The region of Alentejo comprises almost a third of the Portuguese territory, from the Tagus river to the Algarve. In it, one can find endless golden plains and villages painted in white, a trait of the Moorish heritage.
The region’s identity is linked with its cuisine, wine and cante.
The latter cante from Alentejo was considered by UNESCO a member of the Intangible Cultural Heritage List, in 2014.
There are several theories about the origin of the cante alentejano. It may have had its source in the Gregorian chants or in the Arabic chant.
It is a chant performed in a group, without instruments, revolving around the values of the people’s soul and recognized by its slow rhythms and pauses. It always has 2 solo voices that alternate their turns with the choir, of which they are also members.
The “modas” (songs) can talk about work, love, contemplation and nostalgia. The subjects are usually mournful and related to the memories of the land where one was born.
Initially, the cante was a spontaneous manifestation, which happened in the fields. It marked the slow rhythm of the harvest, the weeding and the olive harvest. It served its role as an encouragement to keep a certain working rhythm. Back then it was a cultural practice among men and women.
As time moved on, the working process changed and the cante lost its importance. The taverns then became the place where it was performed. The entry of women in these places was forbidden and so they became deprived of their role as performers. After the Carnation Revolution it was possible to constitute female groups and women could again join male gatherings.
This tradition has been passed down several generations and today there are official groups.
I must confess that, for me, the region of Alentejo is the best one in Portugal. The landscapes, the people, the way of life and the immense calmness are absolutely fascinating and unique. And the cante is something that comes from inside, from the soul. This authenticity can still be witnessed by visiting a tavern in a painted-white village in the vast Alentejo.