Listening to ‘Bons Sons’ at Quintessentially Portuguese Music Festival

By Kieran Ford

Central Portugal Music Festivals?

Festivals in central Portugal are not hard to come by. However, ones hosting acts of Dead Combo, Linda Martini and Slow J’s calibre are. Now those of you outside of Portugal may be thinking, “but wait a minute… who are they?” Bons Sons is Portuguese for ‘Good Sounds’ and it’s the largest festival solely dedicated to celebrating the diverse range of Portuguese musicians.

Having faced the language struggle on a daily basis for over a year now, I’m always on the hunt for the best Portuguese acts to enjoy listening to whilst learning the lingo at the same time. In that case, this was the perfect place to see some of the ones I’ve come to know and to discover some new ones too!

Bons Sons takes place within the Municipality of Tomar, in a small village called Cem Soldos. It does an excellent job of combining the vibe of classic local Portuguese festivals that are very common in villages across the country, with the more commercialised big money festivals, thanks to the stature of the acts they have performing who inevitably attract a bigger crowd.

This combination is key. Despite the big name native acts arriving, the festival is run by the locals, who welcome the masses from all over Portugal into their humble village, serving them with various food, drink, homemade crafts and traditional activities.

“…Opens up the metal shutters and people cram in to witness a full live band as if joining them in a rehearsal studio.”

People gather to watch Luís Severo from all angles. I'm on the rooftop
People gathered to watch Luís Severo from all angles. I'm on a rooftop 😉

Less Setting Up, More Settling In

The whole village of Cem Soldos drops its duties and focuses on the festival on this weekend in August. The perimeter of the village is closed and within it lie eight stages set up to host various Portuguese musical talents. My favourite thing about Bons Sons festival was its unique layout, the way it was presented. Rather than domineering into the village and overbearing or flattening wherever necessary in order to display these stages and suitable surrounding areas, Bon Sons works completely within the everyday surroundings of the village.

One of the stages is set up in the middle of a tiny communal square-like area, which narrow cobbled alleyways lead into and people’s houses surround. Locals and fans gather around the stage, watching from wherever they best fit – from afar down one of the alleys, from above on a café’s rooftop terrace or even sitting with legs dangling out of upstairs bedroom windows.

Another stage is in a garage! Literally, a pretty bog-standard, rectangular storage garage sets up a small stage at the back, opens up the metal shutters and people cram in to witness a full live band as if joining them in a rehearsal studio.

The final example is what I would refer to as the park stage. Down a narrow winding dusty path you enter into a hilly and green park. People flock to catch a glimpse at the stage through olive trees or strategically sit on top of the highest slopes. It truly was a first for me to see what was quite a big festival (Super Bock sponsored and plenty of TV and Radio coverage) just, fit within a relatively unaltered charming and peaceful little village.

2 Donkeys at the Festival
Never bumped into a couple of donkeys roaming a festival before ...Only in Portugal.
Entrance to Bons Sons 2018
Entrance to the festival. I'm told it translates as "Entrance - Vegetable Garden - Good Sounds" ...Yep. Portuguese is difficult.
Crowd walks down side streets
A crowd heading down one of the many narrow side streets.
Beer with the Bons Sons logo
A crisp, refreshing beverage the Portuguese like to call 'cerveja'.

The Acts I Enjoyed Most at This Solely Portuguese Affair

1) Linda Martini – The main act that I knew of prior to attending the festival and the ones chosen to bring the weekend to a close on the Sunday night. They’re a four-piece rock band and are cherished by many of the Portuguese. I love the fact that they sing in Portuguese, it helps to learn the language and artists of such quality who refuse to submit and sing in English are difficult to find. They’ve been around for over ten years now but still manage to come across as youthful thanks to the raw energy they pump out onstage throughout their performances.

2) Dead Combo – An undeniably talented and intriguing band. Dead Combo’s lyricless tunes are like tales within your imagination. The clever atmospheric guitars working with each other to paint pictures in your mind. I’d compare it to watching a well soundtracked Western film with your eyes closed. Proudly Portuguese, their unique style combines elements of jazz with classic fado influences to create a perfect ambience in each track.

3) Lena D’Água e Primeira Dama com a banda Xita – Now, this was an interesting one, especially for probably the only Englishman present in the crowd – me. My Portuguese companions eagerly awaiting the arrival of the legend we were about to witness in all of her glory (Lena D’Água). Their aurora fuelling anticipation within me. A bunch of trendy youths come out (Primeira Dama com a banda Xita) and burst into an electro song – “Oops, we got the wrong idea with the name.” – Laughs all around. When suddenly, “No! There she is!” A woman my Mum’s age comes strutting out and begins fronting the band! Ok…

Turns out she’s a treasured Portuguese singer who’s been around since the 80’s and is still going strong. Now she’s on a mission to help a band of the next generation toward the heights she’s been fortunate enough to grace, by joining them. Fair play. They put on a truly entertaining and unique show. It was refreshing to see a mix of generations coming together to enjoy the same music, both on the stage and in the crowd.

4) Luís Severo – Promising artist well worth a mention. His songs evidently packed with a range of relatable emotions. Of course, I didn’t understand half of the words, but I noticed one song people would be bobbing and laughing and the next they’d be swaying side to side on the verge of tears. Also, he performed in a full retro football kit which made for a quirky look.

Linda Martini Lyrics on a wall
Linda Martini lyrics. Translates to "If our love is a fight, may the best part win."
Linda Martini on stage
The brilliant view I had of Linda Martini's performance. I didn't mind the olive tree, still heard them loud and clear.
Dead Combo live on stage
The mysterious Dead Combo. You rarely catch a glimpse of his face under that undertaker-esque hat of his.
An Ela Vaz lyric on the wall
Lyrics from Ela Vaz. I'm told it translates to "Loving is being who I am and wanting me to be fine."

(♫) E Amanhã Esquecer? (♫)

This is from another Linda Martini lyric and relates to something being all forgotten about tomorrow. The answer, no, I’ll remember this one. It’s definitely a festival worth checking out if you want an authentic taste of Portuguese culture that’s still traditional but complimented with a ‘trendier’ vibe. Drinks are cheap, €1.50 a beer and there’s a variety of local food stall options to choose from. I was also surprised to see that camping is available, making it a full-blown weekend festival. It came across to me like Paredes de Coura’s younger sibling. The music is of top quality and the setting retains its true authenticity. It’s almost like walking around a quiet local town one day and famed artists are popping up left, right and centre like buskers.

If you’ve made it this far then thanks for reading! Please feel free to drop me a comment below and remember to check out my other festival related articles on NOS Alive and Paredes de Coura, if you haven’t already done so.

Bons Sons, Bons Tempos, Obrigado.


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