RootsWorld: Home Page Link RootsWorld: Home Page Link

A viagem dos sons / The Journey of Sounds
A 12 CD set of Lusophone music around the world
Tradisom VS01 - VS12 (www.tradisom.com)

Listen to tracks from the series while you read

Background

cd cover José Moças, the executive coordinator for a viagem dos sons bravely tackled the task of tracing the musical influences left by Portugal in the cultures that were part of her empire. Although the task is too big to be completely covered in even the handsome 12 disc set that Tradisom has put out, Moças has put together a wonderful introduction to the musical side of this interchange. The package has as both its strength and weakness the fact that different people took responsibility for each region (and disc). This variety works as a strength when each writer brings a different approach to the table, some taking the approach of traditional record producers (e.g. Susana Sardo's approach to the music of Goa, represented by one ensemble) and others taking the role of the music collector (e.g. Jorge Castro Ribeiro's take on Cabo Verde), making field recordings of several ensembles and soloists in the context of the culture.

This symposium-like approach has the same weakness as a real symposium, namely the unfortunate trend of some academics to use any invitation to advance overly specialized personal interests tangentially related to the overall topic. Most egregious are Samuel Araujo, whose Brasil disc, rather than looking at the many musical influences left by the Portuguese in Brasil, instead focuses on a street drama tradition peculiar to the northeastern part of the nation (and resulting in a particularly inaccessible disc of music divorced from the complex visual and dramatic context from which it springs) and Rosa Clara Neves, who does the same with a street theater tradition in São Tome. However, these are the only two who really miss the mark in their task (and this is not to say that their discs are uninteresting; on the contrary they are fascinating; they simply do not provide a wide enough range for the listener who knows nothing of the music of São Tome or Brasil to get a feel for how the Portuguese influenced these lands musically).

Overall a viagem dos sons is a winner: mixing the obvious (for instance the well known morna tradition of Cabo Verde) with startlingly beautiful musics little known outside of their native regions. Even the weakest discs offer something to the listener willing to put in the time and to give the music proper attention. As with other Tradisom discs, the notes are exceedingly academic and vary in quality. Some are the epitome of good ethnomusicological writing, others are sprinkled with unnecessary jargon. The English translations are generally poor, riddled with spelling errors, but not to the point of being unintelligible. Two simple additions that would have improved the set would have been the inclusion of maps to show where these various regions are and side by side translations so that the listener can follow the lyrics without having to thumb between pages to see them in English and Portuguese (most of the songs in various creoles of Portuguese are posted on the same pages as the Portuguese, but not on the same page as the English).

Measuring Portuguese musical influences requires first defining that which makes music sound specifically Portuguese as opposed to merely Western or European. The most obvious traits have to do with instruments: the cavaquinho (known more commonly in North America by its Hawaiian name ukulele), the Portuguese guitarra, and other instruments (mostly chordophones) that proclaim musica portuguesa. However, one may define a specific sound of Portuguese music outside of the realm of instrumentation. Without getting into details (our editor made us promise to avoid Roman numeral harmonic analyses here), obvious traits are use of minor modes (Portuguese music carries as part of its genetic code the music of the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the church modes found in Gregorian chant), particularly lyrical melodies, and a feeling of longing, best expressed in the untranslatable term saudade.

An interesting side-note is the role of double influence, where a music culture is influenced by the same tradition coming into the region both from the originating culture as well as from the Portuguese, who picked up the same influence elsewhere. A prominent example of this is the Arabic influence found in the music of Sumatra. Perso-Arabic influence came in from the Islamic missionaries who converted the Malay king in the 15th Century, but since these influences play a prominent role in Portuguese music, the web of influence grows tangled. This complex interaction of influences points to a logical follow-up project for Tradisom: how these various cultures left their indelible mark on Portuguese music.


Some specific notes on each disc (with links to some audio samples):

 

Indian Subcontinent

 


Disc 1. "Gavana" - Goa. Music of the Goan Catholic Community performed by Grupo Gavana. Notes by Susana Sardo.

