Archive | April, 2010

Nick Cave’s Place of Longing

15 Apr

Nick CaveWe all experience within us what the Portuguese call ‘saudade’, an inexplicable longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul, and it is this feeling that lives in the realms of imagination and inspiration, and is the breeding ground for the sad song, for the love song. Saudade is the desire to be transported from darkness into light, to be touched by the hand of that which is not of this world … [T]he love song is never simply happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love, without having within their lines an ache or a sigh, are not love songs at all, but rather hate songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our human-ness and our God-given right to be sad, and the airwaves are littered with them. The love song must resonate with the whispers of sorrow and the echoes of grief. The writer who refuses to explore the darker reaches of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, magic and joy of love, for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil, so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.

(Nick Cave, ‘The Secret Life of the Love Song’, in The Complete Lyrics 1978-2007 (London: Penguin, 2007), pp. 7-8.)

This is Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave addressing an audience in 1999 on the subject of ‘the secret life of the love song’. As well as talking about saudade, Cave speaks about duende, the Spanish word associated with the heightened emotional world of flamenco and bull-fighting. He quotes Federico García Lorca on the subject and claims that rock music, the field Cave operates in, generally lacks the qualities of saudade and duende: ‘Excitement, often, anger, sometimes – but true sadness, rarely … [I]t would appear that the duende is too fragile to survive the compulsive modernity of the music industry.’
My point here is not necessarily to invoke Cave as an expert on saudade, or to question the intricacies of a lack of distinction between duende and saudade. Rather, what I find interesting is the simultaneous locality and universality in this analysis of writing love songs. This tension is set up in the words ‘we all have within us … saudade’; a universally recognizable feeling is presented via recourse to a very specific term from outside the language the speaker is using. This is, of course, a common rhetorical device and perhaps we should not take it for anything more than that. But I think it is provocative, especially coming in a discussion of the love song as something that must be happy and sad, partaking in a dialectic that is akin to the ‘episode of the interval’ that Pessoa used to define fado. Cave’s love song seems to be precisely such an interval. It becomes even more provocative when one is asked to think of Nick Cave as a fadista. This is what had happened in 1994 when the controversial novo fadista Paulo Bragança recorded a version of Cave’s song ‘Sorrows Child’ with the guitarrista Mário Pacheco. In an interview, Bragança maintained the validity of his choice: ‘Throughout his life Nick Cave has been a fadista in the broadest sense of the word and the lyric of “Sorrow’s Child” by itself is already a fado.’ (More on Bragança here and here; the second link requires a little extra navigation.)

Cave and Bragança’s opening out of the discourse echoes that of Lorca, who had the following to say about duende:

This ‘mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain,’ is, in sum, the earth-force, the same duende that fired the heart of Nietzsche, who sought it in its external forms on the Rialto Bridge, or in the music of Bizet, without ever finding it, or understanding that the duende he pursued had rebounded from the mystery-minded Greeks to the Dancers of Cádiz or the gored, Dionysian cry of Silverio’s siguiriya.

This suggestion of a larger context in which to place duende is akin to both the ‘longing for uniqueness’ that Svetlana Boym speaks of when discussing the synonyms of yearning (all of the things Lorca mentions are unique, just as all grammars of nostalgia are) and a longing for negotiation (Umberto Eco’s definition of translation is ‘negotiation’).


15 Apr

Painting by Almeida_Junior_Saudade_1899One quality which fado must possess, as all guidebooks will attest, is saudade. I’ll begin my investigation of this magical word with a curious fragment from September 1928, in which the Spanish poet Miguel de Unamuno nestles the word ‘saudade’ among a selection of Spanish and Galician terms with which he wishes it to forge a poetic connection:

Morriña, saudade, iñor,
añoranza, señardá,
soleares, ay, Señor,
¿ cuándo el dia llegará ?

