By the time he left the Army, he had already decided that his future was to be the Portuguese guitar.
During the Sixties the Alentejano António Chaínho, with all the vigour of his youth, was showing his virtuosity on its twelve strings. He had left behind him his parents’ café in São Francisco da Serra, where at the age of eight he had begun to play. His father, perched on a billiard table, was skilful and always willing to play the guitar: by the time he was thirteen; young António was already playing in public.
Inspired by Maestros such as Armandinho, he was already by the mid-Sixties to be seen in the A Severa Fado house. There followed appearances in O Faia, O Folklore, and the Picadeiro: he would become the owner of the latter, and it was there that he was able to give full throttle to his love for the Portuguese guitar, and formed his own guitar group. But it was when he accompanied such performers as Maria Teresa de Noronha, Lucília do Carmo, Carlos do Carmo, Francisco José, Tony de Matos, António Mourão, Frei Hermano da Câmara or Hermínia Silva, that Maestro Chaínho began to make his mark in the history of the Portuguese guitar. It would be the centre of his life, and he was tireless in making it known to the rest of the world.
It was in Lisbon, three years previously that the National Radio station had invited him for a programme - “Fados e Guitarradas” – in which he and his group were to play live. He brought together guitarists like José Luís Nobre Costa and viola players like Raúl Silva and José Maria Nóbrega. From being someone who had learnt to play by ear, listening to the radio, he had become one of the great practitioners, the source of many unforgettable guitar recitals transmitted by Portuguese radio. And it was at this same time, at the end of the Sixties, that he made his first record, the EP “Solos de Chaínho”, for the now defunct Rapsodía label. It was followed by three more records in the same format which were made for other labels.
His pride in the sounds he gets from the Portuguese guitar brought him to a change in his approach: shouldn’t the fingering of the guitar be the star of the show as much as the human voice? Why shouldn’t the spotlight be centred on one of Portugal’s most brilliant instruments? The lament of the guitar should not always be softly spoken, and thus it was that António Chaínho took the risk of making a mistake when he decides to embark on a career as a soloist. With the modesty characteristic of the great, he invites the greatest singers to perform with him, confirming that his greatest wish is to spread his gospel to the four corners of the world.
He performs recitals across the globe, alone or sharing the stage with Paco de Lucia or John Williams; in individual concerts or in festivals dedicated to the guitar, like that of Cordoba. He opens a new front by creating a new label under his own name with his “Guitarra Portuguesa” album, followed by a second made with the London Symphony Orchestra, so cementing his recording career, dedicated solely to original music, and now with the Movieplay label.
In the same way he takes Fado to new dimensions. He plays the Portuguese guitar in José Afonso’s “Fura Fura” album, and takes part in the “Fado Bailado” album with Rão Kyao. It is time to be in touch with other cultures, and he opens the door to the Portuguese guitar for the Brazilians Gal Costa and Fáfá de Belém, Maria Dolores Pradera from Spain and to Saki Kubota from Japan. Invitation follows invitation, and the results are strange to those who do not share a taste for a constant reinvention of the Portuguese guitar – in the “Red Hot + Lisbon” collection he accompanies k d lang in the traditional “Fado Hilário”.
In 1998 his passion is granted full expression and he records “A Guitarra e Outras Mulheres”, in which he is accompanied by Teresa Salgueiro (Madredeus), Marta Dias, Filipa Pais, Ana Sofia Varela, Elba Ramalho and Nina Miranda (Smoke City),and by some of downtown New York’s most prestigious artists --Bruce Swedien, Greg Cohen and Peter Scherer. His talent and dedication are finally recognised, and the record sells what for Portugal is the great number of 20,000 copies, and it becomes a milestone in the art of playing the Portuguese guitar.
It is in Brazil – one of his great loves – that he brings new light into an old darkness, and re-establishes the links between Brazilian and Portuguese music. With Celso Fonseca and Jaques Morelenbaum – Caetano Veloso’s usual arranger – he leads on the “Lisboa – Rio” album, which brings together Portuguese tradition and classics of Brazilian music. It is another milestone in the spread of the sound of the Portuguese guitar.
The roles are reversed, and now Chaínho is invited to accompany the greatest voices of the time. José Carreras calls for his collaboration in a concert in Lisbon’s famous Atlantic Pavilion; Adriana Calcanhotto does the same for her last tour in Portugal, and Maria Bethânia invites him to take part in shows in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In Brazil, Italy or Japan António Chaínho presses on with making the Portuguese guitar known. In Portugal he is the guiding light of a project which took twelve years: today the Casa do Fado e da Guitarra Portuguesa is respected as the rejuvenator of a tradition which others had neglected.
In the last ten years he has been accompanied on the viola by Fernando Alvim, the usual accompanist of Maestro Carlos Paredes, most of whose repertoire he arranged. But on this occasion he is accompanied by Eduardo Miranda and Tuniko Goulart – Brazilian musicians settled in Portugal. As a trio, they work to build a bridge between Brazilian and Portuguese music, finding in the task the delight proper to great string players, creating a chemistry which turns each recital into an unforgettable event.
“Fadinho Simples” turned out to be one of the strongest tracks in “A Guitarra e Outras Mulheres”, and from then on Marta Dias has held a privileged place at the side of António Chaínho, both on records and in the concert hall. In his new album, recorded live at the Centro Cultural de Belém, hers is the only voice to take part. She sings jazz, soul and even Brazilian music without ever leaving the field of Fado. Her presence has become a given; her voice has become one of the least well-kept secrets in partnership accompanying the mysteries and the fantasies of Antonio Chaínho’s guitar.
Tireless in is mission of reinventing the Portuguese Guitar Chainho is known to bet in newcomers. Since 2006 he gives young Fado singer Isabel Noronha the chance to combine her unique voice with the morning of his twelve stringed guitar.
Chainho’s performances still amaze audiences all over the world and create followers in India, Morocco or Brazil. But his great proud as a teacher is the creation of a Portuguese Guitar school in his home town Santiago do Cacém.
Nowadays he is preparing his sixth album where he joins Fado and the Portuguese guitar with Indian music, something never tried before.
António Chainho from early days intended to create links between traditional music and modernity, with the intention to save Portugal’s most characteristic instrument from oblivion. That’s true love, after all.