Wednesday, July 20, 2011

mahler in the desert, a story by christel veraart

I share with my husband his passion for water and boats and for the passed few months we have lived at his sailboat. Steve is a marine biologist, so it makes sense that he likes to live close to the ocean. As for me, I am a musician, more specifically, a classical singer and pianist but also a bit of a wanderer. I moved to the United States from the Netherlands, where I was born and raised, and it has only been a few weeks since Steve and I tied the knot among bougainvillea’s and with a view of “the Star of India”. This nineteenth century schooner traveled around the world, just like the two of us, but now, all three of us are moored at San Diego bay. It is late 2001 and recent events have put the country in turmoil. Due to visa-issues we have decided to move to Baja California, the narrow peninsula that ties the United States to Mexico and I remember how feelings of exile were never too far away.

As we were in no hurry and without a plan for the next couple of months, we took our time in reaching Baja California’s most southern tip, some thousand miles away from the border. For weeks we were enclosed by the peninsulas myriad variety of abundant vegetation and one by one its numerous unknown inhabitants presented themselves. Like boojum- and elephant trees and giant cardones in which owls had made their homes. I saw graceful eagles soaring through the sky and hawks diving to catch their prey. Dark vultures circled ominously in the sky, never returning home unsatisfied and stirring up those feelings only known to the ones from afar and at loss within. As much as I like broadening my horizons and adding new adventures, there is a moment in which the unknown becomes too overwhelming. There is a moment in which the unknown provokes such unbearable loneliness that you would give anything if only a familiar person, sign or gesture. It was at those moments that I would squint my eyes and pretend being back where things looked familiar so I could shake this feeling of not knowing who I was and where. In the strangeness of the desert I became a stranger to myself and that was both liberating and frightening. Frightening because of the irrelevance of past and future, and having to surrender to only presence. Liberating because as a stranger you can be whomever you want or decide to be courageous enough and just be you.

One night we camped out near Catavina, halfway down the peninsula, and after leaving Highway 1 the deafening sound of a washboard road urged us to silence as we paved our way through shrouds of dust. Suddenly, like a mirage, and out of another era, an old Mexican cowboy on his horse appeared, but by the time I turned around, the dust had swallowed him up thus leaving me behind, wondering whether it had even taken place. In this surreal state of mind we arrived at “El Marmol”, which once functioned as an onyx mine, but long since had been abandoned. The only thing we encountered was a roofless, onyx schoolhouse with some of its walls missing, and big chunks of onyx laid scattered around the deserted building. In the twilight the onyx lit up and its balmy, earthly shades, as though filtered through an ochre lens, invited us to come stay at this enchanted place. As darkness settled in, the sky filled up with stars and in the moonless night they shone their lights brighter than I had ever seen before. It was to the crackling sound of a wood fire that I sunk into oblivion and in a void of nothingness that I drifted back to childhood landscapes. To where buttercups and dandelions covered the fields and also cow parsley and poppies, even clover and cuckooflowers. I was back to where everything was within biking distance and my piano, my dear friend, never too far away. I don’t know for how long my slumber lasted but when waking up melancholy and homesickness made me turn to the only source I know to be of any help. Music provides landscapes, unmatchable to the soil and is the only cure in times where all familiarity is swept away and feels forever lost. The landscapes evoked by music are formed in my mind and body by what I once touched, felt, saw, sensed or heard. They remind me of the unimportance of material things and transport me to a beautiful place within. A place where no matter what will happen, I can always count on it to be there for my retreat. As different sounds trigger different places and different places trigger different sounds, I close my eyes until my mind selects. …

…On the wings of legato cello’s and to the beat of pizzicato strings it is as if I am floating to a quiet place where the world has stopped turning and time no longer exists. There, the world embraces me without ever being oppressive, and I feel wide open and vulnerable, with all my life juices flowing in the right direction. It is there my heart bursts for joy, and grief, is in pain and in love, all at once. When the pizzicatos fall into silence I feel at loss and I am so relieved when they make their re-appearance, deciding to come back and guide me. If only I could stay here forever! Traces of Mahler’s “ Songs on the Death of Children” flash by and bring back some drama of passed times. A lonesome violin cries her duet with a French horn, but not even they are capable of spilling my moment of bliss. I am certain that nobody has ever visited a more enchanting place, where the rhythms of heart and music have merged and where music and I have become one...

