Fez, Morocco, June 2013 As part of the sacred music festival, a forum is dedicated…
Thursday, 14 June, 4 pm Batha Museum courtyard, Fez International Sacred Music Festival
Arabesques: From the poems of the Diván del Tamarit by Federico García Lorca
Interpreted by Rocio Màrquez, Melodies and piano by Christian Boissel
“Proud of the Arab past of his hometown, Granada, Federico García Lorca wrote a collection of poems in the 1930s known as a ‘diwan’, that paid tribute to the great Arab poets of the past.”
It was the afternoon I slipped away from the lodging minutes after we arrived back from an extensive and hot exploration of the metal smithing areas of the souk. Midway through our rambling walk I realized I would probably miss the one concert I had dearly hoped to see. And now there was time to catch the last half of it. Washed my armpits, brushed my hair, changed out of sweaty clothes quickly quickly. Lorca was calling me.
Rapidly up through the medina to the courtyard of the museum where the afternoon concerts played out. By now the route between lodging and music venue was a softly patted trail, weaving among vendors and street carts, the sights and smells and sounds. “You come see my paintings today? please…” “Tomorrow perhaps!” “Toujour tomorrow!” but all spoken with comfortable ease and laughter as I deftly turn to avoid small children, piles of slippers or cardboard pedestals for leather purses and bags. I never did go see his paintings, and he saluted me with his enormous laughter and smile the day we left, with our luggage in a donkey cart.
Out through the green gate and into the direct heat of the sun, through the open plazas around the city museum, in through security (I could hear her singing already, how much had I missed?) Sat on the carpet in front of the stage, the place where the devotees sit, where Riantee liked to sit for her beloved concerts of Indian music and dance. Most of the audience behind us in folding chairs fanning out under shade awnings that barely held back the heat. Shade of the venerable oak tree advancing over the carpet as the afternoon sun shifted in angle and intensity.
and Rocio. her voice and manner exactly the pin drop of understatement and passion, intensity in her uplifted hand with the slender elegant fingers barely touching, as if sifting fine silk or flour.
What was amazing about witnessing her performance, her presentation, was not that it was perfect, as if rehearsed and replicated. I was watching her reach for it, pull it out of the air. She was searching for the notes and concentrating on the developing line with the lyric and pulling it out of somewhere right in front of you, so that it had the miraculous feeling of birth, and its perfection was in how it seemed predestined. That I would be here, that I would have come here, that poetry was the theme of this year’s festival when I just happened to make the decision, after wanting to come to the festival for nearly ten years, that this one program of the 8 days and 40 or more concerts, was devoted to the poetry of Lorca, the Diván del Tamarit rendered with piano and voice.
And it answered my question, my curiosity about flamenco and cante jondo, Portugese fado, the amanades of Turkey and Greece—they all share something fundamentally un-European. There is the Arabic falling note, the “quarter-tones,” the melismatic element brought out of the music itself under pressure of emotion barely held in check. That’s what I found in Lorca who found it resonant in the Moorish literary traditions of Andalusia.
Not a Janis Joplin kind of passion like a runaway horse or a Van Morrison being swept along, “testifying” as someone aptly observed, fulvent thunderous incoming waves. This is an almost painful realization and admission of emotion that takes over the entire human organism and relieves it of its burden at the same time that it is devastating the audience. Something both controlled and allowed, and with both gift and technique, renewed.
It is only in the beginnings of retelling of this particular concert that I began to see a larger picture of my life. In this journey, at this particular concert, I experienced the completion of an enormous arc that took me back to when I was nineteen years old and went to Granada and came back to California a poet instead of a forest ranger. I dropped my studies of biology and chemistry and my dream of living in a remote cabin by the edge of a surging Sierra Nevada creek—mint over time over boulder and moss—and began the discipline, entering the traditions of poetry, gravitated to cities, to places of culture, and eventually to Mendocino County.
Lorca’s poetry has remained my touchstone in poetry. No other poet moved me as much for many years, to the extent that when someone at one point asked me to name the poets I read the most, I drew a blank, because I was trying to think of American poets. It took me years to find Denise Levertov and Whitman and Diane diPrima, and more years to realize there were people like Yusef Komunyakka, Joy Harjo, and Arthur Sze in the world.
1977 was the year of that fateful trip to Spain—I was born too late for the Summer of Love (I was only thirteen and living in Marin County), but coming of age in the decade following, with the environmental and womens’ movements developing. I apprenticed as a typesetter, eventually arriving at Mills in the early 1980s where I learned to set lead type in a stick, going back to the fifteenth century for my rendering of words. So many things in my life were established from this moment, when I stood in Granada and felt the dust and the cool caves of Lorca’s earth. Places he would have walked.
Why the unending power of the earth of things? That I may never know. And why the traveling that has always been my fundamental inspiration, and with it the music of the places I have visited: Spain, Greece, Egypt, Istanbul, Lisbon, Hawaii, Sevilla. The music that goes along with this and follows me home. Never quite as urgent the home music. More than anything, it has been the music of Spain that has haunted me, raised questions, some of which are now answered, beautifully, with further musical compositions and the variations and strategies of slack key guitar, bouzouki, Portuguese viola.
How would I know this trip to Fez would complete such a cycle? I dimly knew it, knew I needed to press on, make the trip happen in spite of inordinate pressure not to do so. Considerable guilt that I was going when many of my friends and especially my husband could not join me. During the entire festival, though my travel companions and I did not do any touring outside Fez, and indeed spent most of the time in the medina, the old walled city, I felt periodic washes of emotion—joy equally with grief—that something was turning over in my soul, in my being. A new touchstone, the metabolism of a “dream fulfilled,” an answer to a question asked thirty-five years ago.
At such moments, everything else goes smash. You see vividly the fundamental flaws, the imperfections. The flaw in Rocio’s voice, snagging on a heartbeat that lags behind or jumps ahead, and then the music cradles the flaw, lifts it up, lets it go like a dove.
What change this experience will bring in my life I don’t yet know, but the fact that it will engender change, this I do know. And change, being a frightening thing at any time, and change being an exciting thing at every time—I have woken up. I am its creature, not with the heart of the utterly impressionable nineteen-year-old without wordly experience. No, with the heart of experienced, disciplined, and utterly impressionable fifty-four years. It is the search, it is the asking.
Pero como el amor/los saeteros/están ciegos
But like love,/the archers/are blind
– Federico García Lorca, “Madrugada,” In Search of Duende