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Saudade

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?

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The Road to Novo Fado (I)

9 May

A number of artists who were identified with the Portuguese rock boom  of the 1980s made a connection with fado, no doubt as a strategy to localize the otherwise ‘placeless place’ of Anglo-American pop and rock. Mler Ife Dada, a group formed in 1984 in Cascais, provide a good example of this strategy. In 1986, the group were joined by singer Anabela Duarte, who participated on two seminal albums, Coisas Que Fascinam (1987) and Espírito Invisível (1989). The latter contained a song called ‘Dance Music’ which set up the complexities of the Portuguese popular musical field simply but effectively: over a funk arrangement of bass, horns and guitar, an angry male voice asks in a semi-rap (in English), ‘Why do you have to hear dance music on your radio / if you’re not dancing, you’re listening to the radio?’ and then ‘Why do you have to hear this song in English language / If you’re not English and this ain’t no English song?’  The first album contained a number of varied elements, from experimental pop-rock with dada-ist overtones to music informed by an explicit internationalism. ‘À Sombra Desta Pirâmide’ includes Arabic sonorities; ‘Siô Djuzé’, a brief duet between Duarte and Rui Reininho uses the style of Cape Verdean coladeira; ‘Passarella’ mixes English lyrics with Portuguese; and ‘Desastre De Automóvel Em Varão De Escadas’ uses random lines of German alongside wordless singing and a musical accompaniment that evokes the honking of car horns. ‘Alfama’ is clearly a gesture towards fado, performed not by a particular instrumental style but via the sense of place evoked in the lyrics and by Duarte’s voicing of the words. Against a minimal electric guitar, an associative style is used in which a number of features are hymned: the Alfama of painted shards, of paint, of winds on the river, knife tips, alpaca, famous people, the flea market, and ‘knife-like winds  / that slice Alfama  / into doors painted / with the fame of fado’.  The lyrics involve a series of plays on words and heavy use of alliteration so that the ultimate number of associations is multiplied, the portrait becoming more than the sum of its parts, an intricate word labyrinth that echoes the tumbling streets of its subject.

Duarte went on to release a series of solo albums, including Lishbunah (1988), which included traditional fado instrumentation (Martinho de Assunção on viola and Manuel Mendes on guitarra portuguesa), opening it with José Régio’s poem of fadontology, ‘Fado Português’. Over a decade later, Duarte produced a more ghostly and futuristic fado on the album Delito (1999), which reprised her Mler Ife Dada song ‘Alfama’ and introduced a new piece called ‘Planeta Phado’. The album did not utilize fado instrumentation but relied on a variety of sounds and recording and post-production techniques to lend the music a fractured, fragile quality. ‘Planeta Phado’ presents itself as a sort of palimpsest, a new song sung (or recorded) over the distant trace of a traditional lament. Speaking about her ideas for the album, Duarte said:

We need to take the fado further. Cut its corsets, let it breathe. There have been some bold attempts, but a cyber-fado would be something completely new. In Planeta Phado, I tried to mix Blade Runner with fado. The cloning and the mechanisms of fiction and the multiple directions, or simultaneous directions, the matrix, cyberpunk, is something that has not been attempted yet in fado. Phado Planet is there.

Duarte did not specify who had been responsible for the previous ‘bold attempts’ to ally fado with other sonic possibilities but she might have been thinking of António Variações. Variações (a pseudonym taken from the Portuguese word for ‘variations’) was responsible for ‘queering’ both fado and Portuguese pop by fusing elements of folk, fado, new wave and other contemporary pop forms in his music and by applying an openly homosexual appropriation of Portuguese musical tradition. Prior to his premature death in 1984, Variações released two revolutionary albums Anjo de Guarda (1983) and Dar & Receber (1984), the former containing a version of ‘Povo Que Lavas no Rio’ which removed the song from traditional fado accompaniment by adding synthesizer, drums and electric bass. Vocally, the song is not so far removed from Amália’s  version, with Variações’s vocals often operating on a high, ‘feminine’ register, and this was something the singer seemed to recognise in another song on the album, ‘Voz-Amália-de-Nós’, where he sings ‘We all have Amália in our voice’. At the same time, this register alternates with a deeper ‘blank croon’ (more noticeable on the album’s third track ‘Visões-Ficções (Nostradamus)’), suggesting a hitherto unexplored connection between Rodrigues, Nico and Brian Ferry, another of the singer’s influences.  Variações’s albums were popular in Portugal, suggesting the ways that the 1980s might sound and playing a dominant role in interpellating young people into the pop world, including those musicians (the fadista Camané among them) who came together in 2004 as the group Humanos to record a highly successful album of songs written by Variações.

Paulo Bragança is an interesting figure to mention in this context. Like Variações, he had a sacrilegious approach to fado that was nonetheless rooted in a serious consideration of fado’s possibilities. Declaring himself an enemy of the genteel tradition of the puristas, Bragança took upon himself the role of a ‘true fadista’ by drawing comparisons between the original fadistas and the punks. He would perform on the fado circuit barefoot, dressed in jeans, T-shirts and leather jackets and making declarations such as ‘Fado for Portugal is like a sacred altar covered in dust. And if someone dares to clear the dust, he’ll be shot.’  Bragança’s first album Notas Sobre a Alma (1992), which featured the guitarra of Mário Pacheco and the viola and production of Jorge Fernando (a major figure in what was to become novo fado), was restricted to mostly traditional fado, apparently at the request of his record company. His second, Amai (1994), was a different affair, featuring a wide range of instruments (synthesizers, samplers, organ, guitarra, accordion, and strings) and styles (fado, flamenco, rock, pop and Brazilian music) and containing a number of self-written songs and cover versions of non-fado material, such as Nick Cave’s ‘Sorrow’s Child’ (in English) and Heróis do Mar’s ‘Adeus’. The bringing together of Cave’s lyric and Pacheco’s guitarra, as mentioned in a previous post, was designed as a way of showing how saudade and a fadista worldview could reside in musics outside the Portuguese world. In 1996 Luaka Bop, the label created by David Byrne and Yale Evelev to promote progressive world music, reissued Amai for an international market; Bragança and Carlos Maria Trindade of Madredeus also contributed a track to Red Hot & Lisbon (1999), a compilation released by Luaka Bop as a snapshot of Lusophone music at the time of Expo 98 in Lisbon. Bragança released a third solo album in 1996 containing traditional fados and a fourth (Lua Semi-Nua) in 2001 which reprised the large instrumental palette of Amai and contained a number of songs written by pop legend José Cid, who also produced the album.

