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Origin(s)

14 May

A Origem do Fado

Portal do Fado reports an event to promote the book A Origem do Fado, by José Alberto Sardinha. Sardinha’s book, the result of “22 years of research”, defends the Portuguese origin (singular) of fado, tracing its roots to sixteenth century narrative poetry. The thesis is explicitly presented in opposition to other accounts that trace fado’s origin in the Afro-Brazilian lundum and umbigada.

In Fado and the Place of Longing, I include a brief account of this longstanding debate, noting, to paraphrase Joaquim Pais de Brito, that ideological discourse remains the dominant key in fado discourse and that ideas of nation and national ownership are predominant. While the issue of national ownership is clearly of vital importance for many musicologists, historians and, it seems, lawyers, it is just as interesting to ask why this question persists so stubbornly in the discourse. What is the traumatic kernel, the nagging anxiety, at the heart of this debate? What does it tell us about loss and fear of loss?

The search for origins may well, as some have claimed, ultimately be doomed. But that that does not do away with whetever it is that drives that search. The shield of veridical “logic”, donned to guard against the essential fantasy of singular origin, also masks the feared undoing inaugurated by the event of loss.

Festas 2010

14 May

The programme for this year’s Festas de Lisboa has been announced. As normal, fado plays a prominent role. Fadistas appearing include Camané,Rodrigo, Cristina Branco, Celeste Rodrigues, Pedro Moutinho and Katia Guerreiro. Rocker-turned-fadista Paulo de Carvalho will also take part in the fado programme, as will flautist Rao Kyao and fado-influenced rock band A Naifa. the Lisbon-based venues include the Castelo de São Jorge, the Museu do Fado and Fábrica Braço de Prata, a converted factory which now hosts cultural events.

The festas provide one of the more explicit ways in which fado repeatedly takes place and produces space.

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.

“New” Releases

10 May

Four CDs picked up on my last trip to Lisbon in December 2009. All were fairly recent releases at the time. It’s interesting to note the similar design aesthetic; black and white and red remain the dominant colours in the projection of fado in the twenty-first century.

Cover of Katia Guerreiro, "Os Fados do Fado"

Cover of "Goncalo Salgueiro"

Cover of Ana Sofia Varela, "Fados de Amor e Pecado"

Cover of Ana MOura, "Leva-me aos Fados"

The Ana Moura CD has just been given an international release and the next post will consist of a review of the album which I wrote for PopMatters.

Festas

7 May

It is well worth paying attention to the role of music and festivals in the city as forms of both divergence from and reassertion of social norms. In Lisbon, this is particularly notable during the period known as the Festas de Lisboa, a series of festivals held in celebration of the ‘popular saints’ and in which there is an interesting mixture of official and semi-official events. The former comprise concerts, marches, exhibitions, screenings and so on. The semi-official include the taking over of public spaces by stalls serving drinks and stages where music is played. The fact that the predominant music at this point is pimba and that the food served is grilled sardines reflects the sense of tradition and of the country in the city (pimba is generally more associated with the countryside). Pimba is explicitly rude, does not attempt any of the erudite airs and graces of fado (although there is a rude undercurrent to fado too), and, as a music that cannot be cleaned up or made cool, lurks as the obscene underbelly of popular culture in Portugal.

Such events allow power to continue, as Slavoj Žižek explores in much of his work. Using the example of the mutiny against Captain Bligh on The Bounty, Žižek focuses on the uses of unofficial power and the relationship between power and enjoyment. The enjoyment, or jouissance, associated with unofficial power – the power that operates ‘below decks’ – must be recognized and allowed to operate by the forces of official power ‘above’. Should the official power attempt to curtail the unofficial, the latter will most likely rise up against the former: ‘The mutiny – violence – broke out when Bligh interfered with this murky world of obscene rituals that served as the phantasmatic background of power.’ (  Slavoj Žižek, ‘“I Hear You With My Eyes”; or, The Invisible Master’, in Renata Salecl & Slavoj Žižek (eds.), Gaze and Voice as Love Objects (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996), p. 100.)

