Voice (I)

18 Mar

The voice, above all, is that which is lost to the wind. Mafalda Arnauth reminds us of this in a song entitled ‘Esta Voz Que Me Atravessa’ [This Voice That Crosses Me]. The song speaks of a voice that does not live inside the singer but in a shadow beside her. In the second verse she sings, ‘Trago cravado no peito / Um resto de amor desfeito / Que quando eu canto me dói / Que me deixa a voz em ferida’ [I bear, embedded in my chest, / A shard of broken love / That hurts me when I sing / That leaves my voice wounded]. The final verse reveals that the voice that has possessed the singer is in fact that of Maria Severa and did not die with the fadista.  The singer is encountering a voice older than she. Here, the voice itself is the site for an acting out of the memory work supposedly undertaken by all fadistas who show fidelity to the originary figure of Severa. The voice becomes an object, like the shawl worn by female fadistas as a sign of mourning for Severa. This object bears none of the claims to originality familiar to so many commentaries on the individuality of the voice; rather, it is collectively owned, something to be taken up, borne and passed on.
There is a responsibility to fado singing, then, one that permits Mariza to name her first album Fado em Mim [Fado in Me] and to include on it a song explicitly about responsibility, ‘Ó Gente da Minha Terra’ [O People of My Land]. It might be more accurate to say that there is a responsibility to singing in general which fado recognizes. This allows the fadista António Zambujo, for example, to sing ‘Trago Alentejo na Voz’ [I Carry Alentejo in My Voice], in which the carrying of a place and style quite other to that of Lisbon fado can be voiced. Zambujo signals recognition of the polyphonic singing tradition common to the area of Alentejo in the south of Portugal, both in the lyrical message he delivers and in the addition of a male choir to his recording of the song.  Another example of this carrying of a responsibility can be found in the work of the fadista Gonçalo Salgueiro, especially his debut album …No Tempo das Cerejas (2002).

The album opens with a song entitled ‘Grito’ [Shout/Cry], a verse written by Amália and set to music by her former guitarist Carlos Gonçalves. Guitarra and viola set the musical scene for around half a minute before falling silent. The word ‘silêncio’ is voiced, stretching over ten otherwise silent seconds, with the majority of work being engaged on the middle vowel as Salgueiro introduces us immediately to his (at first subtle) vocal ornamentation. An audible intake of breath is then followed with the following section of the verse, still unaccompanied by the guitarists and with increasing ornamentation on each word:

Do silêncio faço um grito
E o corpo todo me dói
Deixai-me chorar um pouco

[From the silence I make a cry
And my whole body hurts
Leave me to weep a little]

Over the course of the first four lines, and occupying a significant section of the song in terms of duration, we experience what Simon Frith calls ‘the sheer physical pleasure of singing itself … the enjoyment a singer takes in particular movements of muscles’.  Furthermore, a message is communicated directly: voice will be central to this recording project. And so it turns out. Following a fairly strident rendition of ‘Meia Noite e uma Guitarra’, a different enjoyment of the voice that complements the subtle intricacy of the album’s opener, the third track comes in the form of a poem written by Maria de Lourdes DeCarvalho with Amália in mind and entitled ‘Tenho em Mim a Voz dum Povo’ [I Have in me Voice of a People]. The poem sings of  a ‘Voz com que canto e me encanto / Em cada canto do meu pranto / Uma estranha lágrima de fogo’ [Voice with which I sing and which enchants me / in each song of my lament / A strange tear of fire].

Responsibility is key here. Salgueiro is carrying a responsibility, as the liner notes to the CD make clear. He is in the tradition of Amália and veers, according to Rui Vieira Nery’s version of the singing-as-enjoyment phenomenon, between ‘the joy of risk-taking and a liking for conservatism’.  As the accompanying biography alerts us, Salgueiro was invited by João Braga to be part of a show that accompanied the moving of Amália’s body to the National Pantheon in 2001. There is a layering of responsibility here as Salgueiro is given the task of ‘carrying’ Amália in his voice and Amália is given the posthumous responsibility of eternal national recognition. In her third verse, DeCarvalho has Salgueiro speak on behalf of Amália of the latter’s new home alongside the poets Camões and Pessoa, a home that is both the Pantheon itself (the home of mortal remains) and the Infinite in which her ‘eternal soul’ will sing a song in the presence of God.