Gustav Mahler’s “Peaceful, poco adagio” did not only evoke internal landscapes but also carried me back to my childhood days and first encounter with mountains which I then, was convinced were drawn at the horizon. Being a child raised in the lowlands, I had never seen mountains before. It brought me back to the country where I had spent so many happy holidays. Mahler’s music evoked summer landscapes although there had been so many more winters I spent in his country of birth. The more I got drawn into the music the more memories of long forgotten days came to mind. Like wildflowers in all colors of the rainbow, and farmers harvesting hay, securing their cattle’s food for the long winter months to come. I remember friendly brooks filled with crystal clear water from further up regions, now ready to smelt. Cows with giant copper bells dangling around their necks echoed me back to memories of freshly churned milk and bread rolls delivered in white cotton bags. Dark wooden farmhouses with neatly chopped and stacked timbre, and in every bedroom a down duvet covered with bright white sheets resembling clouds I loved to dive into. I could go on…

That particular night my mind selected Mahler, and I desperately needed for Steve and I to understand each other because after the music stopped, everything still looked foreign, even more so than before. I very much needed to get rid of the loneliness that spread inside me like an oil spill. The way oil separates from water that’s how I can best describe the way I feel when loneliness sets in. One feels separated more and more, not only from others, but especially from oneself. I decided to put my husband, who’s focus in marine biology kept him away from classical music and to whom Mahler’s music is yet to be revealed, to the test. I wanted to see if he, as a non-musician, would pick up the same imagery as I had. Music speaks a universal language, capable of passing on messages on a much deeper level than any other language I know. It speaks to you as a voice straight from the heart with no boundaries, no self-censorship to keep it from being heard, and it certainly doesn’t need skilled ears to be appreciated. Skills might even be of hindrance since at those moments where head and heart meet, we often loose touch with what we feel. Silently I was hoping Steve would be able to look straight into my soul and take a glance at the landscape I had just created inside of me. Was I asking for too much? When it comes to music, Steve and I are worlds apart. Where only classical music touched my ears, he listened to bands like Rolling Stones, Naked Barbies, The Tubes and the Beatles. Also to the famous, so he told me, Jethro Tull, whose name he had to spell over and over again.

Under a sky scattered with stars I remember being spectator to Mahler transporting Steve to a magical place, where sounds would rule his mood. It looked like he had lost himself in thoughts, which to me made perfect sense, since internal landscapes aren’t designed for too much brain activity. Sometimes I thought he had fallen asleep, but then, Steve is a master of silence, a man of few words. When he speaks he often leaves everyone baffled with his pointed remarks. “What landscape do you associate with Mahler?”, I asked him when he finally put down his headphones. After taking a few moments to ponder my question, who could have guessed, certainly not me, nothing could have prepared me for his answer: … “The desert”. For what seemed an eternity all I could do was stare.

The desert? Was he joking? Meanwhile, my brain, working overtime, frantically tried to comprehend. No matter how hard I pondered it, I failed to understand how anybody could ever come up with the desert as being a landscape associated with Mahler. “Are you sure?”, I asked him: “Are you really sure the desert is what you associate with the music you just listened to?”. “Yes”, he said, “that is what I imagine when listening to Mahler”. “Why?”, I wanted to know. “Well”, he said: “It sounds peaceful and quiet.” “Yes, but there are many more landscapes that evoke peace and quietness. Why did you select the desert?”, I asked him. “ Well, I picked the desert, ‘cause that is where I am and I feel very peaceful and quiet”.

“How could he associate this dry and arid land, a land that Mahler probably never encountered, with this music?” “How could he name this landscape that looked nothing like Austria, Mahler’s country of birth.” The more I tried to understand the more I despaired, for on this night I had so much wanted for Steve and I to understand each other. I felt he failed me. He, so I had always thought, was one of the very few capable of looking straight into my soul but now turned out being incapable of seeing what to me was so clear. Disappointed as I was, I felt myself retreating to my own little world, the one I had lived in for so many years, but had left since Steve entered my life. That world had not been an ugly one, it was just that I did not want to go back there anymore. I was done living there all by myself. This was a time in my life I wanted to share with Steve, although music may not have been too much a part of it. That night, far away from anything familiar, I had turned to music in the hope it would re-connect not only me to myself, but us to each other. What I hadn’t expected was that re-connection to myself would imply re-connecting to loneliness, to the very theme I had tried to escape. By speaking my fears out loud to Steve, so I was hoping, they would subside and no longer come to haunt me. When he failed to read my world, my mind, he not only handed me back ghosts to haunt me, but ghosts that had transformed into monsters.

