Tag Archives: Alfredo Marceneiro

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’.

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Taking Place (I)

5 May

For the city is a poem … but not a classical poem, not a poem centered on a subject. It is a poem which deploys the signifier, and it is this deployment which the semiology of the city must ultimately attempt to grasp and to make sing.

(Roland Barthes, ‘Semiology and Urbanism’, in The Semiotic Challenge, tr. Richard Howard (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), p. 201.)

We witness the advent of the number. It comes with democracy, the large city, administrations, cybernetics. It is a flexible and continuous mass, woven tight like a fabric with neither rips nor darned patches, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose names and faces as they become the ciphered river of the streets, a mobile language of computations and rationalities that belong to no one.

(Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, tr. Steven Rendall (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), p. v.)

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Fado and the Place of Longing takes as one of its subjects the centrality of the city of Lisbon in fado texts. Fado, through the combination of word, music and gesture that has become solidified as the music’s style, performs place in a very particular way, summoning up a mythology that attempts to trace the remembered and imagined city of the past via a poetics of haunting. At the same time certain locales of the physical city present themselves as exhibits in a ‘museum of song’, offering up haunted melodies of a Portuguese sonic past that serves to assert the city’s identity.

The ubiquity of Lisbon’s presence in fado lyrics is exemplified by the song ‘Vielas de Alfama’ [Alleyways of Alfama], created by Artur Ribeiro and Maximiano de Sousa (commonly known as Max) in the middle of the twentieth century and revisited at the start of the twenty-first by Mariza on her album Fado Curvo (2003). The song hymns the eponymous alleyways of the ancient Alfama quarter and of ‘old Lisbon’, claiming ‘Não há fado que não diga / Coisas do vosso passado’ [There isn’t a fado / That doesn’t speak of your past]. At the close of the refrain, the singer wishes ‘Quem me dera lá morar / P’ra viver junto do fado’ [If only I could live there / To live close to the fado’]. A fado menor performed by Carlos do Carmo and his mother Lucília goes even further: ‘Não há Lisboa sem fado, não há fado sem Lisboa’ [There is no Lisbon without fado, no fado without Lisbon]. Whether referencing the city as a whole or one of the neighbourhoods most associated with the genre – Alfama, Mouraria, Bairro Alto and Madragoa – fado texts provide topographies of loss that place the city as either object of desire or lack or as backdrop to another lost, remembered or desired object.

Mouraria Mural

‘Fado Lisboa’ is a song that celebrates the city as a whole. It was originally performed by Ercília Costa (one of the great fado stars of the twentieth century) in a revista from 1939, O Canto da Cigarra. The song has also been performed by Lucília do Carmo under the title ‘Sete Colinas’, after the ‘seven hills’ of Lisbon. It has a distinctly royal tone and speaks of Lisbon as ‘casta princesa’ [chaste princess], going on to declare how beautiful the city must be ‘Que tens de rastos aos pés / A majestade do Tejo’ [That you have kneeing at your feet / The majesty of the Tejo]. As in many songs about Lisbon, the city is explicitly feminized. It also stresses Lisbon as a centre of empire, praising the discoverers who found ‘so many deserted lands’ and the heroes created in Madragoa, one of the historic quarters of Lisbon.

Severa Memorial‘É Noite na Mouraria’ [It’s Night in Mouraria], a fado performed by Amália Rodrigues and her sister Celeste, moves us toward a more particular location. Later recorded by Katia Guerreiro and Mísia, it is a typical ‘atmosphere’ song, listing a number of the mythemes we have come to expect from a fado narrative: the low sound of a guitarra, a fado being sung in a dark alleyway, the whistle of a boat on the Tejo, a passing ruffian. This fado works as a companion piece to the classic song of fado’s ontology, ‘Tudo Isto É Fado’; the delivery is not dissimilar, comparable mythemes are present, and there is a declaration in the song that ‘all is fado / all is life’. Mouraria is also represented in fados that mention the Rua da Capelão, linked forever to the name of Maria Severa and to the birth of modern fado. The most famous, ‘Rua do Capelão’ (with words by Júlio Dantas and music by Frederico de Freitas), places the street at the centre of the Severa story. The site of Severa’s house is now commemorated in a very Portuguese fashion, having its own dedicated pattern in the calçada, the white and black cobbled pavements found throughout Lisbon. At the entrance to the street there is also a monument to mark its place in history, consisting of a sculpture of a guitarra with the words ‘Birthplace of fado’ beside it. In this way, fado does not only reflect the city’s presence, but asserts its own presence in the city. One can, if one desires, use the Rua do Capelão as the start of a walking tour of the city solely based on fadistic associations, from the labyrinth of Mouraria’s streets up the slopes surrounding the Castelo de São Jorge to the neighbourhoods of Alfama, Graça and Madragoa.