Gaivota

2 May

References to the city occur even in highly metaphorical fados; here, the intention seems not so much to describe or represent the city as to ground otherwise ‘universal’ material. An example can be found in a lyric written by Amália Rodrigues, in which she speaks of an ‘icy sea’ that enters her when her lover is absent and of being ‘um barco naufragado / Mesmo sem sair do Tejo’ [a boat shipwrecked / without even leaving the Tejo]. In another fado associated with Amália, Alexandre O’Neill’s ‘Gaivota’ [Seagull], we hear of a seagull that might come ‘trazer-me o céu de Lisboa’ [to bring me the Lisbon sky]. The success of this song, which has been recorded by a number of performers, has arguably strengthened the possibility of a metonymy utilized in many fados whereby the image of the ‘gaivota’ comes to stand in for Lisbon itself. The same can be said for the ‘Varinas’ mentioned in many older fados; these are female fish sellers famed for carrying their baskets of fish on their heads as they walked through the streets. Now more prevalent in songs than in reality, they are also hymned by mythologists such as Ángel Crespo.

Alfama Rooftops

‘Gaivota’ also highlights the desire to move to a space where one can look down on the city. As Michel de Certeau and numerous cultural geographers have pointed out, the ‘God’s eye’ view of the city beloved of urban planners and readers of the city-as-text often mixes uneasily, and even antagonistically, with the lived text of the street level view. But that does not alter the fact that such a perspective remains a dseirable one, even in everyday life. It is, after all, what allows us to read the city and try to get a sense of what the city might mean. While it is true that the view from above is one which has power and authority attached to it, it is also a view that the city itself – in the form of the polis, the citizens – requests. There is a pleasure to viewpoints that allow a looking-back on the city text, which is why they are frequently included on tourist itineraries and prominently signposted from the ‘depths’ of the city itself.

Fado’s association with Alfama has allowed its songwriters not only to negotiate the dark alleyways and labyrinths of the quarter, but also to look down on the city and the river below. Hermínia Silva can thus sing of the ‘Telhados de Lisboa’ [Rooftops of Lisbon] and Tristão da Silva of the view ‘Da Janela do Meu Quarto’ [From the Window of My Room], from where he sees Alfama, the seven hills of Lisbon, the varinas, the cathedral and the Tejo.

Let’s return to ‘Gaivota’, a fine example of fado canção. Written by Alexandre O’Neill, set to music by Alain Oulman and recorded by Amália Rodrigues, the song became a twentieth century fado classic. Central to its appeal are the dense metaphorical language, the references to Lisbon (nothing too obsessive, just the sky above the city that allows us a view of its streets and the possibility to be carried away on the wind and over the sea), a maritime flavour, an aching longing at the heart of the refrain and Amália’s deep saudade­-drenched voice. The song was both a culmination of all those seagulls that had provided part of the poetic language of fado and an inspiration to subsequent fados. In the 1970s, Carlos do Carmo lent his jazz-influenced phrasing to the song and it was reinvented, arguably becoming as much his as it was Amália’s.

In 1990, Carmo’s occasional collaborator Paulo de Carvalho included the song on his album Gostar de Ti, a pop-fado project that mixed state-of-the-art keyboard sounds with guitarra. In 1998 it became one of Lula Pena’s ‘phados’, a stark, almost-not-there exercise for husky voice and guitar haunted by the ghostly presence of Amália. In 2002, Gonçalo Salgueiro used the song to show his dedication to the Amálian event and to highlight his vocal ornamentation, while Carlos do Carmo sang a more unusual version than normal to the accompaniment of Joel Xavier’s inspired acoustic guitar improvisation. Margarida Bessa’s version from 1995, complete with tenor saxophone, turned up on Metro’s Café Portugal in 2004, one part of a jigsaw of songs making up that invisible city. Cristina Branco used ‘Gaivota’ as a homecoming at the close of her far-ranging album Ulisses. For the Quinteto Jazz de Lisboa and for Paula Oliveira and Bernardo Moreira it became once more an exercise in jazz singing, Oliveira providing an achingly fragile reading over Leo Tardin’s minimal piano that aimed for the song’s lonely heart. Then in 2009 ‘Gaivota’ was suddenly the focal point for a Number One album by Hoje, the project featuring members of pop band The Gift, whose Nuno Gonçalves wished to prove that ‘Amália is more than fado – Amália is pop’ (see the group’s MySpace page).

What to make of the nearly fifty year flight of this seagull? Does it tell us a story about fado or ‘only’ about Amália? Can the two be separated at this stage? Can ‘Gaivota’ tell us any more about what fado ‘is’? Does its arrangement determine its fado-ness? If so, does Carlos do Carmo stop being a fadista when accompanied by Joel Xavier? How does fado differ from other song genres? How does the commissioning of lyrics and arrangements affect authenticity in comparison to pop and rock? Was ‘Gaivota’ always a pop song, as Nuno Gonçalves claims? And what does it mean to claim, as Gonçalves does, that ‘pop’ is something bigger than ‘fado’? Hoje’s version soars and swoops, aiming for that place on high from where the lyric speaks and proving itself to be a song about singing, about fado and pop music: a self-aware object that escapes the drooping cadence. But which version can be said to be truer to the word and spirit of fado? The fact is that groups such as A Naifa, Donna Maria, OqueStrada and Hoje seem to climb to a place outside of fado. But this would suggest a music that ‘just is’ and a music that ‘gets outside’, which seems too neat. What are the elements within fado itself that make it seem ‘natural’, ‘transparent’?

Witnessing, Carrying, Bringing (I)

1 Mar

As suggested previously, the acts of carrying, bearing and bringing-to-bear are crucial to the process of witnessing. The kind of carrying I am thinking of can be heard in a fado written by Amália Rodrigues and recorded on one of her late albums. It is entitled ‘Trago Fados nos Sentidos’ [I Carry Fados in My Senses]:

Trago fados nos sentidos
Tristezas no coração
Trago os meus sonhos perdidos
Em noites de solidão.