Why he had named the desert I failed to understand. However, what I did understand was that I couldn’t give up. Not yet. There had to be a way to build a bridge between the two of us, so to get rid of the wedge that was keeping us apart. What came to mind was this: “Could it be that Steve, as a non-musician, was far more capable of making unbiased and open-minded connections and that as a trained musician I had lost that same capacity?” If this was true then I had just fallen into the trap of rigidity that comes with any profession, since training does not only form but also deform. Once trained there is no turning back to the innocence of before. “What had I missed?” Maybe in order to understand Steve I had to try and leave my musicianship and all the things I had learned behind. After all, facts and skills are irrelevant when it comes to true understanding of the other person. Words perhaps are unimportant and superfluous, since we might not always use the same ones, even though the underlying meaning may be the same. I had reached a level where I needed to understand with my heart as opposed to understanding with only my brain, which was what I had failed to see and was why I had not understood Steve’s “desert”. “What emotion does the desert stir up in you?”, I asked him. “It makes me feel peaceful and quiet”, he said. “Yes, I know, you mentioned that before, but why?” I pressed, now needing to get to the bottom of it as I continued asking him: “Where else do you feel peaceful and quiet?” “At home!” he said. “Where is home?”, I asked and I really wondered what he was going to say. I for sure did not know where that was anymore. “Phoenix”, he responded: “where I grew up”… Once again, the only remaining thing for me to do was stare!

For the first time ever I realized how different our childhood landscapes were from one another. I grew up where it always rains and sunlight is something you often crave for. Steve grew up in a climate that averages three hundred sunny days a year, with water always being precious and in demand. Where I had grown up between forests and fields, he grew up surrounded by orange groves with trees so laden with fruit that giant orange fights seemed in place. I grew up in a farmland area with cows, pigs and horses, and where people chose dogs and cats as their pets. Not so for Steve who grew up amidst animals I had only heard of though never seen, or others I did not even know they existed. There are endless stories about “Missy”, the coatamundi, who is a desert relative of the raccoon (so Steve told me, not realizing that even a raccoon sounded like an exotic animal to me). His mother bought this little animal from the local zoo and ever since I entered Steve’s family I have heard stories about “Missy”, the shrewd little animal who always managed to escape its cage and wreak havoc on the neighborhood. Where I grew up we had a dog named “Bobo” that equally terrorized the neighborhood by attacking every dog that entered his territory, but somehow Steve’s stories sounded much more exciting. Just tell me who do you know had a coatamundi as a pet?
So I had to talk about loneliness and not knowing where you belong. About the urge to connect without knowing to whom nor how. About knowledge and its tendency to create distance not only from others but worse, from oneself. About “home” and wondering where that might be and then realizing that all this time the question should not have been “where” but “what is”. It took music to remind me that there is no such thing as a single answer to a question and it took Mahler to point out to me that what seems to be contrary may very well be the same. Music, once again, showed me that words seldom capture what the heart is trying to say. On this journey of self-reflection I realized how much music has become my true language and how at loss I feel if nobody understands. Not the fact that I am far away and at unfamiliar grounds provokes feelings of nostalgia but a lack of understanding for the words I speak and the recognition for who I am. Disconnection and loneliness are one and the same and connecting to someone you love and respect, including yourself, can truly give you wings to fly.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

anouar brahem, recommended listening

While researching other music, I came across Tunisian born oud player Anouar Brahem, who fuses Arab classical music, folk music and jazz. The oud is a pear-shaped stringed instrument commonly used in Middle Eastern Music. It is related to the lute but distinguishes itself by its lack of frets and smaller neck.

