Not many places are privileged to have a musical instrument with its namesake, such as is the case of Amarante and the ‘viola amarantina’; indeed, the object is deeply linked to the city’s popular musical expression. In its morphology, the viola is similar to the ‘viola braguesa’, measures about 90cm long and can be recognized mainly by its “mouth” shaped as two hearts and by its profusely decorated body.
This singular guitar was widely used in the beginning of the 20th century, accompanying rural daily life and popular and religious parties and festivities. However, on the second half of that century, the usage of the ‘viola amarantina’ gradually declined, especially during the 1980s and 1990s.
Fortunately, the last decade has seen a revival of the ‘viola amarantina’ that saved this important element of local culture from totally disappearing, mainly thanks to initiatives by Amarante’s local associations, such as Propagode, which has promoted and worked for the valorization of practice, teaching and construction technique of this musical instrument.
The ‘rabeca’, or ‘rabeca chuleira’, is a traditional bow-stringed instrument, much like the fiddle, and regarded as a rustic or primitive version of the violin. Similar to other local traditional instruments, such as the ‘viola amarantina’, the ‘violão’, the drums or the triangles, it is closely associated with local popular festivities, namely the ‘chuladas’ – the ‘chula’ was an influential music genre in the Douro and Minho regions during the 19th century, where such instruments were regularly used. Unlike the ‘viola amarantina’, the ‘rabeca’ didn’t enjoy a similar movement of interest and rehabilitation. In fact, it practically disappeared in this last decade, with but few players of this musical instrument still remaining active. It is thus imperative the revitalization of this instrument and of its popular repertoire.
The ‘bombo’, or drum, is closely linked to Portuguese traditional festivities, frequently sided by melodic instruments such as bagpipes and ‘concertinas’, and even ‘gigantones’, that enliven their performances.
Nonetheless, there are several characteristics on the construction and playing of this percussion instrument in Amarante that sets it apart from other regions of the country where it is also prevalent. In this region, due to the vigor and the energy employed in drum performances, they were traditionally played by men and regarded as a masculine instrument; however, in more recent times there has been a growing number of mixed and even exclusively feminine percussion groups.
Amarante has nowadays several of these groups (usually formed by relatives or close friends that learn to play from older members) and this fact makes it possible the much celebrated ‘drum face-offs’, one of the local June Fest’s high moments.
Amarante will hold in 2017 the third Bombo’s National Congress, gathering several experts on the subject. Also in a near future it is expected that an exhaustive registry will begin, of Amarante’s existing percussion groups and its repertoire.