The connection between official and underground power tends to be more prevalent in the case of authoritarian regimes. It is interesting to note the use of music and festivities in films from the era of the Estado Novo to see how this connection is played out. In Canção de Lisboa (1933), there are various moments when impromptu moments of transgression break out, such as an improvised fado in the street and a drunken rant by the main protagonist against fado and fadistas, during which he proposes an ‘anti-fado’ week to cure the nation’s social ills. As commentators on the film have noted, however, these are moments of mild transgression which allow for the presence on screen of police officers or other patriarchal figures associated with the state to reassert the law. In this film, as in others such as O Costa do Castelo (1943), Fado, História D’uma Cantadeira (1948) and O Grande Elias (1950), fado is cast as both hero and villain. A common theme is commitment to the social group, often epitomized by the family, with a typical plot involving deception or abandonment of certain family members, resolved by a conversion in which the transgressor sees the error of their ways. In Fado, História D’uma Cantadeira, the fado singer (played by Amália Rodrigues) abandons her family to become a famous performer. She transgresses to such an extent that she even abandons fado. At the point where she enacts the ultimate betrayal – not reading a note that has been sent to her regarding a family illness – she is seen singing flamenco.

This dialectic between transgression and the law is visible also in the mass fencing-off that is the result of what Lefebvre calls ‘vacationland festival’, those areas marked off for rest and relaxation that promise utopia but rely on careful staging and investment by capitalists.  It is visible too in the spaces allotted to fado, from the taberna to the large scale shows put on for the Festas. In these events, fado fills the streets and lays claim to the city, to the people and to an escape from its boundaries. What we can determine from the festival and other negotiations of power in the social space is a reliance on a script which may be exceeded but cannot be done away with.

A Man in the City (ii)

7 May

Carlos Saura’s use of ‘Um Homem na Cidade’ in his film Fados (2007) is rather more postmodern but maintains the idea of a tour through the city. Saura’s visualization of the song opens with Carmo standing in front of three musicians (guitarra, viola, viola baixo), who in turn are sat in front of a screen showing filmed footage of Lisbon street life. As the song progresses, Carmo walks forward until he is flanked by two large screens with photographs of Lisbon on them. He walks between these screens, advancing towards the camera, between further pairs of screens all depicting the city until he comes to a halt during the closing of the song in front of what is now a collage of images made up of the photographs he has passed. In a sense he is touring through the city but it is a city of mostly static images and the focus remains on the singer throughout, zooming in on him as he delivers the final line of the song.

Saura has arguably missed something in the song by singling out Carmo and superimposing him on both the musicians and the city. To see what he is missing, let us return to Certeau’s rousing dedication:

The floodlights have moved away from the actors who possess proper names and social blazons, turning first toward the chorus of secondary characters, then settling on the mass of the audience… Slowly the representatives that formerly symbolized families, groups, and orders disappear from the stage they dominated during the epoch of the name. We witness the advent of the number.

(Certeau, p. v)

Saura, then, has returned the floodlight to the individual, as have I. There is a seeming paradox here. How do we reconcile an insistence on the number, the everyday, the move away from the proper name, with an account such as that presented in Fado and the Place of Longing, which emphasizes biographies and recordings of prominent fado stars? Would it not be more apposite to Certeau’s vision to take the route more usually frequented by the ethnomusicologist and attend to the everyday practice of fado by less well-known amateurs (‘users’, in Lefebvre’s and Certeau’s formulation)?

The key is in Certeau’s mention of metonymy, the part taken for the whole. It is time, he says, for the floodlights to move from the actors representing the people to the people themselves. But what this does not take into consideration is the audience’s desire, the fact that they came to the theatre in the first place wishing to see themselves represented by those privileged, highlighted and floodlit actors. The same is true for the godlike view of the city, a view that is actively desired. People want to get out of the city and look back or down on it, to look back, as it were, on ‘themselves’ in the place where they normally are. It should be remembered that the request for representation of the community – be it visual, sonic, theoretical, or academic – comes from within the community itself. There is no privileged ‘theorist’ forever in a position on the ‘outside’. Which is not to say that there is not power, and abuse of power and misrepresentation and non-reflexive categorization. All this exists but it cannot all be laid at the feet of those with proper names. Celebrity culture is something that feeds on a desire that emerges from the everyday. This paradox is also encountered in those artists who are simultaneously feted as ‘one of the people’ and as celebrities. Even the celebrant of anonymity and the practice of everyday life still attaches to his celebration a proper name: Michel de Certeau.