Listen!
Goa is the best-known Portuguese settlement in India. Although now part of the Indian Union (it became the 25th State in 1987, having been independent since 1961), Goa retains strong cultural ties to Portugal. The blend of Indian musical culture with the Portuguese is striking. Haunting melodies, put in the context of almost (but not quite) schmaltzy string arrangements, and combined with decidedly non-Portuguese drumming make for a listening experience that grows on the listener, to the point of becoming one of this reviewer's favorite discs, after numerous listenings. One of the factors that makes these tunes interesting is the long narrative song-form that governs many of these selections. Tempi and energy-levels switch quickly, catching the listener by surprise. Some of the East-meets-West music has the strange hybrid sound of Indian film music (Track 2 for instance). Track 4, the hymn to Saint Francis Xavier (who is revered by both Catholics and Hindus in Goa, and whose relics are housed in the church that bears his name there), is breathtaking in its ability to convey the types of emotions generally associated with a solo singer (the melodic twists and embellishments are reminiscent of some of the best fado singers) in a liturgical choral setting. "Goa" (track 5), a tune written by the ensemble's leader, Tomás D'Aquino Sequeira, celebrates the region with a mostly Western sounding choral tune, accompanied by the sort of chordophonic background generally associated with Portuguese music. The level of musicianship on this disc is outstanding - these are musicians and singers who clearly love the music they perform. The listener can only assume that the dancers in this group are equally outstanding (this is one of the discs where a companion DVD or videotape would greatly enhance the experience).

The weakness of this disc is that it only features the music of one ensemble, Govana. The listener who is unfamiliar with Goan music must wonder if the arrangements and stylings are typical of all Goan Catholic music or if there are other approaches to the same repertoire. Also, there is nothing in the notes to tell us whether or not there is significant Portuguese musical influence among the Hindu or Islamic segments of the Goan population (64.6% and 4.1%, respectively).


Disc 2. "Cantigas do Ceilão" - Sri Lanka. Music of the Portuguese Communities in Sri Lanka. Text and Recordings: Kenneth David Jackson.

Listen!
The best way to describe "Cantigas do Ceilão" is "superb ethnomusicology." Jackson has done a fantastic job of documenting how a renaissance Portuguese ballad tradition took root in far away Sri Lanka and developed into its own genre. The performances are varied, the annotation is excellent, and the accompanying essays are clear and well written. The recordings not only capture the music but also a bit of the context in which this music is heard. The performances are a bit rough to Western ears (although this could be due to indigenous tuning and ensemble preferences), but they are spirited, joyful, and incredibly interesting. Track 12, a rough waltz cantiga called "Festa de Aguardente" is a highlight on this disc. The sound is amazingly similar to Mexican norteño music (this reviewer had to listen carefully to be sure that it wasn't a bajo sexto in the background).


Disc 3. "Baila Ceilão Cafrinha!" - Sri Lanka. Music of the Portuguese Communities in Sri Lanka. Text and Recordings: Kenneth David Jackson.

Listen!
Not to oversimplify the complex musical relationships between indigenous Sri Lankan, Dutch, Portuguese, and African cultures, but one could describe this disc as Disc 2 with an East African overlay. Also compiled by Kenneth David Jackson, this disc is a lively, interesting view of the dynamics of cross-cultural musical influence. One of the delights of this disc is the inclusion of instrumental music, lively dance numbers with fiddles, drums, and triangles. The fiddle work on track 3, "Lanças Cafres" is particularly exciting.


Disc 4. "Desta Barra For a" - Damão, Diu, Cochim, Korlai. Music of the Portuguese Communities in India. Text and Recordings: Kenneth David Jackson.

