Long before Salvador Sobral put Portuguese popular music on the world radar by winning the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest there was another kind of Portuguese pop music, little known outside of Portugal, which is extremely popular throughout the country. It is called pimba and if you have been in rural Portugal in the summer you are likely to have heard it. At its most basic level pimba is an unsophisticated pop music with a repetitive melody, simple lyrics and often with an accordion and synthesiser accompaniment and its toe-tapping beats get people up and dancing, which is why it is so popular at the summer festivals that are held in the rural villages of Portugal in August, a time when many of the Portuguese who have emigrated to other countries for work return to their villages. However, the songs also reveal something of the Portuguese character and their sense of humour, as the lyrics of many of the songs contain different levels of sexual innuendo. The word pimba was originally used as an interjection, expressed at an unforeseen event, but it has now also taken on the meaning of kitsch and in bad taste or vulgar. The man responsible for this is a singer named Emanuel, who is 1995 released a single called ‘Pimba, pimba’ in which the chorus goes: ‘E se elas querem um abraço ou um beijinho/Nós pimba, nós pimba/E se elas querem muito amor, muito carinho/Nós pimba, nós pimba’ (And if they want a hug or a little kiss/We …, we …/And if they want a lot of love and a lot of affection/We …, we …’). (The closest I can come to translating the word pimba in this song, which I have represented with ellipses, is the British English verb ‘to bonk’.) From this song the word pimba started to be used a term for this type of music, where the lyrics have a humorous sexual connotation. Two other very popular songs in this genre are ‘Ketchup’ by Quim Gouveia (1995) and ‘A Cabritinha’ by Quim Berreiros (2004). In ‘Ketchup’ Gouveia uses puns to give the song a double-meaning, reminiscent of Benny Hill-type humour. The verse is very innocent, telling the story Manel and Maria who are buying ingredients to cook a fish stew when the bottle of tomato sauce breaks, and on one level the chorus is also innocent saying that Manel says to Maria ‘Queres ketchup?’ (‘Do you want ketchup?’), but in Portuguese the word ‘ketchup’ when pronounced ‘kay-ti-shoop’ is slang for oral sex (‘que te chupe’). ‘A Cabritinha’ (‘The Little Goat’) takes the vulgarity to a different level. From the start the jolly acordeon music belies the distasteful lyrics which tell the story of a baby who was nursed by cows and other animals and now that baby is a man who can only get pleasure sucking on the teats of a goat. The line ‘Eu gosto de mamar/Nos peitos da cabritinha’ is repeated over and over in the infectious melody that gets stuck in the head. This song is so popular it has even been included on a compliaton CD of Portuguese summer party songs, Festa de Verão, where there are 37 similar-style songs, admitedly not all quite so vulgar as this song. In Britain we don’t really have popular music like this, we used to have novelty songs with innuendo and double entendres in the pop charts in the 1970s and ’80s, such as ‘Ernie’ by Benny Hill and ‘My Ding A Ling’ by Chuck Berry, which seem so innocent in comparison with the Portuguese pimba songs!
If you do get the chance to go to a summer party in a Portuguese village, usually to celebrate the local patron saint, you will definitely not only hear pimba music, but also get to watch the locals dancing the pimba dance, which is based on a Cape Verdean dance called the funaná, where the couples hold each other in a ballroom-type hold, moving the arm that is holding the other partner’s hand up and down rapidly, shifting weight from one foot to the other, which makes the bottom move vigorously from side to side, as they spin round. As well as being popular in the rural parts of Portugal, where the returning émigrés associate the songs nostalgically with home and summer, pimba music has also become surprisingly popular with students in the cities. Maybe they are finding a level of satire that with my level of Portuguese I am unable to see, but as one of my Portuguese friend says, ‘They are not the songs that we are most proud of, but every Portuguese person knows them!’