A Man in the City (i)

7 May

In 1976 Carlos do Carmo represented Portugal in the Eurovision song contest and recorded what would become one of his signature tunes, ‘Lisboa, Menina e Moça’, a popular song which feminizes the city as a ‘young girl’. It was his 1977 album Um Homem na Cidade [A Man in the City], however, which really showcased what Carmo meant for the future direction of fado. Described by Rui Vieira Nery as ‘one of the most significant albums in the whole fado discography’, it consisted of a series of specially written poems about Lisbon by José Carlos Ary dos Santos and set to music by a variety of composers from the worlds of Portuguese pop, jazz and fado. It was a concept album and one which clearly was aimed at the post-revolutionary metropolis, showcasing new possibilities of being in the city alongside recognition of longstanding customs that predated (and could therefore escape the taint of cooptation by) the recently overthrown dictatorship. The album came with liner notes by Carmo, Ary dos Santos and two of the composers, António Vitorino D’Almeida and Martinho D’Assunção, all of which stated a commitment to creativity, modernity, Lisbon and the people. ‘With love we leave you this disc’, wrote Carmo at the end of his note. The ‘man in the city’ is also to be found in the dedication at the beginning of Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life and it is interesting to consider these two works alongside each other:

To the ordinary man.

To a common hero, an ubiquitous character, walking in countless thousands on the streets. In invoking here at the outset of my narratives the absent figure who provides both their beginning and their necessity, I inquire into the desire whose impossible object he represents. What are we asking this oracle whose voice is almost indistinguishable from the rumble of history to license us, to authorize us to say, when we dedicate to him the writing that one formerly offered in praise of the gods or the inspiring muses?

(Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. v)

Certeau’s words bear an echo of the commitment shown by Henri Lefebvre to the lived experience of those connected to representational spaces. It bears a challenge to authority and the ‘view from above’, while also acknowledging the modest endeavour of a description of the everyday. So, too, with Carmo’s album, which mixes quotidian description with an imagination that recognizes the potential for transformation. Almost all of the tracks included in the album make reference to the city of Lisbon. In addition to regular references to the city as a whole, other features of Lisbon are hymned. The title track records the Tejo and the Rossio area, ‘Fado do Campo Grande’ refers to the area of the same name, and ‘O Homem das Castanhas’ uses Praça da Figueira and the Jardim da Estrela as backdrops to the chestnut vendor’s song. Two songs celebrate the public transport systems that connect Lisbon’s neighbourhoods to each other and to the world beyond. ‘O Cacilheiro’ describes the ferries that criss-cross the Tejo, connecting the quays of Cacilhas, Seixal, Montijo and Barreiro and carrying ‘lovers, sailors, soldiers and workers’ to their destinations, while the tram system is the subject of ‘O Amarelo da Carris’ (Carris is the company that operates the buses and trams in Lisbon, easily recognized by their distinctive yellow colour).

‘O Amarelo da Carris’ provides a good example in its lyrics of wider theories regarding agency, passivity, consciousness and the unconscious in the city. The first verse describes the tram which runs from runs from Alfama to Mouraria, from Baixa to Bairro Alto and ‘climbs shuddering to Graça / without knowing geography’. On one hand, the tram serves a purpose similar to the train in many popular song texts, providing a potent metaphor for the workings of fate as it faithfully follows its pre-designed course. Its passengers are passive citizens unable to alter the text of the city, etched as it is in the steel rails. Like the tram itself, which does not require knowledge of geography, the passengers can put their trust in the hands of the network and its operatives (which include, of course, the tram driver). On the other hand, they have chosen to be carried thus and are actively using the tram for their own purposes. They have a starting point and an ultimate destination; the tram and its driver are merely the means to achieve this destiny.

