Tag Archives: tears

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.)


Lágrima (I)

20 Apr

The song ‘Lágrima’, by Amália Rodrigues, appeared on the 1983 album of the same name, which featured lyrics exclusively written by Amália and set to music by the guitarrista Carlos Gonçalves. ‘Lágrima’ was the closing song on the album; its lyrics also appeared, alongside Amália’s other poems, in her book Versos (1997). They are as follows:

Cheia de penas
Cheia de penas me deito
E com mais penas
Com mais penas me levanto
No meu peito
Já me ficou no meu peito
Este jeito
O jeito de te querer tanto

Tenho por meu desespero
Dentro de mim
Dentro de mim um castigo
Não te quero
Eu digo que te não quero
E de noite
De noite sonho contigo

Se considero
Que um dia hei-de morrer
No desespero
Que tenho de te não ver
Estendo o meu xaile
Estendo o meu xaile no chão
Estendo o meu xaile
E deixo-me adormecer

Se eu soubesse
Se eu soubesse que morrendo
Tu me havias
Tu me havias de chorar
Uma lágrima
Por uma lágrima tua
Que alegria
Me deixaria matar

[Full of suffering
Full of suffering, I sleep
And with more suffering
With more suffering I awake
In my breast
Already lodged in my breast
Is this habit
The habit of wanting you so
I have my despair
Inside me
A punishment inside me
I don’t want you
I say that I don’t want you
And at night
At night I dream about you

If I consider
That one day I will die
In the desperation
That I have at not seeing you
I lay out my shawl
I lay out my shawl on the floor
I lay out my shawl
And let myself fall asleep

If I thought
If I thought that when I died
You would have to
You would have to cry
One tear
For one of your tears
How happy
I would be to die]

In considering the song I am drawing upon ideas articulated by Jacques Lacan and Roland Barthes. I do so partly because these thinkers provide a useful vocabulary to attach to the expression of grief and partly because I wish to situate this exemplary instance of fado practice within the wider theories explored in Fado and the Place of Longing. Lacan, in his commitment to Freud, provides a useful connection to theories of mourning, remembering and working-through. Barthes, meanwhile, offers a vocabulary which is explicitly derived from the analysis of texts, whether written, visual or aural. Here, I find his theories of the visual field – as set out in his late work on photography, Camera Lucida – as relevant as his comments on music.

Lacan and Barthes are quite different thinkers with divergent agendas, but their theories do overlap at important places. For Lacan, the ‘Symbolic Order’ is that represented by society’s attempts to impose logic, structure and consistency upon the inconstant qualities of nature, a process carried out first and foremost through language. Against this is posited the ‘Imaginary’, those aspects of the subject’s quest for a wholeness that is always unattainable but always desired, as in the ‘Mirror Stage’ of Lacanian theory. The third Order, the ‘Real’, is that which cannot be symbolised and which exists beyond our attempts to explain inconstant nature. It is inconstant nature itself, which yet, paradoxically, always ‘comes back to the same place’. The Real is that which irrupts into the Symbolic as trauma. Its connections with trauma, jouissance and death distinguish it from the more comforting Imaginary. The writings of Barthes that I invoke here are those in which we find a breaking through of one (often ecstatic) mode of signifying into another, a rupture in the Symbolic Order that calls to mind the momentary glimpse of the Lacanian Real. The major examples of this type of Barthesian thinking are the concepts of plaisir and jouissance, of the geno- and pheno-song, and of the studium and punctum of the photographic image.

What is notable about the lyric of ‘Lágrima’ is what it has to say about absence, how, for the vocal subject, the object of desire does not exist because of a refusal to recognize her. The subject posits a possibility for the object of desire to exist by hypothesizing a recognition – the recognition that the object of desire will mourn her after her passing – that will in turn betray a desire, the object’s hitherto hidden desire for her. The price to be paid for this bringing-into-being of the object and the object’s desire is, here, the subject’s ceasing-to-be, her death.

What are the ‘pleasures’ suggested in the song? Or, rather, what are the signs of what Lacan calls ‘the pleasure of desiring, or, more precisely, the pleasure of experiencing unpleasure’?  In short: despair, unrequited love, the dream-world and death. What is moving and pleasurable for the listener are the lengths to which this subject will go to achieve that jouissance which, Lacan reminds us, is in actuality suffering and pain. What is the significance, in Lacanian terms, of the subject’s inability to perceive herself as fully constituted, or rather to see herself as constituted around a lack which she can only resolve by propelling herself from the Imaginary of fantasy to the Real of death? Or should one read the song less literally, as a song about the giving-up of oneself to the Other, an ‘inevitable’ love sacrifice or coming-into-symbolic-being?