Brahem studied oud at Tunisia's National Conservatory of Music but moved to Paris around 1980. There he worked as a composer, notably for Tunisian cinema and theatre and collaborated, among others, with choreographer Maurice Bejart. He returned to Tunisia in the late 1980's which is when he toured in the USA and Canada. He then signed with ECM records with whom he has recorded a series of critically acclaimed albums. Anouar Brahim style is mellow and sparse and he often utilizes an ensemble of three or four musicians. Throughout his career he has collaborated with other musicians.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

iemanjá's chant by christel veraart

Iemanjá, goddess of the sea and the mother of all gods in the Umbanda religion of Brazil, has kept me under her spell for years. She and I met in Rio de Janeiro, when I was there to celebrate new-years eve with a friend. On the last day of the year, everybody dresses up in white while carrying their offerings to sea. Flowers, gifts, perfume and rice are set into little paper boats and cast adrift into the sea. All of this is done to appease the goddess and beseech favors for the year to come, as well as to thank her for the ones already granted. I remember standing in the surf of the famous Ipanema beach and staring into the horizon where the lights of hundreds of little boats had lined the horizon. Since that day I have made it my tradition too and, regardless of the place I'm at, I build the goddess a little altar. I even wrote her a song that holds an invitation for you as well...


this ship would like to count you in
on dreaming into space
through star lined skies and azure seas
with infinite horizons

submerged in ancient waters
with dreamlike creatures in every shade
medusas all around you
like fairy queens in luminous gowns

with yesteryears on neither shore
your presence, all that matters
on yearning ships with wavering sails
your dreams adrift, your thoughts at peace

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

inspired by loreena mckennitt

It's not always easy to stay motivated when you are trying to do all aspects of a production yourself. Often it feels like you are running from one challenge into another. Challenges you don't feel you can ever surpass. But then, there are people you meet, in person, or otherwise, that lend you a hand so you'll be brave enough to take the next step. One of these people, to me,  has been Canadian born, Loreena McKennitt. At a moment of desperation, when I got stuck on: "I need to find other musicians, go back to school, get a record label, a manager, an agent, etc", I came across an interview about her career, and this is the way I remember it:
"... Loreena started out as a street musician and people would come up to her and ask whether she had anything recorded. She didn't but kept a record of all their names and finally, when she did have a recording, she contacted them. She then distributed her music by dropping it off at local stores. It wasn't until she was quite successful that a record company got wind of her success and offered her a deal. They paid in advance and Loreena went to work. A short while after she sent them back her newly written songs, they called to let her know how much they liked them but could she please make some changes here and there? Changes, creating too much of a conflict to the artist, then lead Loreena to return the advance and from there on take matters into her own hands..."


Loreena McKennitt
She is self-managed, self-produced, and the head of her own internationally successful record label, Quinlan Road. In a recording career spanning nearly two decades, McKennitt's “eclectic Celtic” music has won critical acclaim worldwide and gold, platinum and multi-platinum sales awards in fifteen countries across four continents. (Loreena McKennitt Website)
McKennitt's music has generally been classified as World / Celtic music even though it contains aspects and characteristics of music from around the globe and is sometimes classified as Folk music in record stores. Before McKennitt composes any music, she engages in considerable research on a specific subject, which then forms the general concept of the album. Before creating Elemental and Parallel Dreams, she traveled to Ireland for inspiration from the country's history, folklore, geography and culture. The album The Mask and Mirror was preceded by research in Spain where she engaged in studying Galicia, a Celtic section of Spain, along with its abundant Arabic roots. The result was an album that included elements of Celtic and Arabic music. According to the jacket notes, her album An Ancient Muse was inspired by travels among and reading about the various cultures along the Silk Road. (Wikipedia)
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Friday, July 15, 2011

hand clapping in andalucía, spain

This morning a friend called and asked me whether I was familiar with Andalucía (Spain) since he was planning his trip over there. While talking to him, memories rolled back into my consciousness. Memories of Jeréz de la Frontera, where attending a show of Lipizzaner horses at the famous Spanish riding school and, of course, sipping sherry at a local bodega. Also, I remember visiting the local flamenco school, and sitting in, on some of their dance lessons. Córdoba, it's impressive mosque and the scent of orange blossom. Beautiful Ronda, situated in the mountains some 750 m above sea level. One of the highlights of the town; its oldest bullfighting ring in Spain.