Trago versos trago sons
D’uma grande sinfonia
Tocada em todos os tons
Da tristeza e d’agonia.

[I carry fados in my senses
Sadness in my heart
I bear my lost dreams
In nights of loneliness

I bear verses, I bear sounds
Of a grand symphony
Played in all the tones
From sadness to agony]

This is the form of witnessing which I believe is most important to fado, this sense of carrying and unburdening, of passing on. Interestingly, in other versions of this song such as that recorded by Cristina Branco, the word ‘fados’ is changed in the title and the verse to ‘fado’.  The change is slight but helps us to make the claim for fado not only as a series of witnessed symbols but also as a process of witnessing.

The verb ‘trazer’, from which ‘trago’ comes is very popular in fado texts. It can be translated variously as ‘to bring’, ‘to wear’, ‘to bear’ and ‘to carry’. Among contemporary fado lyricists, Helder Moutinho seems particularly fond of the verb. In ‘Ai do Vento’, he sings ‘Sao as saudades que nos trazem as tristezas…’ [It’s saudades that bring us sadness]; in ‘Ao Velho Cantor’, he addresses an ‘old singer of the past’ whose eyes ‘trazem imagens de fados’ [bear images of fados]; in ‘Não Guardo Saudade a Vida’ he claims ‘Trago a saudade esquecida’ [I carry a forgotten saudade]. One of Moutinho’s albums even bears the title Que Fado É Este Que Trago? [What Fado/Fate Is This That I Bear?]. Even when this verb is not used we find many lyrics which deal with what is borne or held inside by the singer, such as the ‘fado no peito’ [fado in my breast] in Moutinho’s ‘Lisboa das Mil Janelas’.

A vital correlative, and one which connects with the sense of fate, is the sense of being carried too, as in Ana Laíns’s ‘O Fado Que Me Traga’ [The Fado/Fate That Carries Me]. A crucial metaphor in bringing together these senses of carrying and being carried is the air, and especially the wind, that carries our testimony to others and delivers theirs to us. Helder Moutinho’s ‘Fado Refugio’ speaks of carrying ‘in my voice / the life that has been offered me’ and each verse contains the line ‘Eu trago na voz o vento’ [I carry the wind in my voice].  Many fados talk about the wind and things which are carried on the wind, not only the seagulls that populate numerous songs but also the uncertainties and hopes of the future. The wind is also a force against which things are fixed, so as not to blow away or be turned: the wind of change, or of destiny. The wind is both something that carries, upon which one can be passive, and something that threatens loss: words disappear into the wind. Ana Laíns’s ‘Pouco Tempo’ is an attempt to preserve what is being lost to the wind. This is the message the written text (a poem by Lídia Oliveira) tells us and to a certain extent it is the message that the song enacts; by being a song it is a song dispersed in the air and lost. Like the poem, though, the CD on which we find Laíns’s performance tells us something else: the concept has been fixed in rhyme, set to music (‘set’ promises permanence) and recorded.

‘Ai Mouraria’, recorded by a number of fadistas, speaks of ‘Amor que o vento, como um lamento / Levou consigo / Mas que ainda agora / A toda a hora / Trago comigo’ [Love that the wind, like a lament / Carried with it / But that still now / All the time / I carry with me].  In this song, the love that the singer remembers and that disappeared with the wind, is connected to the winds of change and destiny that would affect Mouraria itself, making it both an example of the kind of mourning work described by Michael Colvin and an example of the bringing together of personal and public memories. The numerous recordings of the song by Amália at different points in her career helped to ensure that this relationship remained in people’s minds.
By the 1960s, when Amália came to record this song once more, the trope of the wind was prevalent in many popular songs. Bob Dylan used it in a number of songs that looked back to the folk, blues and country traditions of singing about travelling and being ‘in the wind’. Most famous, however, would be his use of the trope as a political metaphor in ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. The lyric of that song finds an interesting parallel in a song entitled ‘Trova do Vento Que Passa’ [Ballad of the Wind That Passes], written by the Portuguese poet Manuel Alegre and roughly contemporaneous with Dylan’s anthem.

Alegre had been imprisoned by the PIDE, the special police force of the Estado Novo, for his political views. Following his release he spent half a year in Angola, returning to Portugal in 1963 where he wrote ‘Trova do Vento Que Passa’. The words were set to music by António Portugal and performed by Adriano Correia de Oliveira, a singer associated with the Coimbra fado. ‘Trova’ made an instant impression with listeners and became a popular staple of the student resistance against the Salazar regime much as Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ would in the US Civil Rights Movement.

Adriano’s version had three verses, which describe the poet asking the wind for news of his country but hearing nothing. The second verse claims that ‘There is always someone that sows / Songs on the wind that passes’, while the third affirms that ‘Even on the saddest night / During time of servitude / There is always someone who resists / There is always someone who says no’.  The verses provide a number of issues familiar to the other songs mentioned above, including the unanswering wind, a voice lost in the wind and a sense of futility. But the message changes and the crucial final lines get their full enunciatory power as the repeated words that resolve the song, becoming the ‘answer’ that had been missing. Manuel Alegre himself emphasized the importance of music in the creation of poems and poetry; music allowed the poem ‘to be a vehicle of history and memory, to sing of love or to give the signal of past or future epics, to inform and to form, to witness and to bear witness.’

Amália recorded Alegre’s poem in 1970 on Com Que Voz, her album of adaptations of great Portuguese poets, with different music composed by Alain Oulman. The version adds a verse that highlights the carrying nature of fate, describing rivers that ‘take dreams and leave sorrows’.  Amália recorded two more verses of the poem, making her version more wordy than Oliveira’s. She did not, however, include the outspoken final verse and, unusually for a fado, the final lines of her version are not stressed; instead the voice disappears and the guitars bring the piece to a restrained close. It could be argued that these two versions present opposing qualities of activity and passivity. Although Amália’s version is sometimes cited as an example of her alliance with committed leftists poets, the use of different music and the removal of the ‘call to arms’ could be said to severely lessen the impact, making it a universal song about love, exile and loss as Amália was to also say of the song ‘Abandono’ which she recorded around the same time.

