the bosses were the BEATLES, the STONES, the CHATS SAUVAGES and many Italians artists. Five years ago, I formed a group of five doctors just to play Italian music!!!
RAN – This week, the Portuguese magazine “VISAO” had published on its cover SALAZAR, the Portuguese Dictator! The title «Fascination, Passion and Hate» may surprise us! It talks about a controversy generated around the construction of a Museum that would be dedicated to him and built in the village he was born. What is your opinion about this purpose?
RP – (laughing when he saw the magazine’s cover) I didn’t read this article yet but I have been following the controversy created around. My opinion is not as radical as the one I have seen from the leftmost sectors. I am someone who is on a conservative left and whatever is radicalism or extremism, it’s not my political feeling! I still belong to that French generation where it was “forbidden to forbid”!! Of course, I hate SALAZAR! He was one of my biggest nightmares! You know, I suffered a lot with this guy.!
I also recognize that he still has many admirers and has the right to have some. But the danger is that the Museum could create pilgrimages and become a second FATIMA!!!! Salazar’s personal and political documents must be studied by the future generations. A place for that must be found. Doctoral theses, masters, can be done. People and researchers must remind what happened in Portugal during forty years!!
Therefore, I am not for the simple prohibition. The Museum shouldn’t be open at his birth house or even at the elementary school where Salazar studied. There’s a danger to stimulate a certain rising right extreme wing movement. I don’t agree with the idea of omit the Salazar’s story! He was the head of the government that imposed 40 years of oppression and deprivation of elementary civic rights! Cannot be forgotten, neither idolized! But I hope they are not going to create a Cathedral! (laughs)
RAN– There was a major academic crisis at 69…
RP– Repression’s of this fascist regime didn’t allow us to express ourselves with such Arts as Music, Painting, Poetry or even Literature. The censorship was so strong. At the inauguration of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Coimbra, the Students President was refused to speak Then the pro-democracy student strikes and demonstrations demanding the end of the authoritarian Estado Novo regime, were brutally repressed by the police. That culminated with the expulsion from the university and compulsory incorporation into the Army. At that time, the Army took us for four years!!! You also did it?
RAN– Of course. Two years in Portugal and two years in Angola. Hard question. What was the best memory you had with ZECA?
RP – Well, as you can imagine, there are so many!!! The great excitement around the shows and the political atmosphere created by public reactions, were great moments of joy. Specially when the concerts held on the left bank of the Tagus River, in those places where the workers movements were incandescent!!! Most of them, clandestine already organized by the Communist Party cells. I went through various adventures to get my guitar to the room where the concert would be, because the PIDE was almost everywhere. I even carried inside my guitar, flyers to be distributed in Coimbra, announcing that Che Guevara had passing away !!! It was me, who brought the Cuban Communist Party newspaper to Coimbra and who distributed it to some friends.
RAN – The question that arises. When will you make a book about your memories?
RP– I will not do it! Because I’m lazy! One of the things I would most like to correct all what my father left me. Both in photography and in documents he wrote… if I could have a certain energy to work, that’s what I would dedicate myself to! Because most of my journey was also accompanied by my father, as a journalist he was. The whole political journey I lived was also accompanied by him. There is a lot of documentation for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren to remember. Because to know who I was, there are a lot of records!!!!
RAN – Coimbra is always pointed as a land of culture. We have one of the three oldest Europe’s universities. How do you see the current Coimbra?
RP– I’m a little pessimistic. I have a slightly sad, melancholy vision of the current Coimbra. Lost protagonist, has been long forgotten by the central power. There is no lobby in Coimbra. You can just arrive by train to Coimbra B Station and see that it is the worst station in the country!!!!!
There are many better rail stations and outposts around this world than that railway station! It’s a rail station of BURKINA FASO !!!! Coimbra deserved the existence of a Ministry but everything focuses on the capital in Lisbon! When certain areas of the city were considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, everybody thought that this was the ideal time for the city to evolve! It just served to increase the tourist movement. There is no culture and shows are scarce.
A national Tribute to RUI PATO took place in Lisbon last 16 November in a Sold Out event.
Many thanks Lidia Cidalia Mendes and to Elisabeth Oliveira for the photos interview.