(untitled poem in Escritos de Unamuno sobre Portugal, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1985)

The words the poet chooses all express a sense of longing for which the final line (‘Lord, when will the day arrive?’) provides a ‘translation’. It was not the first time Unamuno had sought to find connections between Spanish and Portuguese terms of longing; a poem from earlier the same year, entitled ‘Soidade + Saúde = Saudade’, attempted a poetic etymology that made much of the relationship between the Portuguese words of the title and the Spanish words soledad (solitude) and salud (health). In doing so the poet was tapping into a debate that had long been underway in Portugal about the correspondence, or lack thereof, between saudade and words from other languages. Aniceto dos Reis Gonçalves Viana, writing a critique of Hugo Schuchardt’s Die Cantes Flamencos in 1882, had the following to say on the relationship:

The Spanish word soledad is given [by Schuchardt] as corresponding perfectly in its sense to the Portuguese saudade … Looking at the soleá, the word soledad does not correspond to saudade, but rather to ‘solitude’, solidão.

Saudade is nothing like this. Saudade is ‘the sorrow of not having enjoyed that which was there to be enjoyed; it is the vehement but resigned desire to enjoy a thing we were deeply attached to; and also the yearning to see, or be in the company of, someone from whom we have reluctantly been parted’.

(Quoted in Dalila L. Pereira da Costa & Pinharanda Gomes, Introdução à Saudade: Antologia Teórica e Aproximação Crítica (Porto, Lello & Irmão, 1976), p. 10.)

Viana then goes on to liken saudade to the German Sehnsucht, the Icelandic saknadr, the Swedish saknad and the Danish Sawn. As for an English equivalent, he can only settle for a phrase he finds in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones: ‘The remembrance of past pleasure affects us with a kind of tender grief, like what we suffer for departed friends; and the ideas of both may be said to haunt our imagination.’ 

Aubrey Bell, writing some twenty years later, states that ‘the word cannot be translated exactly, but corresponds to the Greek πόθος, Latin desiderium, Catalan anyoranza, Galician morriña, German Sehnsucht, Russian тоска (pron. taská). It is the “passion for which I can find no name”’. (Aubrey F.G. Bell, Portuguese Literature (Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 135, fn. 1.) Interestingly, Bell, like Viana before him, does not attempt a single English term for saudade, relying on a list of words in other languages and a quotation from George Gissing’s The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft. Actually, this is a misquotation; the original reads ‘a passion to which I can give no name’. The difference is immaterial yet it is worth remembering the original phrase within its context as it is most appropriate for a consideration of the relationship between loss and desire that saudade is supposed to evoke. Ryecroft’s place of longing has therefore been given its own entry.

The assumption by Bell seems to be that the foreign words are translatable amongst themselves (or are, at least, in ‘correspondence’ with each other) but not into English and that an allusion to a literary work about memory and meditation on loss is the nearest that we, as English speakers, might come to an understanding of saudade. A chain of references is set up through which a contemporary reader coming upon Bell’s footnote of 1922 (probably via references to Bell in later works) is led to Gissing’s fictional pastoralist Ryecroft and a whole set of methods of dealing with the past that in turn form a major defining aspect of modernity. Rodney Gallop provides us with yet more definitions:

In a word saudade is yearning: yearning for something so indefinite as to be indefinable: an unrestrained indulgence in yearning. It is a blend of German Sehnsucht, French nostalgie, and something else besides. It couples the vague longing of the Celt for the unattainable with a Latin sense of reality which induces realization that it is indeed unattainable, and with the resultant discouragement and resignation. All this is implied in the lilting measures of the fado, in its languid triplets and, as it were, drooping cadences.

(Rodney Gallop, ‘The Fado: The Portuguese Song of Fate’, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1933), pp. 211-2).

As these references increase, the need to negotiate a path through them – to find, perhaps, our own correspondence with the terms of reference – becomes ever more necessary; this is what Umberto Eco seems to drive at when he speaks of ‘translation as negotiation’. Svetlana Boym, for her part, likens saudade to the Czech litost, Russian toska, Polish tesknota and Romanian dor, and points out how each nation claims its term as untranslatable: ‘While each term preserves the specific rhythms of the language, one is struck by the fact that all these untranslatable words are in fact synonyms; and all share the desire for untranslatability, the longing for uniqueness. While the details and flavors differ, the grammar of romantic nostalgias all over the world is quite similar. “I long therefore I am” became the romantic motto.’ (Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001), p. 13).