Fate

26 Feb

Of all Pessoa’s creations, Ricardo Reis is both the most classically-minded and the one who dwells closest to the classical sense of fate that fado seems to echo. ‘Each man fulfils the destiny he must fulfil’, he writes:

Like stones that border flower beds
We are arranged by Fate, and there remain,
Our lot having placed us
Where we had to be placed.
Let’s have no better knowledge of what
Was our due than that it was our due.

The images of collapse, resignation and decay in fado – homologically registered in  falling vocal lines (what Rodney Gallop called fado’s ‘drooping cadences’) – cannot help but associate fado with an absence of agency, the mirror image of a ‘collapsed’ and fatalistic people. But in placing fado against political ideology it is never altogether clear how the music ‘sizes up’. In hymning decay/decadence, could the music in fact have been a retort to an Estado Novo whose very raison d’être was to arrest further decay? What is the significance in the fact that the State was unable to completely adopt and assimilate fado, that it was unable to paper over the cracks that fado revealed? Is it conceivable that fado could be what Roland Barthes called an ‘acratic language’ in its refusal to be assimilated?

António Osório, the author of A Mitologia Fadista, would vehemently deny such a claim. For Osório fado, in addition to idealizing poverty and objectifying women, hymned a defeatism bound up in ‘saudosismo, “the fumes of India”, Sebastianismo, the “spectres of the past”, the petulance of Marialva, a lachrymose predisposition, … narrow-mindedness … [and] a distaste for life’.  Going on to parody the famous Amália Rodrigues song ‘Tudo Isto É Fado’, Osório wrote:

Misery, prostitution, sickness, dishonour, debasement, all this is ‘fado’. It explains and, indirectly, absolves all ills. Before the ‘laws of destiny’, willpower shows itself to be non-existent; the ‘philosophy’ of fado condenses into an inexorable fatalism, ultimately nothing more than the fatum mahumetanum defined by Leibniz:  free will can never be because men and events are automatically governed by the ‘force of things’. The corollary can be instantly deduced – no one is responsible for anything.

Such an opinion was undoubtedly persuasive in Portugal in 1974, when Osório was writing. Apathy in the face of authoritarianism had festered for too long and change was needed. Fado was discouraged but refused to crawl away and die in a pool of its own tears. Why? One suggestion is that the power of fado’s mythemes and the ease with which it can be connected to ideas of Portugueseness – however problematic such a concept remains – enforce its appropriateness and effectiveness as a staging of a traumatic jouissance that has meaning far beyond the world of fado music. It could be argued that Osório overstated his case and, effectively, centred fado and the ‘fadista mythology’ as a cause rather than a reflection, as a constitutive element in the formation of subjectivity rather than the recognition of a subjectivity already constituted around a radical loss. He does seem to recognize this possibility at certain points, such as his consideration of how a similar experience is to be found in modern literature:

[M]an’s impotence in the face of circumstance, the central experience of fado, does not only permeate the work of contemporary Portuguese writers, because it is at the heart of Kafka, of Beckett, of all the representative writers of our time. The seeds of dejection proliferate in these times of oppression and individual paralysis.

Locating ideology within a framework suggested by Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek may help us here. In doing so, we can posit the Symbolic as the realm of language, or discourse, that attempts to ‘explain’ the Real but which never can, for the Real remains that which cannot be symbolized. Yet that very lack in the Symbolic Order constitutes a gap and it is because of this gap, if we follow Žižek, that ideology is needed.  To use a metaphor not entirely inappropriate with Lisbon in mind, if the Symbolic acts as a wall to obscure the Real, a wall that has, however, seen better days and which threatens to allow the chill of the Real in through its cracked tiles and holed plaster (to be punctured, as it were, by the Real), then ideology is the sheen of new plaster needed to fill those fissures. A music more concerned with crumbling, decay, collapse and the wounds that rupture the sheen of everyday ‘bearing up’, a music, moreover, which dwells on melancholy and which actively seeks to remain unreconciled to the world can perhaps be a music closer to challenging ideology than might at first be imagined.

Can it be that fado operated, then and occasionally still, as a sublimation of the forces operating on the modern subject, that, furthermore, it has occupied the place of what Catherine Belsey calls an ‘abolished particularity’? Belsey suggests that ‘the abolished particularity returns as resistance, marking the speaking being’s loss of the unnameable real, which is still there, but no longer there-for-a-subject. This resistance makes itself felt not only in individual experience, but also as incoherences in the apparent homogeneity of culture itself.’  The stubbornness of fado’s mythemes, the persistence in which the same elements of Lisbonness, shame, jealousy, collapse, flight, the seasons and saudade are endlessly and imaginatively recombined, suggests an unwillingness to move on from the objectification of loss, a process akin to Freud’s definition of melancholy. But what does it mean to be ‘cured’ of this stubbornness except to be taken once more into the Symbolic realm, a realm one might be unwilling to recognize as one’s own?

Phonography (II)

28 May

Krapp’s Last Tape suggests an updating of relationships between the Proustian ‘involuntary memory’ and Proust’s project of refinding time and place via the act of consciously recording memory; the evocative power of the petite madeleine and the conscious act of recollection of time and place become one in A la recherche du temps perdu. Proust often plays out these different kinds of memory via references to music, such as the episode of Vinteuil’s sonata. Proust’s character M. Swann is initially affected by the music a year before the events being narrated but does not recognize it and has no way of finding out what it is. The following year, at a soiree, Swann rediscovers the music and is this time affected not by the immediate perception of it, but by the memory of it.

Yet, even on the first listen, memory was at work. As Proust describes the impossibility of capturing music due to its fleetingness, he describes memory, in a manner that utilizes an understanding of memory as place, as ‘a labourer working to put down lasting foundations in the midst of the waves, by fabricating for us facsimiles of these fleeting phrases’.  On Swann’s rediscovery of the music, however, he is furnished with a better way of keeping hold of it: ‘now he could ask the name of his stranger … he possessed it, he could have it in his house as often as he liked, try to learn its language and its secret.’  Proust here combines music, place and memory in a number of ways: firstly, Swann’s initial exposure to the music is described in terms of the fleetingness of spatial perception; secondly, his mind attempts to hold onto the music via the swift erection of memory places; thirdly, he is now able have the music ‘in his house’ where he can guard it and visit it as often as he likes.