But, the most memorable one was the one of a cave near Ronda where I spent an afternoon with a couple of Spaniards who had lived there all their lives. It was there I was first introduced to the famous flamenco-clapping tradition. I took the train, direction Algeciras and think I got off at a little town called "Arcos de la Frontera, although I'm not sure about that anymore. What I do remember is that everything in this little town seemed to take place at a bar at the train's platform, shaded by orange trees. To reach the cave, you had to walk alongside the train tracks and I recall how hot it was. Then, all of a sudden there was a cave with a lake immersing from its belly, it's azure blue still stuck in my mind. We swam, we ate, we talked and then, when all was done my friends broke out into a clapping session. No use trying to join in, you really have to be born around there to catch those complicated patterns.

Hand clapping patterns in the flamenco music of Andalucía
The flamenco music of Andalucía in Southern Spain is characterized by hand clapping patterns in which the underlying meter is manifested through accented claps. A phylogenetic analysis of the five 12/8 time metric timelines used in Flamenco music is presented using two distance measures: the chronotonic distance of Gustafson and a new distance measure called the directed swap distance. The results support several established musicological tenets. For example, the fandango and soleá are “centers” of this family of rhythmic patterns. More surprisingly, the chronotonic distance gives the Cuban (Sub-Saharan African) influenced guajira a prominent position. Finally, the directed swap distance yields an interesting “ancestral” rhythm.

Imagine that you are at a concert in Seville, after a stunning flamenco performance, clapping at a fast uniform pace, much like a heart beat while jogging. Even better, try it out right now, but stop after you reach twelve claps. Then do it again but this time execute the first, third, fifth, eighth, and eleventh claps loudly, and the remaining seven claps softly. Your clapping pattern could then be represented like this: [1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12], where the claps shown in bold face are the ones you clap loudly. It may also be helpful to count aloud the twelve claps in groups as follows: [121212312312] and to clap loudly only on the one’s. If you repeat this pattern over and over, you will be clapping the rhythm of the seguiriya from Andalucía in Southern Spain.
The flamenco music of Andalucía uses for the most part a 12/8 time meter that is typically marked by accented claps. To be sure, there also exist flamenco styles that use exclusively binary meters in 2/4 or 4/4 time. These include the tango and its variants such as the tanguillo, the rumba, the farruca, the garrot ́ın, the zambra and the mariana. All these binary styles use one and the same meter or clapping pattern given by [. x x x], where “.” denotes a soft clap and “x” denotes a loud clap. A popular method for representing flamenco clapping patterns is to use numbers indicating the pulses, with the accented pulses written in bold. (El Compás Flamenco: A Phylogenetic Analysis)
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

carlos nakai, while exploring the navajo nation

A few years ago I spent my Christmas holidays exploring the Navajo Nation and it's surrounding areas, and it's vastness and spirituality have left an unforgettable impression on me.  I remember how cold it was at Canyon de Chelly, which was the first place to visit,  and how I bundled up and walked around the canyon's rim in total awe of nature's beauty. Looking down on giant pinnacles, it felt like being engulfed by cathedrals, urging me to bow. Inside of me a silence was created that forever craves revisiting.

One late afternoon a stop was made at a trading post which is where I discovered the music of Carlos Nakai. With the already setting sun and hardly anybody on the road, all that embraced me for the next couple of hours was his soothing music, so well suited to the landscape.

Of Navajo-Ute heritage, R. Carlos Nakai is the world’s premier performer of the Native American flute. He began his musical studies on the trumpet, but a car accident ruined his embouchure. His musical interests took a turn when he was given a traditional cedar flute as a gift and challenged to master it. As an artist, he is an adventurer and risk taker, always giving his musical imagination free rein. Nakai is also an iconoclastic traditionalist who views his cultural heritage not only as a source and inspiration, but also a dynamic continuum of natural change, growth, and adaptation subject to the artist’s expressive needs. (
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

astor piazzolla, an exquisite dance and music performance

Years ago I lived in Argentina. My apartment in Buenos Aires situated at the legendary "Calle Corrientes" where lot's of tango history was made. At the time no one understood why I had picked Argentina over Europe to study music, but I did. How could a country with a dance as complicated as the tango not be the perfect place to learn about music, about life, about anything?
At the time I was there, Astor Piazzolla was still alive and I was fortunate enough to hear him in concert and even shake his hand. Tango was starting to become popular in Argentina but was much more so in Europe. I had a lot of friends who were classical dancers at the famous "Teatro Colon" and when they found out I was interested in tango, even had danced it a bit in Europe, they invited me to be their partner when taking tango lessons with the old masters. My favorite music to dance to has always been Piazzolla, although I was told his music wasn't made for dancing. Here's a video I came across yesterday that made me nostalgic about those days.