One might well wonder given all this, especially after being informed that saudade is one of the essential ingredients of fado music, if there was a line of thought to be traversed whereby the ‘untranslatability’ of saudade would mean the impossibility of the conditions to describe an appreciation of fado by a non-Portuguese speaker (which would not necessarily entail going as far as to declare the impossibility of appreciating ‘the music itself”, though to do so would help to push at what we really mean by ‘the music’) – the logic being that, if fado must contain saudade, and saudade cannot be translated, then how do we translate, or negotiate, our appreciation of the music? Picking at this line of thought would inevitably lead us to further questions. Does, or can, saudade mean the same for all Portuguese (the implication, after all, in so many texts)?  Does it mean the same for other Portuguese speakers, for Brazilians, Angolans, Cape Verdeans? How might saudade be considered as another type of fencing-off? How, in the light of such reflections, do we understand loss and its expression as universal qualities?

Henry Ryecroft’s Place of Longing

15 Apr

The Private Papers of Henry RyecroftI have been spending a week in Somerset. The right June weather put me in the mind for rambling, and my thoughts turned to the Severn Sea. I went to Glastonbury and Wells, and on to Cheddar, and so to the shore of the Channel at Clevedon, remembering my holiday of fifteen years ago, and too often losing myself in a contrast of the man I was then and what I am now. Beautiful beyond all words of description that nook of oldest England; but that I feared the moist and misty winter climate, I should have chosen some spot below the Mendips for my home and resting-place. Unspeakable the charm to my ear of those old names; exquisite the quiet of those little towns, lost amid tilth and pasture, untouched as yet by the fury of modern life, their ancient sanctuaries guarded, as it were, by noble trees and hedges overrun with flowers. In all England there is no sweeter and more varied prospect than that from the hill of the Holy Thorn at Glastonbury; in all England there is no lovelier musing place than the leafy walk beside the Palace Moat at Wells. As I think of the golden hours I spent there, a passion to which I can give no name takes hold upon me; my heart trembles with an indefinable ecstasy.

(George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (London: Archibald Constable & Co., 1904), pp. 81-2.)

The Music of Fado

15 Apr

guitarra portuguesaInstrumentally, fado is distinguished by the use of the guitarra portuguesa, a pear-shaped lute- or cittern-like instrument with twelve steel strings (tuned DDAABBEEAABB, from low to high, in the Lisbon style to which I mostly refer). The guitarra is played via a combination of strumming and plucking, using mostly the thumb and index finger, on which are worn unhas (‘nails’). Although in the past the guitarra had provided only harmony, by the period covered in Fado and the Place of Longing it had taken a more dominant role as provider of the melody in instrumental numbers or melodic counterpart to the voice in songs. The other constant accompaniment is provided by the viola (Spanish guitar), which provides harmony and rhythm predominantly but may occasionally lead. In addition, especially in contemporary practice, a viola baixo (acoustic bass guitar) is often added. Additional percussion is rarely used.

The fado singer Ana MouraThe fado singer, or fadista, tends to take the centre stage in a performance of gesture, phrasing and verbal improvisation that serves to heighten the drama of the lyric and lead the song to an appropriately momentous conclusion. Drama is often emphasized by alternating between registers and songs invariably close on a vocal climax that repeats the last part of the final verse or chorus and is punctuated by a two-chord full stop, or exclamation mark, from the guitars (generally, V–I). Lyrics are of vital importance in fado and, while some are improvised (especially in amateur settings), most are the work of fado lyricists who are not normally involved in the performing group. Adaptations of so-called ‘erudite poetry’ are common and mix with more down to earth variations of a range of lyrical themes.

Stylistically, Lisbon fado can generally be divided into fado castiço (‘authentic fado’, also known as fado fado, fado clássico and fado tradicional) and fado canção (‘song fado’). Fado castiço styles were concretized in the mid-late eighteenth century and include fado corrido (‘running fado’), fado mouraria (named after the Lisbon district discussed earlier) and fado menor (‘minor fado’) and numerous variations of these three basic styles often named after particular guitarists and composers. Salwa Castelo-Branco provides a useful and concise description of the castiço styles:

All three fados have fixed rhythmic and harmonic schemes (I–V) and a fixed accompaniment pattern consisting of a melodic motif that is constantly repeated, at times with slight variation. Using these patterns as a basis, the melody is either composed or improvised. Texts are usually set to one of the most common poetic structures, such as the quatrain or five-, six- and ten-verse stanzas. The accompaniment pattern, the I–V harmonic scheme and the regular 4/4 metre are the identifying elements of these fados and are basically fixed. All other elements are variable. Fado corrido and mouraria, in the major mode, are usually performed in a fast tempo and have similar accompaniment patterns. Fado menor is in the minor mode and is often performed in a slow tempo.

(Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco, ‘Fado’, in L. Macy (ed.), Grove Music Online,

Fado canção was a development of the late nineteenth century and evolved through theatrical revistas (shows). It is distinguished by a stanza- and refrain-based song style and uses more complex harmonic structures. It is this style that came to be associated with Amália Rodrigues and those influenced by her, although both Amália and the ‘new fadistas’ continued to perform the more traditional styles.

Three classic examples of the castiço styles that can be fairly easily sourced are:
Lucília do Carmo, ‘Maria Madalena’ (fado mouraria)
Carlos do Carmo, ‘Por Morrer uma Andorinha’ (fado menor)
Maria Teresa de Noronha, ‘Corrido em Cinco Estilos’ (fado corrido)

Miguel Baptista has posted videos of the basic guitarra styles on YouTube.

Classic examples of fado canção include Alfredo Marceneiro’s ‘Há Festa na Mouraria‘ and Amália Rodrigues’s ‘Gaivota’.

Tudo Isto É Fado

15 Apr

Another oft-quoted introduction to fado’s ontology is a song made famous by Amália Rodrigues entitled ‘Tudo Isto É Fado’ [All of This Is Fado], in which the narrator initially claims not to know what fado is before going on to list a number of its features: ‘defeated souls, lost nights, bizarre shadows in the Mouraria’. The list continues as it leads to the famous refrain: ‘Amor, ciúme / Cinzas e lume / Dor e pecado / Tudo isto existe / Tudo isto é triste / Tudo isto é fado’ [Love, jealousy / Ashes and fire / Sorrow and sin / All of this exists / All of this is sad / All of this is fado.].

The song can be heard here. The full lyrics can be found here.

Sonically, the song provides as good an introduction as any to fado, opening with the distinctive tinkle of the guitarra, leading into the interplay between guitarra and viola (the Portuguese name for the Spanish guitar which is the other main accompanying instrument in fado) and providing an excellent example of Amália’s art as, within the space of the first short verse, she displays her famous melisma (‘perguntaste-me’) and hovers majestically on the word ‘fado’. The song, originally recorded by Rodrigues at Abbey Road in 1952, became one of those on which her reputation as the ‘queen of fado’ would rest.

Cover of José Régio's Fado

Another example of fado’s desire to explain itself can be found in a book of poems entitled Fado, produced by José Régio in 1941. Its most famous poem ‘Fado Português’ recounts the maritime myth of fado’s origins, identifying the strong connection to the sea found in Portugal’s history and the loneliness of the mariner in the midst of the watery expanse. ‘Fado’, we are told, ‘was born … In the breast of a sailor / Who, feeling sad, sang’. Régio’s poem was, perhaps inevitably, set to music and became part of Amália’s repertoire. Amália’s version, with music by Alain Oulman, shortened and slightly reworded Régio’s original poem.

Amália’s version can be heard here. Régio’s poem can be found here.

Cover of Fado, Alma de um Povo

The maritime myth is taken to arguably its greatest extreme in Maria Luísa Guerra’s Fado, Alma de um Povo [Fado, Soul of a People], in which the music is presented as an ‘existential cry’ born of the loneliness of the high seas. One of the reasons for the popularity of the maritime origin of fado is the connection to Portugal’s proud seafaring past and its significant colonial endeavours. While one searches in vain in narratives such as Guerra’s for any proof that what we know now as fado really owes its existence to these sailors, the connection to the sea cannot be dismissed. Lisbon has been an important port for centuries and has been witness to the comings and goings of myriad cultures; most commentators agree that it is this mixing of cultural practices along the banks of the Tejo River that most likely gave birth to fado and that, contrary to the nationalist insistence on Portuguese purity, Brazilians and Africans most likely had some involvement in the process.