An example of this process from the world of fado is provided in the figure of Alfredo Marceneiro. Marceneiro did not record extensively, preferring to sing live in the casas de fado in which he was a legendary figure. The contrast between this ‘authentic’ but undocumented world of fado performance and the promise of reproducibility are hymned in the liner notes to the 1960 album The Fabulous Marceneiro:

Here is, at last in high-fidelity, his husky voice, plaintive to the point of near-disintegration, singing fados, tilting melodies that intoxicate like wine. All this we can hear on record for the first time; and those who had the privilege of actually seeing him (a privilege he is jealous of granting) will recall the small figure, the wrinkled face contrasting with the surprisingly black, wavy hair, the swaying body accompanying the inflections of the voice, the silk neckerchief significantly protecting his throat from the outrages of time and weather: the true ‘fadista’, the living legend … For years and years we had been trying to get him to grant us a recording session in high-fidelity. When at last he bowed to our entreaties and could bring himself to come to our studio he was disgusted. He hates machines and things to ‘interfere’ with his fado (he hates ‘progress’ anyway). So he tried to sing with closed eyes not to see the outrage. And when that proved insufficient he grabbed his neckerchief, tied it round his eyes and started to sing all over again in complete darkness. Yet, it is to high-fidelity that we owe this rare joy: the fabulous, reluctant Marceneiro singing for us, in our homes, as many times as we please.

There is much to note here. Most of the points are based around the opposition between Marceneiro as an authentic, and somehow primitive, fadista and the producers and consumers involved in the recording process, who, while perhaps inauthentic, at least have ‘progress’ on their side. The ‘disintegration’ associated with Marceneiro’s voice is not only an aesthetic statement (although as an aesthetic statement it works quite well at pinning down the unsettling nature of his vocal style), but also a comment on a kind of loss that is extra to the loss of saudade being hymned by the singer: the fact that we might lose this voice to the ‘outrages of time and weather’. Without ‘high-fidelity’ recording we would have to rely on memory, just as those who ‘had the privilege of actually seeing him’ have had to do until now. But the recording promises to do more than just fix the voice; on hearing it, we will be able to recall the man himself.

Writing is as important as audio recording here in at least two ways that may not immediately be obvious and which are not stated explicitly. Those behind the recording, along with its consumers, are associated with writing while Marceneiro is associated with speech and the oral tradition. Those of us who have not been fortunate enough to witness Marceneiro in the flesh have been able to read a description of him penned by C. B. Carvalho, meaning that we now possess an image to accompany our listening. Marceneiro, meanwhile, can sing in complete darkness and without the help of a lyric sheet, summoning up the verses from somewhere deep inside him (no mean feat with a lengthy song like ‘Lembro-Me de Ti’. In this sense he is, as Paul Ricoeur says of musicians, an ‘athlete of memory’, set apart from the everyday person even as he lives his authenticity.  Finally, of course, there is the resonant echo of Proust in the closing declaration that we may now possess this elusive moment and relive it ‘as many times as we please’.

Ana Moura: Leva-me aos Fados

10 May

(This is the review I wrote for the recent international release of Ana Moura’s album Leva-me aos Fados [released in Portugal in 2009], with some additional media files added.)

Ana Moura

Ana Moura is a Portuguese fado artist who, like her contemporary Raquel Tavares, has collaborated extensively with songwriter and producer Jorge Fernando, producing work shaped equally by pop and fado traditions. (Fernando has released pop records under his own name, but was also a guitarist for fado’s greatest star, Amália Rodrigues.) “Sou do Fado”, a song by Fernando which appears on Moura’s first album, was structurally quite far from fado, yet also insistently laid claim to the genre: “Sou do fado / Sou do fado / Sou fadista” (“I am of / from fado … I’m a fadista”). Aconteceu (2004), her second album and a double CD, placed songs derived from pop songwriters such as Tozé Brito and writers of fado canção (the more modern refrain-based form of fado) on the first disc and a series of castiço (traditional) fado melodies on the second.

By the time of her third album, Para Além da Saudade (2007), constructed via a similar mixture of traditional and contemporary elements, Moura had perfected a style of singing as clear and direct as another contemporary, Katia Guerreiro, while also developing the look and outlook of a successful pop artist. This combination would earn her acclaim at home (Para Além was a critical and commercial success) and the notice of major international rock and pop stars. Following a concert by Moura at La Cigalle in Paris, it was reported that Prince had flown across the Atlantic in order to see her perform and that the two singers had made plans to record together. It’s unclear whether these plans will come to anything, but an earlier Rolling Stones-related project was released in 2008 (Moura also joined the group onstage in Lisbon to sing “No Expectations”).

Moura has now incorporated “No Expectations” into her own set:

Ana Moura, "Leva-me aos Fados"Moura’s fourth album, first released in Portugal in late 2009, arrives on the back of a steadily growing fanbase and an increasing international visibility. It shouldn’t disappoint either her existing fans or those open to the twists and turns enacted on tradition by the so-called “new fadistas” of the last decade or so. Fernando is once more at the helm, providing production, guitar, and songwriting skills (more than half of the songs are written or co-written by him). In addition to Fernando, Moura is accompanied by the brilliant Custódio Castelo on guitarra portuguesa and Filipe Larsen on acoustic bass. The high production values evident on previous releases are extended to the production of the CD booklet, which includes (for once, excellent) English and French translations of the Portuguese lyrics.

It’s immediately obvious from the opening title track (translated in the CD booklet as “Take Me to a Fado House”) that the vocal attack and phrasing that Moura showcased so well on Para Além da Saudade has been retained. Backed by Castelo’s subtle interventions on the guitarra, Moura manages to evoke a number of fado’s most important elements: its sense of melancholy, of fatalism, and of itself (in a typically self-referential twist, going to the fado house is offered as the cure to the sense of melancholy being simultaneously hymned by this very fado).

It is tempting to describe the next track, Tozé Brito’s “Como uma Nuvem no Céu” (“Like a Cloud in the Sky”), as a much brighter piece. Certainly it is taken at a faster pace, the guitarra providing the necessary rhythmic constancy for Moura’s voice to skip through. But brightness suggests clarity and there was absolutely nothing unclear about the title track; rather, there is almost breathless optimism here where there was acceptance before. This is a song of love and fidelity; despite what the naysayers claim, these lovers will have the constancy of rivers flowing to the sea: “I, too, run to you / And that will never change”. The verses, in true fado fashion, list the challenges to love like a litany of the doomed, while the chorus offers a joyful renunciation. Personally, this is not what I go to fado for, and I have been rather underwhelmed by the increase in upbeat, clapalong numbers in recent recordings and performances by Mariza, for example. But here, Moura’s voice rescues the song, its grit rising to suggest defiance rather than naïve joy. It works, just.