We must also ask in what ways we can map musical meaning onto such a reading. One way might be to suggest that the lyrical structure of the poem has encouraged a musical arrangement which, in its simplicity, provides a drive towards emphasis on key lyrical moments. As Barthes notes of classical French mélodie:

What is engaged in these works is, much more than a musical style, a practical reflection (if one may put it like that) on the language; there is a progressive movement from the language to the poem, from the poem to the song and from the song to its performance. Which means that the mélodie has little to do with the history of music and much with the theory of the text.

(Roland Barthes, ‘The Grain of the Voice’, in Image-Music-Text, tr. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977), p. 186.)

Applying Barthes’s notions of studium and punctum to ‘Lágrima’, we can attempt to sonorize these occularcentic figurations in an attempt to construct a theory of listening. For Barthes the studium is the cultural ‘participat[ion] in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions’, while the punctum is the ‘element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me’. In a sonorized version the studium is the song text, the instrumental, vocal and lyrical setting which, within a few short bars, confirms this as a typical fado, albeit of the modernized fado canção style. Into this text are then studded a number of puncta, which can be identified as follows: the first syllable of ‘penas’ in the first line, echoed in the repetitions of the word in the subsequent three lines; the third syllable of ‘desespero’ in the first line of second verse, again echoed; the interplay between ‘considero’ and ‘desespero’ in the third verse. The fourth verse holds back from delivering its punctum, waiting, according to standard fado practice, for the repeat of the final phrase; when it comes (and we can detect in that word’s double meaning an echo of Barthes’s idea that the voice ‘caresses, it grates, it cuts, it comes’), it does so as the entire phrase ‘que alegria me deixaria matar’.

I interpret these as puncta mainly due to the vocal articulation audible at these points and with the repetitive pathos to be found in these over-emphasized words and phrases. While it would be possible to describe this process merely as a succession of emphases without resorting to Barthesian terms, I am keen to anticipate a connection established in Fado and the Place of Longing between photography and fado texts, as I believe that one of the things these texts do is to participate in an ongoing ‘study’ of Lisbon(ness), in which the oft-hymned city is both studium and stadium of memory. While ‘Lágrima’ makes no explicit mention of place, I would maintain that it inherits a sense of place due to numerous connections between text and context; the ‘Lisbonness’ of fado, here, is a state of mind which may be cognitively inaccurate but is mythologically and psychologically vital.

Barthes has saved us the effort, to some extent, of converting his theory of seeing to a theory of listening by speaking elsewhere about the interplay of the pheno-song and geno-song in vocal music. However, what is less stressed in ‘The Grain of the Voice’ than in ‘The Pleasure of the Text’ and Camera Lucida is the sense of the cut that the ‘invasive’ element (punctum, jouissance, grain) inflicts on culture. Barthes writes of ‘the deep laceration the text of bliss inflicts upon language itself’  and, in a sentence that might equally be a definition of the Lacanian Real, of ‘the place where the death of language is glimpsed’. This cut is also a cutting-off, or fencing-off, the creation of ‘a site of bliss’ that is simultaneously a site of loss. As Catherine Belsey puts it:

The beautiful satisfies, Lacan argues, to the degree that it does, not by representing the real, nor by avoiding the drive, but instead by pointing to the lost real, while at the same time fencing-off any possibility that we might come too close to the Thing. Made objects offer a kind of satisfaction when the signifier encloses absence and at the same time offers pleasure.

(Catherine Belsey, Culture and the Real: Theorising Cultural Criticism (London and
New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 72)

Lacan himself provides us with another metaphor of enclosure when he claims that ‘it is obviously because truth is not pretty to look at that beauty is, if not its splendor, then at least its envelope’. Going further, he says that the beautiful ‘stops us, but it also points in the direction of the field of destruction’ and, later, that ‘the appearance of beauty intimidates and stops desire’. Bearing this in mind, is it possible to think of fado as representing a safe (and beautiful) way of (re)encountering trauma, of encircling the Thing? As Nick Cave observes, ‘the peculiar magic of the Love Song … is that it endures where the object of the song does not.’ Fado provides a place (street, alleyway, museum, theatre, text, envelope) to (re)visit the traumatic. It is one of those musics that subscribes to the Aristotelian principle of catharsis, purgation and abreaction to which Lacan also refers. The single tear that the singer of ‘Lágrima’ desires is both the tear that will cleanse or purge and the tear (cut) that will rend.