Whatever the shortcomings of descriptions which lean towards mythology, many are excellent at delineating the world of fado texts, the basis of fado poetics. One could do worse than consult the chapter titles of Mascarenhas Barreto’s Fado: Lyrical Origins and Poetic Motivation to gain an insight into what fado is: Saudade, Bullfighting, Places, Street Cries, Windows/Eyes/Kisses, Sailors, Jealousy, Guitarras, and Destiny are among his principle topics. Guerra, meanwhile, provides her own ‘thematic profile’ of fado: love, hate, shame, separation, hurt, sadness, despair, betrayal, destiny, disgrace, solitude, luck, travel, memory, anxiety, bitterness, fatalism, forgetting, politics, tears, hope, passion, happiness, the human condition, time, life, death, saudade and fado itself. (These words should, of course, be witnessed in their original language: amor, ódio, ciúme, separação, dor, tristeza, despedida, traição, destino, desgraça, solidão, sorte, viagem, lembrança, ansiedade, amargura, fatalismo, esquecimento, política, lágrimas, esperança, paixão, felicidade, condição humana, tempo, vida, morte, saudade, fado.

This seems an extensive list and one which might well be applied to other song genres. Certainly, as one works through it and through the ensuing pages that Guerra devotes to each of these themes, one wonders if there is anything that fado is not about; Guerra herself suggests that it represents a phenomenology of life. Yet the list is also specific enough to give a fairly good demarcation of the world of fado songs. I would wish to add at least the following to it: an obsession with the city of Lisbon; a sense of witnessing, carrying and unburdening, connected to a number of the emotions listed above; and the act of being a fadista. This latter is summed up in Artur Ribeiro’s ‘O Fado de Ser Fadista’ [The Fado/Fate of Being a Fadista ], in which fado is described as ‘everything that happens / When we laugh or cry / When we recall or forget / When we hate or love’.  The question of whether fado was happy or sad was also addressed – poetically, if indecisively – by the great modernist poet Fernando Pessoa:

All poetry – and song is an assisted poetry – reflects what the soul lacks. For this reason, the song of sad people is happy and the song of happy people is sad. Fado is neither happy nor sad. It is an episode of the interval … Fado is the weariness of the strong soul, the gaze of contempt that Portugal directs to the God in whom it believed and who abandoned it.

(This statement, much cited but rarely referenced, appeared in a piece Pessoa wrote for Notícias Ilustrado, published on 14 April 1929.)

Cover of Pinto de Carvalho's Historia do Fado

While it is possible to find accounts of fado dating back to the eighteenth century, and while writers such as Guerra have been keen to highlight an archaeology of fado discourse stretching even further, the debates described here are generally sourced from a number of works that have appeared in the twentieth century. In many ways, the fadology alluded to here can be said to have been born with the twentieth century for two important reasons. Firstly, the appearance of José Pinto de Carvalho’s history of fado in 1903 serves as a major source for subsequent histories and thus casts a giant shadow across the historiography of the genre. Secondly, and more controversially, in considering fado as a durable musical genre from the perspective of the twenty-first century, I suggest that fado, like so many musical genres we are now accustomed to, is an invention of the phonographic era. It is this era, and in particular its twentieth century formulation, that has ‘fixed’ musical styles and genres like no other before it, even as it has allowed for seemingly endless new experimentation, cross-genre fusion and deconstruction.

Label from a fado 78

The phonographic era has also led to the possibility to disseminate the music to a much wider audience than ever before. While English language descriptions of fado practice from the nineteenth century are invariably sourced from travel literature, and while twentieth century folklorists and ethnomusicologists have continued to provide accounts from the field, it has nevertheless been possible for many to indulge in the virtual tourism of experiencing fado via its mediation in films and recordings. This has created a desire for information about the music in languages other than Portuguese. A comprehensive fado history in English has yet to be completed, although Paul Vernon’s A History of the Portuguese Fado goes part of the way towards achieving this goal. Vernon’s work leans heavily on Rodney Gallop’s analysis of fado from the 1930s and is somewhat lacking in translations of subsequent Portuguese scholarship. To find other work on fado in English, it has been necessary to seek out scholarly articles in music encyclopaedias and general accounts in world music guidebooks, magazines and websites, although happily this situation is starting to change.