This appeal to God should not surprise us. Fado, like other cultural products and processes in Portugal, has deep connections with Catholicism and many of its key tropes (fate, sin, guilt, redemption) could be traced back to religious practices. We can find a fine example of the divine implications of the fado voice in a song written for Amália by Alberto Janes and entitled ‘Foi Deus’ [It Was God]. The song begins, not unlike ‘Tudo Isto É Fado’, with the singer claiming ignorance; in this case it is the reason for the sorrowful tone with which she sings fado of which she is ignorant. But this ignorance is superseded by the declaration that ‘It was God / That placed in my chest / A rosary of pain / For me to speak / And to cry while singing / He made the nightingale a poet / Put rosemary in the fields / Gave flowers to the Spring / Ah, and gave this voice to me’.  In one rather simplistic sense, this provides us with an ‘answer’ to a question posed by so many commentators about the ‘magical’ power of Amália’s voice. How did that voice allow her to transcend the politics and traditions of her time and become so ‘universally’ acknowledged? The answer appears that to be that it was not her voice after all but part of God’s plan. In Mafalda Arnauth’s ‘A Voz Que Me Atravessa’ the voice that passed through the singer, while capable of travelling across time and space, had mortal origins in the figure of Maria Severa. Here, the origins are explicitly divine. In one song, we hear the voice of the people; in the other, the voice of God.

Manuela Cook suggests that the fatalism of fado is generally connected to an earlier fatalism found in the Romans and Greeks and is in fact in tension with Catholic faith in which ‘a Christian healing power defies a non-Christian merciless destiny.’ But it is the latter, the ‘omnipotent but merciful God’, that Cook recognizes in Amália’s ‘Foi Deus’ rather than ‘ancient inexorable deities’.  Cook’s discussion of the role of women in fado singing covers the witnessing of the Fátima miracle in 1917, offering a useful reminder of the role of witnessing in religious lore. Many different religions place emphasis on witnessing, testifying, performative preaching, ritual and what Simon Frith calls ‘the collective voice of religious submission’.

Notions of submission and possession are frequently given voice in fados such as Maria da Fé’s ‘Cantarei Até Que a Voz Me Doa’ [I Will Sing Until My Voice Hurts].  This song is a speaking-out, or singing-out, a stubborn persistence to make oneself heard and to not have one’s voice lost to the ether. Like ‘A Voz Que Me Atravessa’ and ‘Foi Deus’, it represents a giving of oneself over to the voice and the song. But the reliance on another figure is lessened; neither God nor the mythological fadista are required. The witness here, like the witness in court, is someone who takes the stand and who is given their moment to speak out, licensed by the people to speak for the people. In this sense, it is a very public song and immediately brings to mind visions of its performance in a casa de fado such as the one Maria da Fé herself operates.

This emphasis on speaking out and on public voices should not distract us from the privacies and intimacies of speaking and listening allowed by sound recording. Aldina Duarte, no stranger to the casa de fado, nonetheless fashioned an intimate form of communication on her first album Apenas o Amor (2004) that could only have come about through the medium of recording.  The album is notable for having a sense of sonic intimacy that is attained by the unhurried nature of the arrangements and the way the voice and guitars have been miked and recorded, with a slight echo that serves to emphasize the clean silence surrounding the words and notes. This is further highlighted by songs which reference the affect of voice. The first song begins with the evocation of a ‘voice in the silence’, while the second opens with ‘the memory of a sad voice’; another speaks of ‘an unconscious voice / that deep down is always fado’. On the slower tracks, José Manuel Neto’s guitarra is a model of minimal accompaniment, allowing the voice room to materialize in the sonic field. It is no surprise that fellow musicians Carlos do Carmo and Jorge Palma, who both provide liner notes to the album, speak of silence in their comments.