Similarly, the lovers described in ‘Namorados da Cidade’ are like Certeau’s ‘lovers in each other’s arms’, blind to anything beyond themselves while simultaneously creating that ‘beyond’ by going about their business. The protagonist of the title track, the man in the city, is the equivalent of the walkers found in Certeau, Aragon and Sinclair, going through the street under a ‘moon / that brings my Tejo into season / I walk through Lisbon, naked tide / that flows into Rossio’. Another song, ‘Rosa da Noite’, also hymns the incorporation of the city into the body and vice versa, claiming that ‘each street is an intense vein / where the song flows / from my huge voice’. The city is both body (a theme employed by other fados such as David Mourão-Ferreira’s ‘Maria Lisboa’) and a channel through which other bodies (human, non-human, mechanical) flow. Um Homem na Cidade celebrates all these corporeal manifestations. It is, importantly, an album, and therefore, like a photograph album, something to be taken as a whole; its songs are snapshots of the city and its citizens, a collective creating a collection, a thing. This sense of the album as a thing-in-itself was highlighted by the release, in 2004, of an album entitled Novo Homem na Cidade which recreated the original album with versions of its songs, in the same running order, recorded by twelve different artists, a number of them associated with the novo fado of the early 2000s. In addition to showcasing these younger performers, the album serves two other purposes, commemorating Carlos do Carmo’s original album as a thing-in-itself (without which the new album would not exist) and highlighting the continued relevance of the city of Lisbon as a thing-in-itself to be celebrated (without which neither album would exist).

Fado texts provide a tour of the city of Lisbon by incorporating various names associated with the city and, in Certeau’s terms, ‘liberating’ them into a new poetic and metaphoric language. Yet, given that we are dealing with a musical form, it is also necessary to remember the role played by sound in this process. If fado texts take us on a tour of the city, part of that tour involves the hearing of fado music itself. The sound of fado, its instruments and cries, are both representations of space and representational spaces, products of and responses to space itself. In Um Homem na Cidade, there are additional sounds of the city referenced, such as the sound of the tram bell emulated by the guitarra in ‘O Amarelo da Carris’ or the use of the chestnut vendor’s cry in the refrain of ‘O Homem das Castanhas’. This practice develops in sonic form a process earlier undertaken by numerous European and American modernist writers and artists to provide a representation of the noise of the city, albeit witnessed in silence (in the space of writing). For example, we find the following in Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet:

Future married couples pass by, chatting seamstresses pass by, young men in a hurry for pleasure pass by, those who have retired from everything smoke on their habitual stroll, and at one or another doorway a shopkeeper stands like an idle vagabond, hardly noticing a thing. Army recruits … slowly drift along in noisy and worse-than-noisy clusters. Occasionally someone quite ordinary goes by. Cars at that time of the day are rare, and their noise is musical. In my heart there’s a peaceful anguish, and my calm is made of resignation.

All of this passes, and none of it means anything to me. It’s all foreign to my fate, and even to fate as a whole. It’s just unconsciousness, curses of protest when chance hurls stones, echoes of unknown voices – a collective mishmash of life.

(Fernando Pessoa, Book of Disquiet, p. 14.)

This ‘collective mishmash of life’ is wonderfully transformed in ‘Fado Varina’, from Um Homem na Cidade, into a noisy and salty metaphor suggested by the cries of a woman selling fish in the market: ‘Os teus pregões / são iguais à claridade / caldeirada de canções / que se entorna na cidade’ [Your cries / are like brightness / a fish stew of songs / spilling over the city].

Lisbon’s Narcissism (i)

7 May

In my discussion of real-and-imagined cities in Fado and the Place of Longing, I have attempted to place Lisbon into a wider discussion of urban space and place, for I believe that fado invites such a theorization. Yet, in attempting to make this connection, one cannot help but notice the absence of Lisbon, Portugal or the Iberian Peninsula from the discussion of much cultural geography, where the literature has shown an overwhelming obsession with Paris and the modern cities of the USA – Los Angeles especially. Areas such as the Algarve are seemingly in Lefebvre’s mind when he speaks of ‘the current [early 1970s] transformation of the Mediterranean into a leisure-oriented space for industrialized Europe’ and of ‘the consumption of space, sun and sea, and of spontaneous or induced eroticism, in a great “vacationland festival”’, but industrial centres of the Iberian Peninsula have not generally received the attention given to other European cities. It could be argued that this is due to a fairly late industrialization of this area but such an argument would neglect the importance of Iberia as a world centre in the past; it is Venice’s past, after all, rather than its present that made it exemplary for Lefebvre in his description of the city as work and product.

