Back in 1991, when their name first was heard, Gaiteiros de Lisboa were already something else, something new, in the Portuguese music scene. Although there was no shortage of groups that used traditional folk music as their starting point, Gaiteiros de Lisboa were taking another direction: a head-on collision between tradition and innovation, respecting the past but never wanting to get stuck in it, looking to the future without losing sight of the heritage.
At the time, Gaiteiros de Lisboa had a novel approach: part of them were veteran musicians who had learned and played with the greatest singer-songwriters of the 1970s such as José Afonso, Sérgio Godinho and Fausto and had devoured the seminal field recordings of Portugal’s own Alan Lomax, Michel Giacometti. (One of those teachers, José Mário Branco, produced the band’s first album.) The other part were younger musicians that came from the pop/rock world, or even jazz musicians, who were looking at tradition from a whole other point of view.
Together, this unholy combination sent Gaiteiros de Lisboa to a whole another creative world, a creative, non-stop hurricane of invention and inspiration, led by the bagpipes brought on by Paulo Marinho of rock band Sétima Legião and by the vocal polyphonies perfected by veterans Carlos Guerreiro and José Manuel David. “Tradition is no longer what it used to be, it will never be what it once was, and it never was what we thought it was” - words that could serve as their motto. Music critic João Lisboa wrote that “Gaiteiros de Lisboa live in a universe all their own […] [where] practically nothing follows the rules with which music is usually presented.”
Since their 1991 premiere, Gaiteiros de Lisboa have never betrayed that motto; countless concerts, six studio albums, one live recording and a best of compilation show how the band has never changed their invention. The line-up may have changed – in 2018 only singer and multi-instrumentalist Carlos Guerreiro and bagpiper Paulo Marinho remain of the group that first recorded in 1995. The current line-up features Miguel Veríssimo, Miguel Quitério, returning member Paulo Charneca and Sebastião Antunes (moonlighting from another folk-inspired group, Quadrilha).
But, if the line-up has changed, the band’s spirit and mischievousness hasn’t. They’re still unique, they’re still living in a universe all their own, they’re still refusing to be catalogued as this or that or something other. Bagpipes and vocal polyphonies remain their basic ingredients, and the music they build around it remains modern, inventive, creative, wholly original, and utterly timeless. Whenever they reinterpret a folk classic such as “Chamateia”, you may be sure you’ve never heard it like this. When they present a new song, like “Brites de Almeida”, it sounds like it’s a folk classic you’ve just never heard before.
Their sixth studio album, out now, is called “Bestiário”. It’s their first album of new material in seven years, with a number of guest spots that underline their desire to challenge classifications. Azorean singer José Medeiros and veteran singer Filipa Pais share studio space with Pedro Oliveira, the singer of rock band Sétima Legião, and the legendary rock guitarist Rui Veloso.
“Bestiário” is proof that Gaiteiros de Lisboa have not, and will never, betray their desire to take the tradition one step further. The years may pass, the people may change, but their musical universe never stops being something else, something different, something unpredictable and unmistakably theirs.