“Por Minha Conta” (“On My Own”) deploys a strategy Fernando and Moura have used before, opening on a musical setting that suggests affinities with the big pop-influenced ballads of contemporary soul or country music. But the track is almost immediately reterritorialized by the entry of Moura’s voice, verging on dissonance and the minor language of classic fado. The background remains simple, allowing the singer to do the bulk of the work; there is no need for instrumental welling-up or other obvious emotional nudges. What marks a good Moura performance, as evidenced here and on the following track, “A Penumbra”, is the rising of the voice out of what Roland Barthes might call the song’s “studium” (its setting and narrative: what it is about) to emphasize a “punctum” (the point that pierces the listener’s consciousness).

And so it continues, a series of seemingly simple songs made markedly more complex by these outbursts of vocal emotion which, like Barthes’s arrow-like puncta, shoot from the text to pin the listener down with a demand that they hear this singer and the pain that haunts her. Many of these songs are expressions of haunting, listing memories, forgettings, regrets, and the fetishized objects to which memory and regret are fastened, even if these objects are only words. “What I kept are the phrases we exchanged”, sings Moura on “Talvez Depois” (“Perhaps Later”), “My clothes, books: these I left behind / Let them gather dust”.

The ventures into pop-balled territory are not always successful. “Rumo ao Sol” possesses considerable melodic beauty, but it seems an obvious beauty, lacking that extra grit which fado demands. Its sadness seems as gaudy as the joy of the Brizo track, but Moura’s voice does not rescue it this time. There is no depth or deconstruction to her reading of the lyric. Listening, you feel sadder but you don’t feel challenged.

“Fado das Águas” uses the melody by Alfredo Marceneiro made famous by Amália Rodrigues’s “Estranha Forma de Vida”. Because of the centrality of Amália’s song to both her career and twentieth century fado, “Fado das Águas” is already engaging in a considerable amount of cultural work before we even take account of the lyrics used by Moura, which are by Mário Raínho (who has also written for Mariza, among many others). It’s a beautiful piece, the timeless melody meshing wonderfully with lyrics in which the poetics of fado are writ large from the outset: “In the river that flows / Over the riverbed of my voice / There’s a longing that dies”. A fado album would not be complete without at least one mention of the famous Portuguese longing known as saudade. Here, singing is rather marvelously put forward as the magic key that will dispel saudade, a recognition of the sublimatory or cathartic powers of the voice.

Moura sensibly follows this history-referencing number with a melody from the traditonal “fado tree”, with the title “Fado Vestido de Fado” (“Fado Dressed as Fado”). Indeed it is, and this was the right time for Moura to remind us of her ability to play it straight. Another traditional setting is used for the brilliantly titled “Crítica da Razão Pura” (yes, “Critique of Pure Reason”), with a lyric by Nuno Miguel Guedes that asks, “Is it worth knowing / what makes up a passion?” “De Quando em Vez”, featuring another of Raínho’s lyrics, this time set to music by João Maria dos Anjos, provides one of the album’s finest examples of Moura’s timbral control and sense of phrasing, and also some of Castelo’s loveliest guitarra work.

The final track of Leva-me aos Fados signals a departure, as suggested by its title, “Não é um Fado Normal” (there is a version of the album with an additional two tracks on it, which was originally produced for exclusive sale in Fnac stores). Indeed it isn’t a normal fado, having been written by Amélia Muge and featuring the Portuguese folk group Gaiteiros de Lisboa, known for their use of pipes and choral singing. Muge is a Portuguese musician who has been releasing solo records since the start of the 1990s and whose own work is based on an experimental mixture of rural folk, jazz, world music and classical styles.  Her “Fado da Procura” was a standout of Moura’s last album. The collaboration is not unlike those found on recent albums by “new fadistas” Mariza, Cristina Branco, Mísia, and Mafalda Arnauth (who has recorded a number of songs written by Muge). Like those projects, the results are likely to be divisive. If the desire is to break down barriers between fado, folk music, and pop (and, in the case of Mísia’s recent work, rock), then it does the trick. For me, the use of polyphonic singing here is more intrusive than in the subtler work of António Zambujo, and I’m not sure the pipe really fits in with the other instrumentation.

Overall, though, this is another excellent showcase for Moura’s art, with at least half of the album’s tracks standing out as classics. It will be exciting to experience what the singer does with these new additions to her repertoire when she takes them on tour. As for the potential Prince collaboration, we will have to see whether fate wishes it to be or not.

Amália (I)

16 Apr

The connection between Amália and the themes outlined in these posts is hopefully clear. On the one hand, there is her life and career, which can be quite easily presented in terms of melancholy and loss. This is not quite the path want to take, but that is not because I have a particular problem with such an approach. On the contrary, while the conflation of life and art is often a problem in the discussion of popular music, I do not see how it is possible to avoid such a process when dealing with performers who have explicitly connected the two. Some of this approach will certainly seep through my account of Amália, but I mainly want to use her career as a way to describe the fado world with which I deal in Fado and the Place of Longing, a world constructed from the tangled relations between authenticity, innovation and the culture industry.

Amália Rodrigues remains the single most paradigmatic performer in modern Portuguese musical culture for a number of reasons. Her career spanned a crucial period of change in Portugal and in the recording industry worldwide. Filipe La Féria summarizes these connections as follows: ‘Amália Rodrigues was born in the First Republic, lived with and for the Estado Novo and lived to see the 25 April Revolution. This can be seen as a very rich period and one that had a strong emotional effect on people.’ La Féria, the creator of an enormously popular musical based on her life and times, attributes the success of the show to the combination of a celebrity with whom the audience are able to identify and her negotiation of a history they too have either lived through or recently inherited. This identification is furthered in Amália’s own work, which manages, from early on in her career, to define a star persona based on a number of fado mythemes.