Prior to the obsession with American cities, the models had often been ‘literary’ European capitals such as London, Paris, Rome or Vienna. The Iberian Peninsula was less frequently brought into the discussion despite the presence of its cities in literature. As Joan Ramon Resina writes, ‘[f]or the Lisbon of Pessoa, the Madrid of Galdós, the Barcelona of Oller, Pla, or Rodoreda, there has been nothing on the scale of the attention brought to Paris by readers of Balzac or Zola or to Vienna by the great novels of Roth and Musil.’ Resina’s own response to this absence comes in the form of an edited book entitled Iberian Cities. While this endeavour is a laudable attempt to reassert the ‘place’ of these metropolises, the reader interested in the Portuguese city cannot help but notice two things: firstly, there is the country’s continued marginalization via the inclusion of only one city (Lisbon) alongside eight Spanish cities (one of which, Madrid, gets two essays devoted to it); secondly, it is hard to know what to make of the air of melancholy with which that one chapter is delivered by its author, Miguel Tamen. Tamen chooses to emphasize the lack of anything to see in Lisbon, the difficulty entailed in getting around due to the steep hills and uneven pavements, and the confusion produced by the different names given to places by official maps and everyday local usage. It is certainly the case that, outside the flat grid of the Baixa, the city provides certain challenges for navigation. It is also true that Lisbon does not offer up a host of ‘obvious’ monuments from which to fashion a tourist itinerary (although this did not stop Pessoa from doing so). But what those who have been drawn to the city have invariably reported on is the pleasure to be found in this lack of obviousness. This has particularly been the case for those coming from outside the country. Ángel Crespo’s tour of Lisbon dwells on the pleasures of the stroll, the literary and mythical connections encountered in the city, and the numerous opportunities to gain different perspectives on the city from a variety of vantage points.  Similarly, Paul Buck, in his ‘cultural and literary companion’ to Lisbon, is struck by the city’s potential for narcissism:

It is a beautiful city, for it is built on a series of hills and valleys whose steepness give rise to a multitude of viewing points, such that the city can become almost narcissistic, encouraging one to re-viewing it, akin to stepping inside a house choked by mirrors, continually catching the reflections, sucked into the space of admiration.

(Paul Buck, Lisbon: A Cultural and Literary Companion (Oxford: Signal Books, 2002), p. 2.)

There are, of course, a profusion of guidebooks and websites devoted to Lisbon, all of which maintain that there is plenty to see. All have their own agendas and may be more or less implicated in the representation of space that Lefebvre identified as the dominant mode of spatial thinking. It is less likely (though perhaps not for those who can afford to do so) that one would take the car tour suggested by Pessoa, not least because the streets are nowhere near as painlessly negotiable as in his day. It is quite likely that one might pay for a bus tour or take the ‘tourist tram’ that combines authentic travelling with ease of transit. But equally, one might choose to walk and, if not content to follow one’s footsteps, to take one of the walking guides on offer. One company that implicitly challenges Tamen’s assertion that Lisbon is ‘a town with no flâneurs’ offers a range of walks tailored to specific ways of seeing the city. One of these, entitled ‘Lisbon Old Town’, promises ‘Maze-like streets, ‘Hidden vantage points’, ‘Migration and dockers’ and ‘Fado as the soundtrack of Lisbon’ among its features.

Each of these is related to one aspect or another of the theories discussed in Fado and the Place of Longing. The maze-like streets are the embodiment of Certeau’s point about the blindness of the city, yet vantage points emerge from the confusion to allow a sudden switch back to the controlling gaze. The history of comings and goings that have created the riverside neighbourhoods of Lisbon (of which Alfama is just one) is one in which the precursors and contemporaries of Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘postmodern vagabonds’ have plied their trades. As for fado as a soundtrack, it is worth noting that, due to the difficulty (perhaps impossibility) of accurately mapping as Alfama in any conventional manner, music may be as believable a map of this area as any.

