Cante Alentejano is a traditional singing genre of the Alentejo region in Southern Portugal. It is sung by groups of local amateurs. Like Fado, Cante Alentejano is now part of UNESCO’s world intangible heritage as well. These singing groups are unique (choirs is clearly not the best word to describe them) and perform umpteen types of tunes and poems in wonderful and exquisite vocal styles. In its most traditional drive (as it were), their repertoire is sung ‘a Capella’, without instruments. Typically, a male prompter with the lowest voice starts the motto of usually a strophic song; this voice is then doubled by an upper voice called “alto”, in parallel motion and often with lovely extemporised embellishment added to the tune. The whole group then sings the remainder of the stanzas. Please note that “alto” just means a high-pitched voice in Cante Alentejano, and not strictly a classical alto. Moreover, “alto” is also the voice that usually adds very beautiful melodic flourishment to the tune throughout the song, and it is therefore prominently heard above all the other members’ voices. The lyrics explore such themes as country life, nature, love, or religion.
Cante marvelously depicts and reflects Alentejo’s social and community life, and, very importantly, it fosters dialogue between generations.
Associated with this traditional singing in Alentejo is the term “moda” (as in “fashion”, but rather meaning “our very special way”) to identify the typical vocal genre that shapes Cante Alentejano.