Amalia Rodrigues & MotherHer biographical details resound with references to poverty, to the Mouraria, to singing on the streets while selling fruit, to being discovered in the fado houses and wooed into the world of professional performance and recording, and, ultimately, to living her life in a fog of saudade and permanent unhappiness which no amount of success or fame could shift. The extent to which the development of this persona was deliberate or accidental seems to matter less than the place she came to occupy in the Portuguese imagination.

Poster for A SeveraBy the time Amália took on the role of Maria Severa in a 1955 Lisbon production of Júlio Dantas’s play, she had already surpassed that early fadista in terms of myth and prominence, due mainly to the success she had achieved internationally. While fado had hardly been unknown outside Portugal previously, it had never reached the level of exposure given it by Amália. Now an international star, she found herself being offered ever increasing opportunities, from performances worldwide to cinema roles nationally and in France. She had also demonstrated a strong desire to explore beyond the limits of traditional fado. It had become increasingly popular for fado singers in the 1940s to move away from the rigidly structured verses of the earlier period towards a freer style based on the work of contemporary poets such as Frederico de Brito. In addition to these newer styles of fado canção, Amália recorded other non-fado and folk songs, as well as Spanish flamenco, Mexican rancheras, and French, English and Italian versions of Portuguese songs (most famously ‘Coimbra’, released in an Italian version under the same title and refashioned as ‘Avril au Portugal’ and ‘April in Portugal’ elsewhere). This explorative aspect of Amália’s approach to her music encouraged musicians and songwriters to approach her with new ideas and led to collaborations that were to have an enormous impact on the direction fado would take.

Amalia & Alain OulmanOn the musical side it is generally agreed, and was frequently admitted by Amália herself, that it was the collaboration with the pianist and composer Alain Oulman which brought about the most far-reaching revolution in her fado style. What Oulman brought to Amália’s work was an ability to break free of established fado styles though a sophisticated musical language, while maintaining a strong link with the essential elements that kept the music recognizable as fado. Amália would rehearse with Oulman at the piano and he would occasionally accompany her on her recordings alongside the time-honoured guitarra and viola. Oulman’s arrangements allowed a greater variety of poetic styles to be utilized for fado lyrics, a development first brought to the public’s attention on the 1962 album Asas Fechadas, popularly known as Busto after the bust of Amália which adorned the cover.

Cover of Busto / Asas FechadasOf the nine tracks on the album seven have music written by Oulman. The lyrics are provided by Rodrigues herself (the famous ‘Estranha Forma de Vida’) and by the poets Luís de Macedo, Pedro Homem de Melo and, mostly, David Mourão-Ferreira, whose 1960 collection À Guitarra e à Viola had been dedicated to Amália and contained the verses for ‘Aves Agoirentas’ ‘Madrugada de Alfama’, ‘Maria Lisboa’ and the political fado ‘Abandono’, all included on Busto.  Rodrigues and Oulman also collaborated on the work of less contemporary poets; 1965 saw the release of the EP ‘Amália Canta Camões’ and the album Fado Português, the former containing three adaptations of Portugal’s national poet, the latter harbouring one of the Camões pieces, as well as a cantiga de amigo credited to the medieval troubadour Mendinho, and the title song based on José Régio’s poem, alongside work by Mourão-Ferreira, Homem de Melo and Macedo.

The third track on Busto, ‘Estranha Forma de Vida’ [Strange Way of Life], was notable for having a lyric by Amália herself:

Coração independente
Coração que não comando
Vive perdido entre a gente
Teimosamente sangrando
Coração independente

[Independent heart
Heart that I don’t command
Living lost among the people
Stubbornly bleeding
Independent heart]

The fatalism of fado is easily located in this song about an uncontrollable heart, along with a sense of estrangement or disquiet, most notable perhaps in the line about living lost among the people. The lyric was coupled with music by Alfredo Marceneiro, the leading fadista of the pre-Amália period and, as with most Marceneiro compositions, the melody is relatively simple. The significance of the track lies predominantly in the bringing together of these two major figures of twentieth century fado, an event whose importance is underlined by the song’s appearance on Busto alongside the work of Mourão-Ferreira and Oulman, and in the way that the song, alongside Alberto Janes’s ‘Foi Deus’, became an autobiographical marker – what Roland Barthes might call a ‘biographeme’ – of Amália herself.

Memory Work (I)

15 Apr

Joe Brainard's I RememberIf the impossibility of dealing with loss comprehensively has led to a sense of a ‘task’ to be achieved, then it is perhaps no surprise to find the term ‘memory work’ increasingly used in contemporary cultural theory. And if one method of going about this work is to employ a ritualistic, or repetitive, process for ‘listing’ loss, then it is worthwhile considering an example of just such memory work, from what I call the ‘I remember’ school of writers inspired by Joe Brainard’s book of the same title. I Remember was first published in 1975 and consisted of a series of entries, all beginning with the words ‘I remember’, in which Brainard recollected moments from his past, some of them highly individual and others doubtless shared by an enormous number of his contemporaries. To take a typical trio of consecutive entries:

I remember the first time I saw television. Lucille Ball was taking ballet lessons.

I remember the day John Kennedy was shot.

I remember that for my fifth birthday all I wanted was an off-one-shoulder black satin evening gown. I got it. And I wore it to my birthday party.

(Joe Brainard, I Remember (New York: Granary Books, 2001 [1975]), p. 9.)

The originality in Brainard’s technique lies in the intermingling of personal and collective memories and in the recognition that the catalogue of human life as compiled by memory is made up equally of intense personal experiences, public events, fads, fashions and myths. Brainard’s work shows how each person simultaneously carries within them official and unofficial histories, the contents of which are always at varying stages of being recalled or forgotten. The Kennedy assassination, for example, is an event unlikely to be forgotten in either official history or the unofficial history of a certain group of people alive at a particular time and in at least some level of connection via mass media with the rest of the world (Brainard’s generation, in other words). Indeed, for such a group, whose hegemony over these matters is only recently beginning to wane, this event has become the classic example of such individualized-yet-shared memory, with people being said to know exactly where they were when they heard the news of the president’s murder. In the new millennium this event has been succeeded for many by the events of September 11 2001. Yet if these events are subject to both official and unofficial memory, highly personal recollections such as those collated by Brainard still have within them a quality that is transferable to others who have experienced something comparable or who can connect to them simply through the fact that they too have remembered (things). Indeed it might well be said that it is in the highly personal, idiosyncratic details (Brainard’s evening gown) that the possibility for a universal recognition resides.

