Alternative Music Deep Song
Every country has its folk songs. The music of America includes blues originating in spirituals and jazz with its African and Southern roots. Jazz was transported by the “Southern Diaspora” when blacks migrated to major cities in the North. That music wasn’t finished. It was visited in clubs, renewed and reinvigorated by those who heard it, as all music, even classical music, is.
Our very language carries with it music. English has a different rhythm and sound than does, for example, Spanish. Both Spanish and Italian have more vowels at the end of words. When they’re sung, the language difference adds to the distinctive types of songs in different countries and regions. The meter of Emily Dickinson’s poetry is recognized as likely derived from hymns.
In addition to differences in music and language, lyrics around the world are not the same, but is there a country where someone does not sing of lost love? I’m a fan of Mercedes Sosa, an Argentinean cantadora who helped make popular “nueva canció” (“new song”), song that expressed a desire for political change similar to, say, some of the sixties work in the U.S. by Dylan or Baez. When Allende was inaugurated in Chile, “a banner above his head read, ‘You Can’t Have a Revolution Without Songs.‘” Where are the musicians when you need them?
It’s no secret that the Gypsies (or Roma or, in Spain, “gitano”) have long been politically repressed. A play by Federico García Lorca, The Casa de Bernarda Alba, a story about Spain’s Gypsies, is very popular right now. Even so, the New York Times notes, “in Madrid, the actresses — who live in a shantytown in Seville and dress in traditional long Gypsy skirts — had trouble getting a taxi. Though accompanied by government officials, they were also refused service in a local bar.”
Federico García Lorca lived from June 5, 1898 until the 17th or 18th of August 1936 when soldiers took him to “visit” a murdered family member at a cemetery in Granada, his country of birth, and there, killed him, too. Lorca’s wonderful poetry was banned in Spain, where the Gypsies had so inspired him with their “deep song” (“cante jondo”). Lorca not only penned a beautiful essay (delivered as a lecture in 1922) about the form, he also started Spain’s Cante Jondo festival. (Lorca, who had visited the U.S., said American spirituals had reminded him of “deep song.”) A form of the Cante Jondo festival, which included traditional flamenco dancing, was held as recently as 2011 in Seville, but finding a festival devoted to “deep song” is probably not possible. Lorca, himself, was careful to distinguish between flamenco singing and “deep song.” I’m interested in whether it can still be sought out in Spain’s small cafés.
First of all, this singing is Andalusian and Gypsy according to Lorca who stated, “(T)he perfect and genuine prototype is the Gipsy siguiriya.” He goes on to trace the Arab and Moorish roots of song “imbued with mysterious color of primordial ages.” It is, he claims, “a stammer, an emission, higher or lower in pitch, of the
voice, a marvelous buccal undulation…. like the trilling of birds, the cry of the cockerel, and the natural
music of woods and streams… bearing in its notes the naked, shiver of emotion …”
in his detailed description of its form, Lorca says “The Gypsy siguiriya begins with a dreadful cry, …the cry of dead generations, a poignant elegy for vanished centuries, the evocation of love filled with pathos beneath other winds and other moons. Then the melodic phrase begins to unfold the mystery of tone, and withdraw the precious stone of a sob, a sonorous tear borne on the river of the voice.”
In 1697, William Congreve, wrote a play in verse, The Mourning Bride, the setting of which also happened to be in Grenada. A famous line from that play is “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast.” Deep song, as described by Lorca, is not the song to “soothe” but to express “the savage Breast.”
Lorca endorses the notion that song and speech are inextricably connected. Science has subsequently confirmed the poet’s intuition. In citing examples of lyrics from “deep song,” Lorca notes their “emotional truth” and their rejection of “half-tones.” “An Andalusian either cries to the stars or kisses the red dust of the roadway.” Lorca admires “the way feeling begins to take shape in these lyrical constructs and almost solidifies as a material thing. This is the case with Suffering. In these poems, Suffering takes on flesh, acquires human form, and reveals a definite outline.
She is the dark-haired woman who longs to catch birds in the nets of the breeze.” He also admires the “pantheism” of the lyrics of deep song, the way they partake of “earth, air, moon and seas.”
Those of us raised in traditions of “Keep Calm and Carry On,” are not strangers to such emotion. We have felt it, however, briefly, but we have likely not sung it – like Gypsies nor heard its true ring. Travel is about opening ourselves up to other ways of being. Now that we know what it is, where is it? Tony Bryant, an Englishman, has written extensively about the course of history of flamenco music, but remember Lorca’s distinction. “Deep song” is not the same.
Lorca’s original Cante Jondo festival was moved to Alhambra. If you go to Alhambra, there are many things to consider, but I hope you will remember a young poet who fell in love with a tradition of music he enticed, like a lover leading a dark-haired dancer out of a small café, to which we may imagine, at this late date, she has returned. The deep song, the long-suffering one, the savage breast has fled. When you are in Andalusia, you must ask each old Gypsy woman you pass, where is the cantadora that time has not passed? Resting by a campfire, perhaps.
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