Listen!
The regions represented on this disc are all in India, along the Malabar coast, but outside of Goa. These songs are from the most isolated regions of the area, and represent a living tradition of Indo-Portuguese Creole culture. Based on the introduction to this disc, Jackson made considerable effort in digging up this music. The first part is a collection of songs from the North Fortresses of Damão. Portuguese influence is clear: creole language, instrumentation, song forms, and harmonies. The selections are rather folkloric; these are probably amateurs, although that is not clear from the notes. The songs are enjoyable, not polished, but performed with enthusiasm. The melodies are beautiful, reminding this reviewer of some of the better pop singers in modern Portugal (for instance, Track 3, a lilting "Minha senhora Maria, Meu senhor S. Jose," which is a sort of hymn to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, although there is nothing in the notes to suggest how it is used in the culture of Damão).

The second section of this disc is a recreation of songs recorded more than thirty years ago on Vypeen Island, Cochin. Unfortunately the creole tradition is almost completely gone, so we will have to be satisfied with this sort of musical archaeology. While the dedication to the task of Francis Paynter and family is admirable, and their musicianship good, these six tracks clearly lack the life of the music that was collected from living traditions.

The third section consists of two tracks of a group of elderly women in Korlai (Chaul). These tracks are an interesting example of musical amateurs singing the music of a vanishing tradition.

 

Southeast Asia/Malaysia/Indonesia/Asia

 


Disc 5. "Kantiga Di Padri Sa Chang" - Malacca. Texts and recording: Margaret Sarkissian, Smith College.

Listen!
We know how much history changes when we stumble on a region we know nearly nothing about and find its significance in our own histories. Ah yes, Malacca: somewhere east of Africa and west of Hawaii, no? Malacca is halfway between India and China on the Malay Peninsula. Reading the notes of this stunningly wonderful disc was a world history lesson. According to Tomé Pires back in 1512, "whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice." Wow! As the notes point out, "control of Malacca meant effective control of the entire South China Sea spice trade." As a result, Malacca was an amazingly cosmopolitan seaport. As a result, musical influences are incredibly varied, and "traditional" music is always forced to come to terms with the latest musical ideas. Nevertheless, Sarkissian was able to find three surviving types of traditional music - lullabies, hymns, and social dance music. The opening track, "Sekush Marinyeros," features the unaccompanied voice of Noel Felix, who leads a dance group in the Portuguese settlement. Felix has wonderful vocal control, a clear voice, and the ability to convey great saudade (especially prominent about a minute into the track, when the melody takes a dolorous fado-esque turn). While there are some great ensemble pieces on this disc, the real treats are the various unaccompanied vocal pieces, sung by Felix as well as by Josephine de Costa and Aloysius Sta. Maria.

Each track on this disc is a gem, but a few demand special treatment here. Track 8, entitled "Ti' Anika," has an interesting story. It began its life as a Portuguese popular song at the turn of the Twentieth Century, and was introduced to the Portuguese settlement of Malacca in the early 1950's. It is still popular today, not only in Malacca, but also in Portuguese settlements in Brasil and Hawai'i. "Mama Sä Filu," Track 14 has a similarly cosmopolitan origin, being a cover version of a famous Carmen Miranda hit from the 1940's. The most bizarre and wonderful track has to be Track 33, "O Amor," sung by Noel Felix. What begins as a pleasant unaccompanied ballad in Creole Portuguese takes a strange turn for the prairie about a minute into it, with a rather authentic sounding cowboy yodel. It turns out that Western music (as in the Country and... variety) is quite popular in Malaysia, and the top bands come from Malacca.


Disc 6. "Kroncong Moritsko" - Sumatra. Notes by Margaret Kartomi, Monash University, Australia.

