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Unbearable Fadistas: António Variações and Fado as Queer Praxis

Abstract

António Variações’s first single, Povo que lavas no rio/Estou além (1982), offers a radical version of Amália Rodrigues’s fado “Povo que lavas no rio” (1962). This article considers Variações as fadista in order to think fado as queer praxis. Though Variações’s debut release was a commercial success, his turn as fadista provoked critical derision for what, I argue, is a trans formation of the genre’s gendered codes and practices. Variações’s queer masculinity gives body and voice to the transgressive sexuality enmeshed within gendered and fetishized repertoires of fado that are most recognizable in the myths and voices of the genre’s divas. This article locates Variações within a fado genealogy, from Maria Severa to Amália Rodrigues, of performers who have similarly been unbearable in body and voice, to draw attention to fado’s affective dispersions of sex and reveal how the genre has coalesced in relation to queer tactics and people throughout its history.

Silva, Daniel da. “Unbearable Fadistas: António Variações and Fado as Queer Praxis.” Journal of Lusophone Studies, vol. 3, no.1, 2018, pp. 124-147.

Introduction

António Variações’s recording debut, Povo que lavas no rio/Estou além (1982), launched the performer from a fixture of Lisbon’s post-revolution underground music scene to national star. His career as a singer-songwriter and performer ended abruptly with his death in 1984, from complications most likely attributable to HIV/AIDS; however, he left two full-length albums and an archive of music videos and performances that enmesh progressive pop and new wave influences with allusions to homosexuality and the rhythms and registers of Portuguese popular culture and folkloric practices. Since his death, his celebrity has grown: street names memorialize him, his life and work have been the subject of TV programs, other Portuguese musicians have recorded his music, and in December 2017, the Universidade de Coimbra organized the first academic conference dedicated solely to him. Though he is now hailed as “o inventor da pop portuguesa” (Abreu), his debut release offers a version of Variações as fadista in a remake of the iconic fado “Povo que lavas no rio” that provokes a consideration of his transgressive art and sexuality as it is expressed and performed through a more conventional Portuguese music genre.

Focusing on his 1982 recording and TV performance of “Povo que lavas no rio,” this article examines how Variações works through the feminine forms of fado in a trans formation of fadista that embodies the deviant sexuality of Maria Severa, the genre’s first diva, and takes up Amália Rodrigues’s imprint on Portuguese affective heritage as fado’s most celebrated star. Central to this analysis is Jack Halberstam’s insight that trans functions as a “relationality [that] describes not simply an identity but a relation between people, within a community, or within intimate bonds. [...] Transgender proves to be an important term not to people who want to reside outside of categories altogether but to people who want to place themselves in the way of particular forms of recognition” (In a Queer Time and Place 85). Variações as a trans formation of fadista exposes a relation between the affective resonances of the genre, the gendered labor and marked sexuality of its female performers, and the artist’s queer masculinity, locating him within a fado history of risk-laden non-normative embodiments.

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