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  • Writer's pictureKimberly OLeary

“Uma Casa Portuguesa” – saying “Thank you” to people we met in Portugal (Travels with my Ukelele)

Updated: May 27, 2023



After about a week in Lisbon, I could tell I was falling in love with the city. From the beautiful tiles that surrounded us on every walk to the fresh, tasty food and encounters with many friendly people, we felt welcomed. I wanted to learn a Portuguese folk song to play on my ukulele to thank this great place and the people we encountered.


When I asked our VRBO host, Carla, to suggest a song, she sent me lots of information about the connection between Portugal and the modern ukulele. The Portuguese have several traditional string instruments. Today, the most common instruments are the ones used to accompany Fado singers: the Portuguese guitar (double-coursed 6 string instrument) and the Portuguese viola (like the Spanish classical guitar, with 6 strings). Portugal had many varieties of lute-like instruments in its earlier history. One of these – the cavaquinho – was transported to Hawaii in the late 19th century by Portuguese immigrants. This 4-string instrument was adapted by native Hawaiiian people, the strings were switched to nylon and tuned differently, and the 'ukelele was born. King David Kalākaua became a patron of the instrument in the late 1800s, and by 1906 virtuoso player Ernest Kaleihoku Ka'ai had published a method book. By the 1940s and 1950s, the 'ukulele was a central voice in Hawaiian music. For more information about great Hawaiian players, see https://www.ukulele.org/?Home (As an aside, the cavaquinho went to other countries, including some in South & Central America, and was also a precursor to the Cuban Cuatro, a double-coursed 4-string instrument that my daughter plays).


When I listened to the tunes Carla suggested, I could tell the complex and quick finger style playing was not something I knew how to do. So I started looking for a song I could adapt to my voice and my instrument. I found “Uma Casa Portuguesa” on the internet, sung by Amália Rodrigues, probably the most popular 20th century Fado singer. The song describes a simple Portuguese home. My teacher, Pamela Polland of Maui, adapted it for me to sing in a register more suitable to my voice.


A quick note about the song. My Portuguese host said at one time, the song was controversial because people who supported the 1974 Carnation Revolution, which paved the way for democracy in Portugal, suspected Amália Rodrigues of collaboration with the dictator António Salazar. People read into the song a call to accept poverty and not question the authoritarian regime. Rodrigues was popular during Salazar’s regime and Salazar publicly praised her work. However, research after the revolution revealed Rodrigues privately funded the left, and Salazar privately disliked her intensely. Rodrigues grew up poor in the Alfama section of Lisbon. When Rodrigues died in 1999, the country closed for 3 days of mourning, and she is buried in the National Pantheon. To hear Amália Rodrigues sing this song in her powerful voice, you can listen here.


And one more thing - the "caldo verde" mentioned in the song is a traditional soup served in Portuguese homes (and restaurants). It roughly translates as "green soup" because it uses a lot of green vegetables. We had some at a Fado club that looked like this:


This song is for Carla and the other wonderful Portuguese people who gave our visit such richness. Por favor, desculpe-me, where my Portuguese pronunciations fall short!


Lyrics in Portuguese and English:

Numa casa portuguesa fica bem

In a Portuguese house it is good

Pão e vinho sobre a mesa

To have bread and wine on the table

E se à porta humildemente bate alguém,

And if someone humbly knocks at the door,

Senta-se à mesa com a gente

We ask them to sit at the table with us


Fica bem essa fraqueza, fica bem,

It's okay, frankly, it's okay,

Que o povo nunca a desmente

That the people never deny it

A alegria da pobreza

the joy, even of being poor,

Está nesta grande riqueza

Is this great richness

De dar, e ficar contente

Of being generous and being happy


Quatro paredes caiadas,

Four whitewashed walls,

Um cheirinho à alecrim,

A scent of rosemary,

Um cacho de uvas doiradas,

A bunch of golden grapes,

Duas rosas num jardim,

Two roses in the garden,

Um São José de azulejo

A ceramic Saint Joseph

Mais o sol da primavera,

But the spring sun brings,

Uma promessa de beijos

a promise of kisses

Dois braços à minha espera

Two arms waiting for me


É uma casa portuguesa, com Certeza!

This is a Portuguese house for sure!

É, com certeza, uma casa portuguesa!

For sure, this is a Portuguese house!

No conforto pobrezinho do meu lar,

In the humble comfort of my home,

Há fartura de carinho

There is plenty of affection

A cortina da janela e o luar,

The window curtain and the moonlight,

Mais o sol que bate nela

And the sun shine on her


Basta pouco, poucochinho pra alegrar

Just a little, a little to brighten up

Uma existência singela

a simple existence

É só amor, pão e vinho

It's just love, bread and wine

E um caldo verde, verdinho

And a green, green soup broth,

A fumegar na tijela

Smoking in the bowl


Quatro paredes caiadas,

Four whitewashed walls,

Um cheirinho à alecrim,

A scent of rosemary,

Um cacho de uvas doiradas,

A bunch of golden grapes,

Duas rosas num jardim,

Two roses in the garden,

Um São José de azulejo

A ceramic Saint Joseph

Mais o sol da primavera,

But the spring sun brings,

Uma promessa de beijos

a promise of kisses

Dois braços à minha espera

Two arms waiting for me

É uma casa portuguesa, com Certeza!

This is a Portuguese house for sure!

É, com certeza, uma casa portuguesa!

For sure, this is a Portuguese house!

É uma casa portuguesa, com Certeza!

This is a Portuguese house for sure!

É, com certeza, uma casa portuguesa!

For sure, this is a Portuguese house!




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2 Comments


Guest
Apr 24, 2022

What a fascinating history of the string instruments! Great to hear you in Portuguese ! What a great son! Check out Pedro Almodóvar's new film - The title of the film is Extraña forma de vida inspired by a song by Amália Rodrigues!


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Kimberly OLeary
Kimberly OLeary
Nov 21, 2022
Replying to

Will do!

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