Listen!
Sumatra is a large island in Indonesia, north of Java and across the straits of Malacca from Malacca on the Malay Peninsula. Like Malacca, Sumatra has a significant place in history, due to its strategic location and natural resources. The notes to Disc 6 are good, which is important as several of these tracks do not yield their Portuguese roots to the casual listener, so careful annotations are definitely a benefit here. The first two tracks, for instance, have only hints of Western influence. However, this subtle influence becomes an all out musical syncretism in Track 3, the title track. With its fado-like melody and definitely Western violin, the "Kroncong Moritsko" is definitely a remnant of Portuguese settlement, albeit with some gamelan influenced ostinato figures. This blend of styles might not be to everyone's taste, as it leans a bit towards the schmaltzy, but it holds enough of an edge to keep this reviewer interested (not to mention the exceedingly other-worldly high notes hit by lead singer Netty). Track 4, "Kroncong Tangisan Tengah Malam," captures the feeling of saudade as well as any fado. Recorded around 1950, Netty, sounds like a long-lost Southeast Asian version of Celeste Rodrigues (pardon the comparison, but it is the best way to describe this haunting voice). Interesting in these Kroncong tracks are the double influence of Arabic music: once from the Islamic missionaries of the 15th Century and then through the inherent Moorish influence in Portuguese music.

The tracks on this disc conformed most to this reviewer's expectations of 'a viagem dos sons,' with their clear hybridization of musical ideas, mixing haunting melodies, jangling chordophones of Portuguese origin and the rhythms of indigenous cultures. Certainly other influences are felt here, as for example the interesting electric guitar work in Track 7, "Bengawan Solo (Minor Key, Bolero-Style Version)." The influences vary in proportion, ranging from the almost entirely Sumatran to the mostly Portuguese, which provides for a pleasant mix to the music.


Disc 7. "Fála-Vai Fála-Vem" Macau. Notes by Carlos Piteira. Recordings taken from the Tradisom archives.

Listen!
This seventh disc, covering the music of Macau, is fantastic. Too bad the notes do not live up to the music. They are not bad at giving the reader a sense of the history and general anthropology of Macau. But they give amazingly short coverage of the music. It is fine and good to speak of the hybridized cuisine, the popular medicine, to give a good page and a half to the "Gestation of the native pole," two pages to the "Preferential system of matrimonial unions," two more to "Enlargement of the network of admittance," but to then follow this with a mostly speculative section entitled "From the Fado to the 'Ehru'" of only two pages is a travesty. First, as important as Fado is to Portuguese music, it is only one genre (or two, if one insists that Coimbra and Lisboa styles constitute two genres); there is much more to Chinese music than Ehru fiddle. Second, the primary styles of music illustrated in this disc do not draw heavily from either Fado or Ehru (three tracks out of fourteen features the Ehru (or even any significant Chinese musical influence). The question of Fado influence is open to more debate. This reviewer contends that the lusophonic influences are more generically Portuguese than specifically Fado influences). Making the matter all the worse is that these notes are dry and academic.

Aside from the notes, there are no substantial faults to this disc. The tracks clearly reflect the mission of the set. They are interesting, varied, well played, and well recorded. They illustrate that Tradisom clearly deserves its reputation as a premier collector of explorations in Portuguese music. From the opening track, "Unda ta vai quirida," a long, haunting poetic ode to Macau, the listener is treated to a musical tour of the scattered remnants of Portuguese rule. Most of the tracks are various ensembles of voice and chordophones, in the Portuguese tradition. Track 9, "Aqui bobo," is a good fado-influenced carnival song. Of particular note is Track 11, "Ponte I - Macau" by the ensemble A Outra Banda, which is strikingly similar to the work of several of the post-Salazar folksingers in Portugal. There are hints of Chinese influence in the flute lines, but other than that, it sounds like it could have come out of a Tradisom recording made in Lisboa. Also by A Outra Banda is the instrumental "Casas de ópio," which may be the closest track to be fruitfully analyzed in the context of "Fado to Ehru," although the final track, in similar fashion, blends a Chinese instrumental accompaniment, complete with firecrackers, with another beautiful recitation, this time on the theme of the Chinese Lunar New Year. It is a fitting end to a tremendously rewarding disc.


Disc 8. "Tata-Hateke Ba Dok" Timor Notes by Louise Byrne.