Georges Perec's Je me souviensThat is not to say, however, that such memory work is necessarily translatable to other cultural contexts. Although Brainard’s book was translated into French by Marie Chaix, the French ‘version’ of I Remember which found most success and which has itself come to be regarded as a classic of the genre, is Georges Perec’s Je me souviens (1978).  Perec reduces the autobiographical elements of Brainard’s work to a certain extent, although these are still a prominent feature of his version alongside a higher proportion of memories likely to be shared with others. In producing a more pronounced cultural bias to the book, Perec is forced away from literal translation and towards the creation of a new work steeped in the resonance of the French imaginary. Perec’s intention was to seek out, via his own recollection, moments of memory that could be ‘deconsecrated’ and returned to their ‘collectivity’; speaking about the book he claimed, ‘what came out most clearly for me was that I wasn’t the only one to be remembering. It’s a book I might call “sympathetic”, I mean that it’s in sympathy with its readers, that readers are perfectly at home in it.’

Gilbert Adair's Myths & MemoriesThe fact that Perec’s work increased the ratio of culturally shared to personal memories from Brainard’s original was recognized in 1986 by the British writer Gilbert Adair when he decided to publish his own version of the ‘I remember’ template in his book Myths & Memories. The book was devised partly as a homage to two French writers he admired, Roland Barthes and Georges Perec, and partly as an attempt to apply the techniques of Barthes’s Mythologies and Perec’s Je me souviens to a British context. In Adair’s opinion, Perec’s version of Brainard’s work was distinct enough to warrant its own ‘translation’ but a literal rendering of the French words would be pointless: ‘the fact of its being anchored in a French experience has rendered [Je me souviens] definitively untranslatable; or, rather, translatable only by way of the metamorphosis, the kind of total Anglicizing, which it undergoes here.’ (This observation has an obvious correlation with my earlier discussion of saudade. As for a Portuguese language version of I Remember, the closest parallel would appear to be a Brazilian text entitled Memorando, by Geraldo Mayrink and Fernando Moreira Salles (Sao Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1993). I have not been able to consult this text to see how it compares with the three versions mentioned here.)

Adair’s conflation of the work of Barthes and Perec serves as an intriguing invitation to think about the concept of mythology alongside that of memory. This has been a strategy taken up by a number of historians in recent years, especially those concerned with memory’s associations with place. Prominent amongst these have been Raphael Samuel and Pierre Nora. Samuel’s ‘theatres of memory’ and Nora’s lieux de mémoire are both influenced by the work of Frances Yates, whose exploration of ‘the art of memory’ relies on notions of myth and place, yet there is an equally important role played by repetition – indeed, memory thought of as an art is born of the desire to be able to repeat. In this sense, it is interesting to note a connection between these historians and the work of the ‘memorians’ of the ‘I remember’ school. In the latter we find a recourse to a ritualistic process (anamnesis, recollection) grounded in the repeated act; this repetition is continued in the representation of memory as these writers follow the unchanging mantra of ‘I remember…’.

This is a device often used in popular songs, where memories are listed over various verses. Fado is no exception, containing a number of such songs. Katia Guerreiro’s ‘Romper Madrugadas’, for example, provides a verse form built upon lines that begin with the word ‘recordo’ [I remember]: ‘Recordo os segredos das noites da bruma / Recordo os teus dedos bebidos de espuma / Recordo o teu cheiro de amor perfumado / Tristeza em sorriso num corpo rasgado’ [I remember the secrets of the nights of mist / I remember your fingers dipped in foam / I remember your smell of fragrant love].  From an earlier point in the twentieth century, we might look to Alfredo Marceneiro’s ‘Lembro-Me de Ti’, each verse of which begins with the line ‘I remember you’ and carries with it another memory. With seven verses and a running time of nearly six minutes the overall effect is one of extended ritual punctuated and regulated by the highly emotional lilt given to the title line by Marceneiro. Indeed the song is straining with emotion, Marceneiro’s voice sounding as though it might break under the force of the memory and giving the song an emphatically nostalgic air.

The ritualized recitation of memory can also be found to account for irrevocable loss. Amália Rodrigues provides an excellent example in her self-written fado ‘Gostava de Ser Quem Era’:

Tinha uma louca esperança
Tinha fé no meu destino
Tinha sonhos de criança
Tinha um mundo pequenino

Tinha toda a minha rua
Tinha as outras raparigas
Tinha estrelas tinha a lua
Tinha rodas de cantigas

Gostava de ser quem era
Pois quando eu era menina
Tinha toda a Primavera
Só numa flor pequenina

[I had a crazy hope
Had faith in my destiny
Had childhood dreams
Had a tiny world

I had all my street
Had the other girls
Had stars had the moon
Had song wheels [children’s game]

I would like to be who I used to be
Because when I was a little girl
I had the entire Spring
Within just a tiny flower]

The ‘tinha’ (‘I had’) that begins each line of the first three verses of the song (the first is not quoted above) and that is multiplied in Amália’s performance by the repetition of the last two lines of each verse, produces a litanistic quality that hints, even though it is not stated explicitly, that these things have been lost forever. The final verse seals this assumption with the confession that the singer used to like being who she was, with the concomitant suggestion that she no longer does.

The potential infinitude of memory work suggests that there is little that is not worth remembering. Noting the ‘acceleration of history’, Pierre Nora writes, ‘Everything is historical, everything is worth remembering, and everything belongs to our memory.’  Accompanying history’s acceleration we find an acceleration of chroniclers and rememberers, both amateur and professional, a process that has been immeasurably widened by the invention and development of the internet. To take a couple of recent web-based developments in the growing ubiquity of chronicling and remembering, there has been an explosion in the amount of ‘encyclopaedic’ information available (most notable in the phenomenon of Wikipedia) and of personal archives (blogs), many of which contain both autobiographical information and theoretical explication or discussion of wider issues. It was perhaps inevitable that the project initiated by Brainard and developed by Perec and Adair would find its modus operandi continued via the medium of the internet with ‘I remember’ blogs. (See also Zeina Abirached’s comic book, Je me souviens: Beyrouth (sample pages here)).

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’).