The Real City

7 May

Martim Moniz Square

Michael Colvin has narrated the story of the demolition of the lower Mouraria area undertaken by the city planners of the Estado Novo from the 1930s to the 1960s and the effect this had on fado and the fadistas who called this part of the city their home. Colvin begins The Reconstruction of Lisbon (2008) with a description of the void that was the lower Mouraria and is now the vast and soulless Martim Moniz Square. Having been lured to the area by the romance of fado song texts, he soon comes to realize the reality:

The ideological tug of war between the Estado Novo’s modernization of Lisbon and glorification of Portugal’s past is palpable in the Baixa Mouraria. Tradition, as anything but an abstract notion, has lost! Street names tell the stories of inhabitants long gone: the palm tree on Rua da Palma; the plumbing on Rua dos Canos; the butchery on Rua do Açougue … The Mouraria is rich in history and tradition archived in memory, however, in terms of architecture and urban planning, it is sad, decayed, abandoned, depressing.

(Michael Colvin, The Reconstruction of Lisbon: Severa’s Legacy and the Fado’s Rewriting of Urban History (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2008), p. 11.)

The tale Colvin proceeds to tell is both a sobering one, in terms of decisions taken and the possibilities ignored by the developers, and a hopeful one, in that he finds a song tradition that has maintained the hopes and alternative futures of the past in a critical nostalgia that stubbornly refuses to let go. Fados have become stand-ins for the vanished architectural delights as the remembered city is restored in the lines of songs and the resonance of guitarras. José Galhardo and Amadeu do Vale’s ‘Lisboa Antiga’, recorded by Hermínia Silva in 1958, is a fado that once again feminizes the city, speaking of its beauty and declaring it a princess. An associative fado, it stakes its claim on nostalgia, asking its listeners to remember ‘Esta Lisboa de outras eras … das toiradas reais / Das festas, das seculares procissões / Dos populares pregões matinais / Que já não voltam mais’ [This Lisbon of other times … of the royal bullfights / Of the festivals, of the secular processions / Of the popular morning street cries / That will never come back].  Other songs, such as ‘Mataram a Mouraria’ [They Killed the Mouraria] were more explicitly political.

Lágrima (II)

24 Apr

In my previous post, I presented an interpretation of Amália’s ‘Lágrima’ based on a move from what I called the studium of the song text to the punctum of the anguished performance. In a more recent version of ‘Lágrima’ by Jorge Fernando and Argentina Santos there is an even clearer example of such a move. Following a verse sung movingly but not dramatically by Fernando, a studium is set up of melancholic meditation on hurt and loss (fado’s bedrock, we might say). The entry of Argentina Santos’s vocal into this studium shatters (cuts) the ‘stillness’ of the preceding moments. Through her vocalizing, from the anguished cry of ‘se considero’ to the almost whispered final ‘uma lágrima’, Santos creates these puncta via stark contrasts with the surrounding song text. Fernando’s verse and the oboe/cello part create a ‘safe’ space of sadness. Santos’s voice, in its urgency and extremity, destroys this place and reminds us of the ‘real’ pain at the heart of the lyric. This echoes the contrast implicit in the verse structure where a fragmented line is offset against a developed line, the former containing the fetishized object (the immediate thought, the attempt, however doomed, at freedom from language), the latter the interpreted (Symbolic) meaning of the thought.

The fact that Fernando and Santos take ownership of ‘Lágrima’ in the way they do is important in terms of thinking about the fado ‘family tree’, a term which can be understood to relate both to the varieties of fado derived from the basic core of fado corrido, fado mouraria and fado menor, and to the symbolic lineage of fado performers through the years. In this case there is the association of Argentina Santos with a school of singers contemporaneous with Amália Rodrigues – though it should be noted that Santos, like many of her contemporaries, did not tend to be as adventurous as Rodrigues with the material she chose to sing, sticking to a far more ‘traditional’ repertoire. Jorge Fernando was a guitarist for Amália Rodrigues during the final part of her career before going on to release albums made up of his own material alongside work by other fadistas and to produce and play on Mariza’s first album, also contributing three songs to it (‘Chuva’, ‘Terra d’Água’ and ‘Oxalá’). Fernando, who also had a career as a pop singer-songwriter, played a major role in Ana Moura’s career as arranger, producer and songwriter. Like Paulo de Carvalho, Fernando acts as a bridge both between the old generation and the new and between pop and fado.