Listen!
It is nearly impossible to contemplate anything of the culture of Timor without thinking of the brutal barbarism afflicted on that people by the government of Indonesia. These recordings, however, do not focus on the morose. The joy of the people, as well as their tremendous reverence for St. Anthony, their patron, is best demonstrated in the second track, a field recording of the greeting of a relic of the saint at the Motael church. This joy in the visit of St. Anthony is appropriate in today's climate, where the Catholic Church has become the center of a revitalized hope for the future of East Timor.

Naturally many of these selections are political. What is refreshing is that they are able to transcend the merely propagandistic. The predominant feature is a unique polyphony, especially well illustrated on track 6, "O Hele Ho," a Christianized version of an indigenous tune. Other tunes demonstrate mixtures of Portuguese and Southeast Asian influence, similar to those found in Sumatra and Malacca. American influences are also found, but they are totally subsumed into the Timorese musical traditions (for instance, "Lenço Ida Ba Noi," which borrows a melody from the pop-tune "Mona Lisa" or "Sae Foho Tun Faho," which uses appallingly irritating synthesizers and drum machines in a rather unique way, such that their bouncy and crude sounds become interesting in ways never intended by the good engineers at Casio). In fact the tunes that have such heavy outside influences (even to the point of being sung in English), demonstrate the resilience of the Timorese people, in that they never sound like they are trying to imitate foreign norms, rather they are borrowing what they choose and using consciously to further their own musical agendas (even, to some extent, in "Karau Atan," the strange Country and Western song by Mario Boavida).

As with the other strong recordings in this set, Disc 8 manages to represent an incredibly wide variety of music, showcasing traditional and modern instruments, indigenous and foreign influence. What makes this disc remarkable is the currently tragic setting in which this music was born. Certainly the histories of any of the regions in a viagem dos sons have tragedy written in them, as does the history of any country. What makes Timor different is how recent the tragedy is and how the music rises far above it. The notes are good, with a couple of problems, notably, the lack of historical background (not once is the series of events from the independence from Portugal to the present outlined), and a couple of tunes that are not explained or translated in any satisfactory way.

 

Africa/South America

 


Disc 9. "Makwayela" Moçambique. Notes and recordings by João Soeiro de Carvalho.

Listen!
This is a great recording of southern African music, specifically of a tradition that includes music, dancing, storytelling, all used to convey news, information, and, most importantly, wisdom. The vocals are strong, the harmonies enchanting, the songs well written and uplifting. However, could somebody please tell this reviewer what any of this has to do with Portugal, beyond the fact that Moçambique was part of the Portuguese empire? There appears to be nothing really Portuguese in this music, besides the fact that the sections and dances have some Portuguese names. If there is nothing of Portuguese influence to be found here, why is it represented? All in all, it is not a bad disc, it just seems to be totally irrelevant to the whole set. Oh well, at least it is a joy to listen to.


Disc 10. "Tchiloli" São Tome. Notes and Recordings by Rosa Clara Neves.

Listen!
Although "Tchiloli" begins with some promise, as it progresses it reveals itself as a nearly unlistenable disc. Neves has focused on a street theater tradition, and, while writing some fascinating notes, has alienated the music from the visual and narrative elements that make the tradition interesting. The ties to Portugal are through the dramas themselves, not through the music. Each track is interesting, but taken as a whole, the experience is something akin to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Certainly it is a bit more human than Mr. Reed's opus inferni, but it is mostly subtle variations on simple themes that wear thin quickly. The disc begins with 12 different toques (apparently a leitmotiv of some sort, but this is not entirely clear from the text). They are fairly similar to one another. Then, to confound any hope for a pleasant listening experience, the same 12 toques are repeated, but with different instrumentation. Since the listener is probably clamoring for more, certain of these toques are repeated with yet different instrumentation. Finally, there are two excerpts of actual performances, featuring the toques one has already heard ad nauseam.

