WORDS Lena Strang

I am at a traditional Arraial do Petisco, one of many festivals in the region during the summer. A sea of people sit at makeshift tables, eating, drinking, and laughing. At the counters along the sides of the large open-air venue, I spot tempting traditional dishes and a range of regional sweets on offer. There is a buzz in the air and a sense of relief. At long last, families and friends can get together and enjoy a pleasant evening out.

An integral part of it all is music. The star of the evening is Humberto Silva, who, with his accordion, captivates the audience. The cheerful, energetic tunes soon entice old and young onto the space in front of the stage. I am tapping my feet and can’t resist having a few twirls myself!

Humberto has already promised to speak to me, and we arrange a date later in the autumn when his schedule is less busy. We meet outside the Lagos Câmara building to chat in a quiet corner of the cafeteria. As we enter, every single person inside greets him warmly. “You seem to be rather famous,” I comment. “Well, not really,” he laughs, “I have spent much time here. During the pandemic, I did some work for the Council.” With his open, easy manner, Humberto is happy to answer all of my questions.

Born in Lagos 38 years ago, he has lived here his entire life. From a very early age, music fascinated him. He loved going to open-air events and seeing musicians playing the accordion. “My parents had a supermarket on the Avenida. As a toddler, I got hold of empty boxes and pretended they were musical instruments. When I was Strikes the Right Note four, I was given my first mini accordion,” he says. I have a feeling that there was no going back for the young aspiring musician at this point.

True enough at seven, he started attending private music lessons and, later, sessions at the Conservatory and Solid., a music shop in Lagos, provided helpful practice. However, at the tender age of 12 his professional career took off. “A friend of mine asked me to play and sing at her wedding, and I was keen to have a go. My father helped me to buy the necessary equipment and transported it to the venue in his van,” he explains. All went well. A couple of months later, he had more requests. It was mainly weddings, christenings, and private parties, but in due course, he started performing at arraiais and large gatherings.

I have already begun to appreciate the importance of traditional social events in Portugal and Humberto elaborates: “We have lots of traditional festas, especially in the summer. People have the need to come together and enjoy food and music as a social activity. In winter, there are different kinds of events. Dance halls (danceterias) also serve an important function. People like to do something different on Saturdays and Sundays after a busy week. Dress up, have a bit to eat, socialise, listen to music and dance.”

The period during the pandemic was very difficult for everyone. Humberto confirms that for musicians, it was very sad. The telephone stopped ringing from one day to the next, and all performances were cancelled. He was left with nothing and had to seek alternatives. He helped at the Centre for Culture and Sport (CCD) in Lagos, distributing food among services, trained as a fireman and started giving extracurricular music lessons in various schools throughout the municipality. “For many, the effects of the pandemic were truly dreadful,” he says, “Staying locked up in your house and being deprived of social contact caused immense stress. I had people phoning, asking me what to do. They missed the music and the social occasions and were suffering from acute loneliness.”

The Council sponsored him to compose a song, Vai Ficar Tudo Bem (All Will Be Well). It is an upbeat tune of reassurance played on radio and social media.

Humberto’s music can be broadly classified as popular, easylistening dance music. Although he doesn’t claim any specific role models, other musicians are an inspiration. For example, he likes Quim Barreiros, who plays entertaining, often tongue-in-cheek tunes, José Malhoa and Nel Monteiro, amongst others. He knows them personally and adapts their music to suit his style.

When participating in the Marchas Populares, local summer festivals, the musicians focus on particular themes, such as different seasons, flowers, fishermen, the countryside etc. Humberto assures me he has taken part in countless festivals over the years!

Fado is sometimes included in his repertoire, and lately, he has made forays into African music, particularly Kizomba and Funaná.

The time spent at home during the pandemic gave him a chance to compose his own music. He wrote the lyrics and tunes to the playful Funaná da Crioula that was played on radio and TV.

So, why the accordion? Surely, it is a complicated and cumbersome instrument to play. “Not at all,” Humberto assures me, “It may take some time to learn the basics, but then it is easy. Once you know what you are doing, the fingers dance on the buttons without you really being aware!” There are three operations: the right hand makes the melody, the left hand accompanies it, and the opening and closing of the instrument make the sound. “When I play and sing, I lose myself in the music and forget everything. My greatest pleasure is seeing people enjoying my music.”

Do his three children follow in their father’s steps as far as music goes? The older ones have no interest, he tells me, but the six-year-old already has a mini accordion and will be given lessons if he desires. Perhaps history will repeat itself?

When I ask him about his plans, he doesn’t hesitate: “Continue with my music and record albums. I want to present my music not only nationally but also internationally.” But, then, he pauses for a moment and adds, “What I would really like is for humanity to be humbler and more receptive, particularly now in the turbulent world that we live in. Music unites people. There is no doubt about this.”

Lastly, has he a message for the readers of Tomorrow? “The events we organise are open to everyone. We would like to see more foreign residents as it is a good way to enjoy yourself and make new friends.”

Although the Arraiais de Petiscos have finished for the season, there still are plenty of other events to explore. See you at one of them!

Facebook: Humberto Silva

Youtube: Humberto Silva