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🇵🇹 Slideback Sunday: Portugal’s struggle with the Homens

Portugal have a variety of weird, interesting, and arguably ill-advised entries in their history. This week, Slideback Sunday takes a look at one from 2011, “A Luta é Alegria” by Homens Da Luta.

Portugal have a lot of rather unique entries to talk about. It’s like no other Eurovision country in that sense, a fact made apparent to everyone with their record-breaking winner. But outside of Salvador, they don’t get much success; this entry is from 2011, and it certainly didn’t see much success. An improvisational comedy group known as Homens da Luta, or “Men Of The Struggle” performed “A Luta é Alegria” (translated as “The Struggle Is Joy”). The main members of the group are two brothers. However, their stage performance at Eurovision consisted of many more performers taking part in the experience and providing harmonising vocals.

The idea behind their song is pretty simple, give Europe a protest track. This is not about any protest movement in particular. Rather it is a positive anthem that sings of the joy of protesting and fighting against oppression. It is non-specific because of the rules against political songs, but part of the idea of Homens Da Luta is that their songs parody revolution songs sung after the 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal. As any Eurovision trivia fan will know, the revolution involved Eurovision. A planned radio broadcast of the 1974 Portuguese Eurovision entry signalled the start of that revolution, eventually bringing down the government.

Homens Da Luta are, whether they come across as a parody or serious, continuing in that proud tradition. It’s certainly possible to see them as seriously protesting and struggling, I keep going back and forth on how ‘ironic’ (or not) this joke actually is. They are also continuing in the proud tradition of Portugal ignoring any and all Eurovision trends to send whatever sort of traditional music it feels best represents its culture at that moment.

A protest on the Eurovision stage

When watching the performance, what Homens Da Luta are doing on stage is quite a sight. It looks (and arguably sounds) like six normal Portuguese people were rounded up off the street in their work uniforms and told to go sing a protest chant to the whole of Europe. Musically, it’s at first glance an unremarkable, simple folk song and the emptiness of the stage really undersells the idea of it being a protest. If only Eurovision rules allowed for a crowd on stage, eh?

Yet despite lacking musical expertise, there’s a lot of charm and fun to this entry that has made it stand out where many Portuguese entries, ironically, struggle. The folky build that speeds up as the song goes on is lovely, the voices harmonise in at least an endearing way. The melody is easy to remember and sing along with even if you don’t know Portuguese. It’s ended up being one of the Portuguese entries I’ve played the most despite initially writing it off as a silly little joke entry. Parody songs/protest songs, whichever it is, have staying power.

This proved to be quite a controversial choice for Portugal. It came through its national final based on winning the popular vote (narrowly) and only lukewarm appreciation from the juries, who ranked it as their 6th favourite choice in the national final. This made the Portuguese entry for one year an arguable joke. It also wasn’t received well abroad and it came second-last in the Eurovision semi-final. Yet, perhaps it is remembered better now. Or, alternatively, you hadn’t given it another single thought until this article reminded you of its existence.

What do the others think?

Bente

Honestly, what is there to say about this song? I love a good joke entry, especially if it also has some underlying cultural or political meaning, but this just doesn’t do it for me. Music wise it is nothing that stands out, although I doubt that was what they wanted to achieve. Credit where credit is due, the singing is done well live, and the staging is actually kind of nice- even someone who does not understand Portuguese is able to guess what the song could be about. The problem for me is that it is on the line of joke entry and just a bad entry, and it just gets boring and repetitive after the first minute. Maybe if Portugal had sent a singing seagull, it would have made more impact on Europe.

Rodrigo

It’s difficult to write about an entry for which you see absolutely no redeeming features. I suppose they thought it would be charming, but it was nothing but a pathetic stain on Portugal’s largely great record at Eurovision.

Oliver

I don’t share the opinion of Bente and Rodrigo. It is true this is probably not the ‘best Portuguese entry ever’ (whatever paradigms, factors and criteria we use to asses ‘best’!) but it by no measure is the worst. One entry from the 80s immediately comes to mind that is, almost quite literally, a stain on Portugal’s legacy at Eurovision and indeed the contest itself. Similarly, I don’t think I would classify this as a joke entry? Though yes, there is a degree of whimsy having costumes not unlike those of the common people in the 1970s performed in 2011. But the group cleverly weave the angst and protest of the Carnation Revolution with the mobilisation of public upset of the 2011 Occupy Movement. 2011 feels like several lifetimes ago and it is too easy to forget the dual contexts which overlap in an age of rising discontent. There is a degree of parody, but that should not mask or be marginalised into a style of music we should easily dismiss.

I have previously written about how this song was, and indeed remains to be ‘an inner disquiet of fury about a system that seemingly no longer works for the 99%’. Nine years on from Luta É Alegria, this message still feels powerful and relevant. Too often the Eurovision Song Contest is subsumed by glitz, glamour and a façade of performativity. This song and performance stands out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t use fancy pyro or include designer clothes. It focuses on the complaints, the dissatisfaction of the common people. You only need to look at the surge of populism across the continent and beyond to recognise how easily these feelings can manifest into subversive landmarks in a nations consciousness. To this day I wonder who this song is designed for? Who is the audience?

Although I’m fascinated by this entry, I understand why it didn’t set the scoreboard alight.

Sean

As a Eurovision entry, this is a disaster. This song had absolutely no chance at qualifying, let alone at winning, and the fact that they escaped last place overall is truly miraculous. However, as a thing that exists and that is audible, I’m highkey into it. It’s the kind of thing that you like ironically but inevitably becomes something you unironically appreciate after a while. Portugal utilized their cultural influences here and that’s something I always appreciate. And the lyrics are so repetitive that they become absolutely stuck in your head, whether you like it or not. All in all, did this deserve its fate? Yes. But is it still a banger? Absolutely.

What do you think of ‘A Luta é Alegria’? A hapless, tuneless joke entry, or something with a little bit of strange charm despite its amateur presentation? Be sure to stay updated by following @ESCXTRA on Twitter@escxtra on Instagram and liking our Facebook page for the latest updates! Also, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to see our reactions to the over the coming months.

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