Certainly it is a wonderful thing that all of this is preserved for historical reasons, but it should be part of a disc accompanying a book on this theater tradition, not part of a commercial release. The best way to get some enjoyment is to put this disc in a multi-disc changer and set the thing to random play, so that these will only be delightful flute and drum interludes in the program. Listening to a whole disc of this, however, is not something this reviewer wishes to do a third time.


Disc 11. "Dez Granzin Di Tera" Cabo Verde. Notes by Jorge Castro Ribeiro. Recordings: made by Jorge Castro Ribeiro and Jorge Torres in the field, with the exception of one previously commercial release.

Listen!
The music of Cabo Verde is perhaps the most familiar of the material in this set, thanks to the widespread popularity of morna diva Cesaria Evora. Music is a vital part of everyday life in the arid islands that make up Cabo Verde. The majority of musicians are amateurs, although their abilities would qualify them as professional in most cultures. The various genres, caladeira, morna, batuque, and funana have specific functions: the caladeira is for dancing, as is the funana and the batuque, while the morna is no longer considered a dance genre. Of all of the music in a viagem dos sons, the morna best captures the feeling of saudade (known in the creole of Cabo Verde as sodade).

The 4th track, "Escuta Me" performed by noted pianist Chico Serra and accompanied with cavaquinho, guitar, bass and rattle, is first rate, conveying saudade without even recourse to lyrics. It is all here: longing, nostalgia, fatalism, all bound together with a resigned joy (a notion that probably only makes sense in the context of Portuguese music). For totally unrestrained joy, Track 6 offers a rousing mazurka featuring the octogenarian violinist Gabriel Antonio Costa (known as Nho Kzik).

The closest to a "pure" Portuguese expression in the whole set is track 8, "Situacoes Triangulares" a valso performed by composer and virtuoso guitarist Vasco Martins. Although played on a Spanish style guitar, this is reminiscent of the Portuguese guitarra of Carlos Paredes: complex, breathtakingly haunting and moody music. This is music that achieves the rare combination of intense emotion and restraint, a contrast that virtually defines Portuguese music.

With the widest variety of genres and subjects represented, "Dez Granzin Di Tera" is the strongest disc in a viagem dos sons. Everything from songs for social dancing to a work song, to quasi-liturgical songs to the political tune "CPLP" (a Batuque performed by the Grupo Batuque da Cidade Velha and dedicated to the Community of Portuguese Language Countries) is represented on this disc, giving the listener not only a good sense of how Portuguese and African elements combined in Cabo Verde, but also a feeling for the variety of music found in this tiny group of islands off the west coast of Africa.


Disc 12. "Cavalo Marinho da Paraíba" Brasil. Notes by Samuel Araújo.

Listen!
As noted in the introduction to the whole review of 'a viagem dos sons,' this is one of the two inaccessible discs in the collection. Focusing on a specific street theater tradition in the state of Paraíba in the northeastern part of Brasil. From the photographs and text, this looks like a riveting spectacle, with interesting ties to Portuguese culture. The predominant feeling that this reviewer had while listening to this disc was that it would have made a much more interesting DVD. The essays included are fascinating, and well worth reading, although they are fraught with spelling errors.

This disc is an example of an academic foisting an over-specialized interest on a public that is here for another reason. Anyone who has attended a good share of academic symposia knows the type: the person who is determined to talk on a specific interest, no matter what the topic of the symposium. In a symposium, the audience members roll their eyes, wriggle their toes, and wonder, "why, oh why, was so and so invited?" It is a shame that this otherwise brilliant box of music ends with this disc.

Fortunately the good far outweighs the bad in the set, making the ten great discs more than worth the investment (and, while the two turkeys are not something that the average listener, even of relatively obscure music, will listen to more than once, it is certainly worth knowing something about these street theater traditions). - Erik Keilholtz


These CDs are only available as a complete set.

In North America from cdRoots
In Europe, from Tradisom


Comment on this music or the web site.
Write a Letter to the Editor

Looking for More Information?



return to rootsworld

© 2002 RootsWorld. No reproduction of any part of this page or its associated files is permitted without express written permission.