Astor Piazzolla (1921–1992) was an Argentine tango composer and bandoneón player. His oeuvre revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed nuevo tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, to Italian parents and spent most of his childhood with his family in New York City, where he was exposed to both jazz and the music of J. S. Bach at an early age. He returned to Argentina in 1937, where strictly traditional tango still reigned, and played in night clubs with a series of groups including the orchestra of Anibal Troilo, then considered the top bandoneon player and bandleader in Buenos Aires. The pianist Arthur Rubinstein—then living in Buenos Aires—advised him to study with the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. At Ginastera's urging, in 1953 Piazzolla entered his Buenos Aires Symphony in a composition contest, and won a grant from the French government to study in Paris with the legendary French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. In 1954 he and his first wife left Buenos Aires and their two children behind and travelled to Paris.

...When I met her, I showed her my kilos of symphonies and sonatas. She started to read them and suddenly came out with a horrible sentence: "It's very well written." And stopped, with a big period, round like a soccer ball. After a long while, she said: "Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but you know what happens? I can't find Piazzolla in this." And she began to investigate my private life: what I did, what I did and did not play, if I was single, married, or living with someone, she was like an FBI agent! And I was very ashamed to tell her that I was a tango musician. Finally I said, "I play in a night club." I didn't want to say cabaret. And she answered, "Night club, mais oui, but that is a cabaret, isn't it?" "Yes," I answered, and thought, "I'll hit this woman in the head with a radio…." It wasn't easy to lie to her. 

The insightful Boulanger turned Piazzolla's life around in a day, as he related in his own words:
She kept asking: "You say that you are not pianist. What instrument do you play, then?" And I didn't want to tell her that I was a bandoneon player, because I thought, "Then she will throw me from the fourth floor." Finally, I confessed and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: "You idiot, that's Piazzolla!" And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

... journeys, like artists, are born and not made...

Lawrence George Durrell (1912 – 1990) was an expatriate British novelist, poet, dramatist, and travel writer, though he resisted affiliation with Britain and preferred to be considered cosmopolitan. His most famous work is the tetralogy The Alexandria Quartet.

“Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will - whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of the demands of our natures - and the best of them lead us not only outwards in space, but inwards as well. Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of instrospection”
(Lawrence Durrell, Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, 1957)
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Monday, July 11, 2011

facundo cabral, no soy de aquí, ni de allá, (i'm not from here, nor there)

Argentine Songwriter Facundo Cabral was best known as the composer of "no soy de aquí ni soy de allá" (I'm not from here, nor there), which he improvised during one of his concerts. After touring the world, Cabral enjoyed popularity in his home country during the early 1980s, when Argentine radio demanded local content after the Falklands War. Facundo Cabral was named a United Nations messenger of peace in 1996. He was shot and killed during a tour in Guatamala while en route to the airport on July 9, 2011 (quote from wikipedia)

I was on route to another airport entirely when I heard the news of his assassination on npr's It was the title of Cabral's most famous song that caught my attention, and as a tribute to this singer I would like to add his name to "Travel Music" and share it with you.

No soy de aquí, ni de allá

Me gusta andar
pero no sigo el camino,
pues lo seguro ya no tiene misterio,
me gusta ir con el verano
muy lejos,

pero volver donde mi madre
en invierno
y ver los perros que jamás me olvidaron
y los abrazos que me dan mis hermanos.

Me gusta el sol
y la mujer cuando llora,
las golondrinas y las malas señoras,
saltar balcones y abrir las ventanas
y las muchachas en abril.
Me gusta el vino tanto como las flores
y los amantes, pero no los señores,
me encanta ser amigo de los ladrones
y las canciones en francés.

