Friday 18 May 2018

Papa Joachim Paris - Cabo Verde song, English language version

We are in another country.  And we hear a song.  Or we are driving through the night, and the radio picks up something unexpected.  Or we browse through the record collection of a friend...

We hear a song.  There is something about the melody and the performance that grips us.  And the words?  The words are in a language not our own.

But something of interest is going on, in those words.

What steps are needed to take that experience and turn it into a song that works in our own language, the English language?  As the steps turn into a journey where does the journey end?

That is the starting point for my series of song translations.  The aim is to produce an English language lyric that sits comfortably on the original melody, and is faithful to the twists and turns of the original text.

And on my Soundcloud, an example - my English language version of the much loved Cabo Verde song Papa Joachim Paris, from the original Cabo Verde creole/Portuguese.

And here it is on YouTube...


and everywhere...

Sung by Stephanie Hladowski, piano Stephanie Hladwoski, concertina Michael Hebbert, guitar Gene Dunford.

English language text by Patrick O'Sullivan.

Papa Joachim Paris, Papa Joquim Paris (you will find various spellings of the name...) is almost a second national anthem, on the Cabo Verde islands and throughtout the Cabo Verde diaspora...

Cabo Verde is the island nation, an archipelago in the Eastern Atlantic, off the coast of West Africa.  Its history was shaped by slavery, and by shipping patterns.  An important Cabo Verde settlement is in New Jersey, USA - follow the trade winds north and west.  Music is an essential part of the national identity, and the diasporic identity - and the music is an intriguing amalgam of African, Portuguese and other influences.  I swear that in some Cabo Verde songs
we can hear the remnant of an English sea shanty.  Most Cabo Verde lyrics are fairly straightforward - our beautiful island, the beautiful women of our island, the sadness of exile.

Papa Joachim Paris has all that, but suddenly goes into a stranger place - with the fear of a witch's curse.  That curse is there in the music - at the begioning of the second quatrain, with the word 'futecera', Portuguese 'feiticeira', on the BbM, a word that is usually translated by the English word 'witch'.  Or hag, sorceress - it really means fetish-maker, of course.  I tried and I tried to get my witch word at the beginning of the line, on the BbM - but decided on another route.  Once you are given the English word 'witch' you do not lightly abandon it - it brings a package.

Not a sensible choice of text for this project - the lyric lives very much in the oral world, passed on from voice to ear.  And, of course, a mix of personal names, place names and local idioms.  It took us ages to establish the text - which was finally found for us by Edmundo Murray, words AND music in...

Tavares, M. de J. (2005). Aspectos evolutivos da música cabo-verdiana. Praia, Cape Verde: Centro Cultural Portugu√™s.  (There is also a Lisboa printing.)

Manuel de Jesus Tavares, p84, says that Eugenio Tavares considered this morna one of the oldest from the Ilha Brava, author unknown.  And there is certainly a feeling of an old song, and an old story, compacted by time,

Sunday 13 May 2018

Jana Bokova, 'Havana', 1990

Jana Bokova, 'Havana', 1990

With little notice - and little fanfare - an extraordinary documentary from 1990 turned up on BBC4 television last Friday, May 11, 2018.  Jana Bokova's, 'Havana'.

For those with access to the BBC iplayer it is still available for a further month.

I don't want to be involved in campaigns - but surely there is a better way of giving us access to important BBC work of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s - in this case, the important documentaries of the ARENA series?

What is important about these works is not just skill, technique, subject matter - but the ways in which these documentaries have become part of the dialogue between generations.

Filmed in Havana, and in Little Havana, Miami, in 1989, Jana Bokova's documentary is purest Bokova - the patience, the unblinking eye, the interest in ordinary, and complex, lives, the respectful regard...  And the material knitted together, most skilled film-making, with many different levels.  Most obviously, in 'Havana', the careful use of the words of the Cuban poets, the respectful use of the words - the words are given their own screen time.

Jana Bokova's 'Havana' has since become best known for the interviews with the exiled Cuban poet, Reinaldo Arenas.  The story is that a bootleg - it shouldn't have to be a bootleg - fell into the hands of Julian Schnabel, and inspired his 2000 movie, 'Before Night Falls',  starring Javier Bardem...  And now we can put the Bardem performance alongside the original Bokova interview...

There is this helpful article about Reinaldo Arenas on the New Yorker web site...

The Literature of Uprootedness: An Interview with Reinaldo Arenas
By Ann Tashi Slater December 5, 2013

Some Julian Schnabel links...

Some Jana Bokova links - but search the web...

Going back to the 1990 Jana Bokova documentary, 'Havana' - and how marvellous to be able to see it again...  There is always a sequence in a Jana Bokova documentary when the men being interviewed - usually older men, but still afflicted with that roving eye - become fascinated by the pretty girl behind the camera.  Whom we never see.

You hear her voice, and you can see the effect.

Patrick O'Sullivan
May 2018