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The conductor is a kind of soccer coach. He cranes his neck in front of the team, men and women who, in concentration, imitate his vigorous gestures, the swinging of arms and legs, the turning of shoulders, warming up the muscles like the players who these days ran after a ball in the World Cup in Qatar.

The league of these men and women, however, is another, more important and difficult.

The scene is the first act of another day of rehearsal of Alarido, the feminist and LGBT choral group from Lisbon that meets every Wednesday at the auditorium of the Junta de Freguesia de Campolide. Men and women committed to singing for a cause, their vocal cords vibrating, giving voice to lyrics and music, giving voice to a struggle.

Photo: Inês Leote.

Paulo Côrte Real is the captain of this team. The 48-year-old Lisbon native is among the sopranos, contraltos, tenors, and basses trained by conductor Tomás Larisch Frazer. He has been there since the foundation of the choir, as a natural extension of the parish’s activities, when he captained the “Campolide of Equality” project.

Paulo Côrte Real, founder of the choral group Alarido. Photo: Inês Leote.

“The choir was formed by people who already had a history of activism, not only for the LGBT fights, but also feminist fights, because they are inseparable causes,” says Paulo, with the low, soft voice of a former soprano with time saw his timbre vary to the “bass” tessitura, but without ever being out of tune in his goals.

Paulo is an experienced player in the struggle for equality. He has already worn the jersey of the ILGA teams, the oldest lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex intervention association in Portugal, and has also worked for Amnesty International, before defending the colors of the Campolide da Igualdade project, the birthplace of Alarido.

A star of activism that dispenses the protagonism in the name of the collective “just one more among the fifteen” components of the choir, reinforced also by foreigners, Brazilians, French, and English who, alongside the Portuguese, sing to scare away the evils caused by the structural inequality of society.

A player who has learned from his voice that victory is sometimes won with the amplitude of a soprano, but most of the time it requires the consistency of a bass.

A repertoire in tune with the cause

The warm-up follows with the diaphragm and throat muscles. Maestro Tomás is demanding in the breathing exercises, in the air that goes in and out of the lungs with force, followed by the strenuous sequence of i-ó-ó-ó-ó and i-á-á-á-á performed by his commanders, until one by one, each member loses their breath.

The score on the chairs contains the ciphers of Titanium, by David Guetta, one of the resistance songs of the choir’s presentations, a repertoire always decided together, always in the collective work, but guided by the political tone, beyond the aesthetic and poetic purposes. A task is not always easy to accomplish.

Conductor Tomás is responsible for demanding commitment from the members of the Alarido choral group. Photo: Inês Leote.

“The pop songs are rarely created thinking about the causes we embrace, in the fight for women’s rights, in the love between same-sex couples,” explains Paulo. “We always look for songs that frame our goals and mirror the desire for a role model for women and LGBT people in society.”

In addition to David Ghetta, transiting through the repertoire are signature hits by Madonna, George Michael, and ABBA, a list also open to welcome special guest appearances such as Love and Sex by Rita Lee, Let it go by Demi Lovatto, the soundtrack to the movie Frozen, as well as the always laborious French rendition of the iconic Non, je ne regrette rien.

“We always look for songs that frame our goals and mirror the desire for a role model for women and LGBT people in society.”

Paulo Côrte Real

Some of them figured in the set of the group’s first performance, at Santos Populares de Campolide in 2019, when the choir took the stage to its, so far, largest audience. Precisely in an event marked by a certain conservatism, where the usual is to hear “pimba” songs, punctuated by situations of sexist slant.

A presentation well received by the customers present at the Arraial de Campolide. “It was remarkable,” Paulo recalls. The idea was to take advantage of the good start to start a regular sequence of performances, but soon after the pandemic stopped the plans and Alarido’s voices were silenced for a few months.

Singing louder from now on

Rehearsals resumed slowly in 2021 until they returned to pre-pandemic normality this year. Participation in the Lisbon Book Fair in September marked Alarido’s return to performances and the expectation in 2023 is to take the choir beyond Portuguese borders, to France at Easter.

“There is an invitation for us to have an exchange with choirs from France and Spain, in Paris, during the Equinoxe festival,” says Paulo. An opportunity for Alarido to exchange experiences with other collectives of the genre, since in Portugal, unlike other European countries, choirs dedicated to activism are still rare.

The difficulty for the tour is getting financial support since Alarido doesn’t charge for the presentations, a natural source of income. “Officially, we don’t exist as an entity,” Paulo laments. The informality is already a limitation for the choir to receive more invitations.

“We are a structure with few costs. Strictly speaking, we only have the conductor’s fee, since the rehearsal space is paid for by the council”, continues the team’s captain. “But we’re going to have to think about something more structured because now there are the costs with tickets and accommodation in France. The alternative might be crowdfunding,” he explains.

To mobilize the community, Paulo recognizes that Alarido’s work needs to be better known among the Portuguese and he is betting on spreading the word through interviews like the one with Mensagem for this. There is also a plan to intensify the choir’s presentations, which currently don’t reach ten per year.

Rehearsals are back with more assiduity in 2022, and the expectation is to increase the number of performances next year. Photo: Inês Leote

The last performance of 2022, already to raise funds for next season’s activities and the trip to France on the equinox, will take place in December, precisely on the winter solstice, at A Sala, a tapas and wine bar next to the Assembly of the Republic, in São Bento.

But before that, you have to make an effort, train, sweat, and lose your breath, like the soccer players in the World Cup.

With a huff, the conductor discreetly invites Paulo and the other members to go back to the sheet music and the i-ó-ó-ó and i-á-á-á-á. From now on, no more interviews, because the voice of each one of them no longer belongs to them. With each chord, Alarido is back, beautifully and tunefully, singing under the baton of activism.

On behalf of all the voices that society still insists on not listening to.

You can read this article in Portuguese.

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