No soy de aquí… ni soy de allá
no tengo edad ni porvenir
y ser feliz es mi color de identidad.

Me gusta está tirado siempre en la arena
o en bicicleta perseguir a Manuela
o todo el tiempo para ver las estrellas
con la María en el trigal.

No soy de aquí… ni soy de allá
no tengo edad ni porvenir
y ser feliz es mi color de identidad.
No soy de aquí… ni soy de allá

I'm not from here nor there

I like to go
But not follow the road
Because certainty doesn’t hold any mystery
In the summer
I like to go far away
But in the winter
I’d like to return to my mother
To see the dogs that never have forgotten about me
And to be hugged by my siblings

I like the sun
And the crying woman
The swallows and the bad women
I like to jump on balconies and open the windows
And I like maids in april
I like wine just as much as flowers
And lovers, but not the men
I love being friends with thieves
And French songs

I’m not from here, nor from there
I’m ageless and without future
Being happy is the color of my identity

I like to be stretched out, always, in the sand
Or on my bike, chasing Manuela

Or watch the stars without ever stopping
In the cornfields with Maria

I’m not from here, nor from there
I’m ageless and without future
Being happy is the color of my identity

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

fauré’s “les berceaux” in ayotla, mexico

Et ce jour-là, les grands vaisseaux
Fuyant le port qui diminue, 
Sentent leur masse retenue
Par l'âme des lointains berceaux

And that day the great ships,
 sailing away from the diminishing  port,
 feel their bulk held back
 by the spirits of the distant cradles

I met Cora at her ranch in Ayotla, a hamlet near Puebla (Mexico).  It wasn’t her house, remote from the world, that attracted me, nor it’s surroundings or people. It was the connection between her and me and the feeling that there were lessons to be learned. Cora, an eccentric 90 year old, captivated me with her stories. Stories about her youth in Egypt in the heydays of the Ottoman Empire, her artist years in Paris during the 1920’s and her work with the Mexican Indigenous people around Puebla. I was sent on a writing assignment to Mexico with a grant from the Dutch government. Here’s an impression of the book, yet to be finished:

... Before returning home I visit Cora one last time. It’s a beautiful though somewhat cold day in January and the two of us settle down in her courtyard filled with roses. Cora tells me she studied voice and that she would have liked to become a singer, just like me. We talk about all the great songs she and I studied and I’m pleasantly surprised when discovering she and I share a similar taste in music. Swaying, like little boats adrift at sea, we sing a song that has captivated us both for years: “Les Berceaux” by Gabriel Fauré... (turning left at the third cactus by christel veraart)

live recording "les berceaux" at ucsd, san diego, 2007, christel veraart (voice), luciane cardassi (piano)

Les Berceaux
Gabriel Fauré / René-François Sully-Prudhomme

Le long du quai, les grands vaisseaux
Que la houle incline en silence
Ne prennent pas garde aux berceaux
Que la main des femmes balance.

Mais viendra le jour des adieux,
Car il faut que les femmes pleurent,
Et que les hommes curieux
Tentent les horizons qui leurrent.

Et ce jour-là, les grands vaisseaux
Fuyant le port qui diminue,
Sentent leur masse retenue
Par l'âme des lointains berceaux

Along the quay, the great ships,
that ride the swell in silence,
take no notice of the cradles.
that the hands of the women rock.

But the day of farewells will come,
when the women must weep,
and curious men are tempted
towards the horizons that lure them!

And that day the great ships,
sailing away from the diminishing  port,
feel their bulk held back
by the spirits of the distant cradles.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

born with a pirate's soul, agustin lara

Song writer Agustin Lara captured the soul of the Mexican people.  During his career, which lasted over seventy years, he wrote hundreds of songs. Lara was one of Mexico’s most prolific and dearly loved musicians but also gained an international reputation.