Severa calçada

Lucília do Carmo can again be our guide to Madragoa when she sings, in a fado named after the neighbourhood, of the Madragoa ‘of the bakers and fish sellers / Of tradition’. This is the ‘Lisbon that speaks to us / From another age’.  The verse of this fado utilizes an associative turn of phrase common to a number of ‘city fados’; another associative fado, ‘Ai Mouraria’ speaks of ‘the Mouraria of nightingales under the eaves’, ‘of pink dresses’, and ‘of Severa’.  These associations have a similar function to the texts written by the authors of the ‘I remember’ school, evoking both personal and collective memories. The ‘Mouraria of processions’ is also the Mouraria associated with the object of the singer’s affections: both are now gone.

Alfama doorway

Zooming in still further, we encounter the alleyway, an unavoidable feature of the neighbourhoods surrounding the Castle. Alleyways are both places of intimacy (as in ‘Vielas de Alfama’ where they are ‘kissed by the moonlight’) and transgression (like the alleyway in Júlio Dantas’s A Severa). In the fado ‘A Viela’ (‘The Alleyway’), we meet a ‘typical’ character walking from alleyway to alleyway and encountering a ‘lost woman’ there.  The fado was recorded by Alfredo Duarte, better known as ‘Marceneiro’ after the name of his trade (joiner). Born in 1891, Marceneiro had a closer connection than many to fado’s past by the time he was officially ordained the ‘king of fado’ in 1948. For many he was the living embodiment of the tradition, a castiço singer who, while born in the phonographic era, did not seem part of it. Indeed, Marceneiro was deeply suspicious of recordings; his true home was in the fado houses of Lisbon, where, from the mid-century onwards, he was considered a living legend. If, as Rodney Gallop had suggested in the 1930s, one had to go a club such as the Luso to hold the fado ‘surely in one’s grasp’, then one could look for no better guardian than Marceneiro. A regular at the Luso, he transcended the venue, connecting back to a time before the forced professionalization of fado performance. Marceneiro, then, is associated with the city not only because of fados like ‘A Viela’, but also in his very being, an authentic fadista who sang about the city, was mainly known in the city, and who represented the city (or a certain image of it) more than the cosmopolitan Amália. Much the same could be said for Fernando Farinha, with whom Marceneiro collaborated on occasion (most notably on the fado ‘Antes e Depois’). Farinha, known as the ‘Miúdo da Bica’ [Kid from Bica] after the neighbourhood in which he lived, sang mainly of his life and the city he lived in. Farinha was not averse to recording, however, nor to appearing in films, such as the one that bears his nickname. His most famous recording, ‘Belos Tempos’, is rich with nostalgia and describes a desire to go back to the time of Maria Severa. Like Severa, Farinha’s presence is marked in the city itself, on a plaque in Bica, the neighbourhood he helped to make famous.

Cover of "Cancao de Lisboa"We might say, then, that the discourse surrounding Marceneiro and Farinha is one rich with ‘authenticity work’.  This work is done through ceaseless reminders of the connection between the performer and the neighbourhood/city; Farinha is ‘do povo’ but also ‘da Bica’, ‘de Lisboa’ and, ultimately, ‘do fado’. From this position he could then make claims to the city and its music, as he did throughout his career. Marceneiro was a similarly ‘ordained’ commentator on the city, as can be heard on his version of Carlos Conde’s ‘Bairros de Lisboa’, where the city’s presence is introduced by the framing device of a walk through its streets. The verses, sung as a duet with Fernanda Maria, present a sort of competition between various neighbourhoods as to which is most relevant to fado:  Campo de Ourique is the most elevated, Alfama is the most famous, the most fadista and maritime, Mouraria evokes the most nostalgia, Bairro Alto is praised for its inhabitants, Madragoa for its youthful optimism. In the end, there is a realization that the city should not be reduced to its parts: ‘Why go any further / If Lisbon is all beautiful / And Lisbon is our neighbourhood!’

But, as is no doubt clear from many of the lyrics quoted above, the Lisbon being spoken about in many fados is a city of the past. If, having read the inscription on the monument at the entrance to the Rua do Capelão, we turn around and face the opposite direction, this city of the past quickly vanishes.