Prior to the Fernando/Santos recording of ‘Lágrima’, the song had appeared on other fado albums of the 1990s. Dulce Pontes recorded a version on Lágrimas (1993), an album that highlighted the sense of fusion that would come to determine much of novo fado. Emphasizing the notion of a ‘family tree’, Pontes prominently placed a genealogy on the album cover that stated: ‘Father – Zeca [José] Afonso; Mother – Amália Rodrigues; Grandparent – Portuguese folklore; Cousins – Bulgarian folklore, Arabic music’. The instrumentation on the album consisted of the classic fado accompaniment (viola, guitarra) but, with the addition of vocoder, Fairlight synthesizer, electric guitar, piano and orchestra, this was a clear departure from fado norms. The song selection was evidence that, with the passing of time, the strands of  folk and fado that had seemed so antithetical to each other in the post-revolutionary era could now be brought together in a useful synthesis: half of the album’s songs were ones associated with Amália Rodrigues, the other half with José Afonso. The mixture proved successful and the album has remained a constant seller nationally and internationally since its release in late 1993, judging by its perennial availability in European  record shops such as Fnac, Valentim de Carvalho, and HMV.

The appeal of Pontes’s voice seems to lie in its clarity and consistency and she has adopted a register that sits easily within a range of western popular musical styles, as is noticeable on her 2003 collaboration with Ennio Morricone, Focus, where she provides vocals in Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italian to the familiar tunes of various Morricone soundtracks. As a consequence her music is arguably less subcultural than that of, say, Argentina Santos, a difference that can be read into Pontes’s rendition of ‘Lágrima’ on the 1993 album. This track, along with a version of Amália’s ‘Estranha Forma de Vida’, were recorded live in the studio, presumably to catch the feel of an ‘authentic’ fado performance. Yet, without the ‘grain’ and anguish that Amália and Santos bring to their renditions, the song emerges as ‘merely’ beautiful, somehow missing the cathartic elements of the older fadistas’ versions. In Lacanian terms, there is less a fencing-off of the Thing than an unwillingness to go anywhere close to it; in Barthesian terms, there is an excess of pheno-song and a lack of geno-song, a studium with no punctum. The traumatic potential of ‘Lágrima’ is here elided in a move that maintains the performance firmly within the Symbolic Order, a kind of sanitized mourning that is also to be found ten years later in the song ‘Amália por Amor’ on Focus.

Cover of Misia's RitualMísia, for her part, chose to revisit the song on her 2001 album Ritual, having already recorded a version for her second album in 1993. Where the earlier version, like Pontes’s from the same year, was fairly understated, the second presentation of the song utilized a style not dissimilar to that of Argentina Santos, stressing extremities of vocalization and putting particular emphasis on the key lyrical points discussed earlier. Mário Jorge Torres, in his liner notes to the CD, suggested this ‘new intensity and intentionality’ was due to the song’s inclusion in what was clearly a project inspired by the recent death of Amália. The musical arrangements and guitarra accompaniment are provided by Carlos Gonçalves, who had been Amália’s composer and accompanist during the last stage of her career and had composed the music to ‘Lágrima’. Like Jorge Fernando, Gonçalves here becomes a bridge between the old and new worlds of fado, providing new compositions for Mísia, such as that for ‘Xaile de Silêncio’, a poem sent to Mísia on the occasion of Amália’s death.

In addition to these tracks, Amália is referenced by the inclusion of two songs that seek to extend the late singer’s legacy through the addition of new elements. ‘Mistério Lunar’ is a modern poem put to music written by the famous  guitarrista Armandinho that Amália had sung with different words as ‘Fado Mayer’ in the 1950s. ‘Vivendo sem Mim’ is a poem written by Rodrigues, published in Versos but not recorded by her; here, it is put to music by Mário Pacheco and performed by Mísia and the pianist Christian Boissel in a move designed to evoke the way Amália rehearsed with Alain Oulman at the piano. By thus adding words to an ‘Amália’ tune and music to Amália’s words, Mísia suggests the ways in which this dialogic ‘ritual’ might proceed. The ritual extended beyond the song texts to the recording process too, with the use of valve microphones and single takes to emulate recording practices of the 1940s and 1950s.

(This montage of three versions of the song reaffirms my feelings about the power of the original, although I guess the poster feels differently about this than I do.)