Yo nací con la luna de plata
nací con alma de pirata
I was born with a pirate's soul
under the silvery moon
His admirers affectionately referred to him as "Flaco de Oro", which loosely translates into “skinny guy made of gold”. Lara, an unattractive and scar-faced man, had women swooning at his feet, and national leaders offering him accolades only reserved for "living national treasures". He became most famous for his compositions of "Granada" and "Veracruz". The latter becoming the second national anthem of that beautiful port city. 
Lara and I had one thing in common; we both fell in love with Tlacotalpan though he took it a little further in declaring this town the home of his birth. It was here he and I (so I think) met María Antonia Peregrino de Chazaro, better known as Toña la Negra, who was to become one of the major interpreters of his music. When visiting Tlacotalpan, I attended a festival in his name and ran into his ex-wife. I’m not sure which one (there were four) but believe is was Toña. Before entering the theatre, she and I talked a while, and we exchanged information under the statue of her former spouse. She wanted me to sing Lara’s songs, and I regret I didn’t follow up on that invitation. At the time I was unaware of the man’s magnitude. Much later I discovered yet another song of Lara a friend thought I should know about. For the longest time the only words I remembered were: “I was born with a pirate’s soul, under the silvery moon” ... (from “Turning Left at the Third Cactus” by Christel Veraart).

Agustin Lara

Yo nací con la luna de plata
nací con alma de pirata,
he nacido rumbero y jarocho
trovador de veras,
y me fui lejos de veracruz.
Veracruz, rinconcito
donde hacen su nido
las olas del mar
Veracruz, rinconcito
de patria que sabe sufrir y cantar
Veracruz, son tus noches
diluvio de estrellas, plamera y mujer.
Veracruz, vibra en mi ser,
algún día hasta tus playas lejanas
tendré que volver...

I was born under the silvery moon
Born with a pirate’s soul
I was born a party-goer and Veracruzano
a real troubadour
and I went far away from Veracruz
Veracruz, little corner
where the waves of the ocean
make their nest
Veracruz, little corner
of the fatherland that knows to suffer and sing
Veracruz, it’s your nights
full of stars, palm-trees and women
Veracruz, vibrant in my being
one day I should return
to your forlorn beaches
I should return

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Friday, July 8, 2011

viajera (traveler) in tlacotalpan, mexico

Viajera que vas por el cielo y por mar
dejando en los corazones
latir de pasión, vibrar de canción
y luego mil decepciones.

The traveler who goes by heaven and sea
leaving behind in the hearts
a passionate beat, vibrant with song
and then, a thousand deceptions
Tlacotalpan, Nahuatl for “place between the rivers”, is located in the eastern part of the Mexican state of Veracruz. It was settled as a river port on the banks of the “rio Papaloapan” in the mid-16th century. Papaluapan is nahuatl for butterfly waters (papalotle=butterfly, atle=water, pan=place.) The natives discovered that endless quantities of butterflies were released while rowing their boats. Tlacotalpan was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. 
...At a local bar, overlooking the towns plaza, my friend Diego makes an attempt to teach me how to sing “Viajera” by Luiz Alcaraz. He believes I should add this song to my repertoire though he can’t remember the middle part, no matter how hard he tries. Veracruz is known for it’s music and it doesn’t take long for a couple of roaming harpists and singers to find us and to lend us a hand. For the next hour or so I observe discussions between musicians on opposite sides of the town’s plaza. Alas, they all get stuck at the same spot and it took me until today to find the complete song... 
(from “Turning Left at the Third Cactus by Christel Veraart)

Luis Alcaraz

Viajera que vas por el cielo y por mar,
dejando en los corazones
latir de pasión, vibrar de canción
y luego mil decepciones.
A mi me tocó quererte también,
besarte y después perderte.
Dios quiera que al fin
te canses de andar
y entonces quieras quedarte.
No se que será sin verte,
no se que vendrá después;
no se si podré olvidarte,
no se si me moriré.
Mi luna y mi sol irán tras de ti
unidos con mis canciones;
diciéndote ven, regresa otra vez,
no rompas más corazones.


The traveler who walks heaven and sea

leaving behind in the hearts
a passionate beat, vibrant with song
and afterwards, a thousand deceptions
It befell onto me to love you
to kiss and then forget you
God hopes that in the end
you’ll tire of roaming
so you’ll want to stay
I don’t know what it would be like to not see you
I don’t know what will happen next
I don’t know if I can forget you
I don’t know if I would die
My moon and my sun will go after you
combined with my songs
telling you “come”, “come back again”
don’t break any more hearts

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