As Simon Frith writes, ‘The microphone made it possible for singers to make musical sounds – soft sounds, close sounds – that had not really been heard before in terms of public performance … [it] allowed us to hear people in ways that normally implied intimacy – the whisper, the caress, the murmur.’  This intimacy is hymned in Alexandre O’Neil’s ‘Há Palavras Que Nos Beijam’ [There Are Words That Kiss Us], a poem that has been performed as a fado by Mariza and Cristina Branco.  Meanwhile, the ‘memória duma voz triste’ that Aldina Duarte sings about also suggests a carrying on the part of the listener too, a reminder that in listening something is placed in the mind, becoming a part of consciousness itself

Maria da Fé & Ana Moura, ‘Divino Fado’

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One Response to “Voice (I)”

  1. A human being... May 31, 2012 at 1:28 am #

    What a wonderful and detailed insight of fado and its very nature, its true origins and its mission! I loved reading that. :-) I am quite passionate about fado. I am not a Catholic, but I listen do those fados which are rather secular or which only mention the name of God but do not go further and do not go against my religious convictions. Fados that are not religious by nature, just make a slight reference to the faith in God, but the lyrics are not of religious character. Well, I have always believed in destiny, fate, as well as in God Who is Merciful, nevertheless – my view on life is: 1) in this life, there is more sorrow than joy; 2) all the sorrow is for a purpose, as everything else, and everything has a meaning, even if we don’t know what is that meaning and purpose – God knows and that is enough for whoever believes in Him, because a believing person trusts in God; 3) sorrow is a part of life, without it, we wouldn’t be able to truly understand and appreciate the value of joy and good things are better enjoyed when compared to the past sorrows that one has experienced in their life; 4) some people are born to be successful and happy in all walks of life, while others only achieve happiness and worldly bliss after some pain and hardship, after a traumatic event or events – and yet, other people are simply born to suffer and cry all their lives, and success is not their destiny; 5) now, that is for a purpose, but that purpose is known to God only; 6) because no-one can ever know what the future will be like, therefore, we tend to focus on the ‘now-and-here’ reality, which is that we are suffering – exactly because we don’t know if we will be happy or not in the future, if better days will ever come or not, whether we are destined for success or fail – but all we know, is that now and here, we are in pain – so, we have a reason to never lose hope, because while we live, anything is possible, anything may or may not happen – if it ever happens, our hope is not in vain – if it doesn’t happen, well, at least, our hope serves to make this life somehow more bearable, anyway; 7) while we have hope and faith, and while we trust God – it is also true that we are suffering and we are to admit that we are not happy with our lives at all; 8) we don’t like to be sad – nobody actually likes being sad and suffer, particularly when it’s life-long suffering, but – if we suffer since we came into this world, since our very childhood, until this day when we are adults – then, it makes us thinking in the way we think about this life – that some people are born to success, some are born to reach it after some trouble in their lives, and some are born to suffer always – and that is called destiny, fatalistic view – and that maybe, one day, we will be happy, but maybe, we will never be – but now, we are not – and, that there is more sorrow in this life than joy, that the after life is better than this worldly life, and, although we are very much down-to-earth in our very being – we also acknowledge that the hereafter certainly must be a better thing than this life… So, we both love and hate our life; our soul is wandering between the life of this world and the other; our heart is torn apart by the two… We consider this world our prison, yet, we don’t actually want to leave it, apart from the moments when we feel overwhelmed by the suffering we experience…

    Also, we believe that happiness is a relative thing because to someone who has never suffered truly in this life, someone who has always had everything, both material and immaterial, such as money, job, family, friends, love, success, career, healthy relationship, good health etc. – to such a person, life is a wonderful thing; only such a happy, lucky person will ever say that life is a good thing, that life is beautiful and love is beautiful – yes, because it has been beautiful and good for them, they always have had it easy, they have never felt pain of this existence, they have never lost anything or anyone in this life – they don’t know what it is like to be in pain… Perfect. But now, for someone who has suffered since their birth, until their adulthood, and is still suffering alot in this life without a smallest chance to get out of it and unable to change the things by any means – to such a person, life has never been good, and to someone whose love was rejected, who was hurt, who was mistreated, who has nobody, who is indeed lonely, and poor, without money, job, with debts and ill without any chance to get better – for such a person, life is NOT as beautiful as for the successful people, and love is NOT beautiful, sweet intoxication, but rather – a deadly poison – and so, is life itself – a deadly poison that kills slowly, day by day, year by year – but, always effectively – because it eventually kills, anyway… We are born to die, whether we believe that there is life after this life, or not – this is the bitter truth, that we are born only to pass away, later or sooner… This is what a person who has always suffered in this life, thinks – and such a person is a person who thinks more profoundly and feels with more intensity than most people – because most people simply don’t ever think about these things, either because they are not into philosophy, because they are but shallow people – or, because they choose not to do so, due to their fear of what they might have discover, the conclusions they might come to… Which is what makes my point here… ;-) Thank you for your attention. Greetings from Poland. :-)

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