MARIA GRACIETE BESSE on “ARCHiPELAGOS”
Practice of Relation
Every archipelago thinking is thinking of tremor, of non-presumption, but also of openness and sharing.
Composer, songwriter and singer, Amélia Muge is well known in the Portuguese cultural panorama for the beauty of her lyrics and musical compositions. Born in Mozambique, the artist came to Portugal in 1984. Her first album, entitled Múgica, was released in 1992, followed by Todos os dias (1994). Throughout her career, Amélia Muge has regularly collaborated with José Mário Branco, Fausto, etc., and was awarded the prestigious Zeca Afonso Prize in 1995 for Maio maduro Maio (together with José Mário Branco and João Afonso). She received again this prize in 1998 for the album Taco a Taco, followed by other discs (A Monte, 2000; Não sou daqui, 2007) and numerous participations in national and international festivals. At present, the songwriter continues working with several artists, and composing for well-known fado singers such as Mísia, Camané, Ana Moura, Cristina Branco, and many others.
In 2009, Amélia Muge met the singer, composer and instrumentalist Michales Loukovikas, born in Thrace, a specialist in contemporary Hellenic music, especially rebetiko.1 This meeting, under the auspices of the Internet, proved immediately to be fruitful, actualized in several projects and three albums: a CD-book in Portuguese and Greek (2011), which celebrates the work of the poet Ares Alexandrou, based on a previous work by Michales Loukovikas, entitled O Ouro do Céu (The Gold in the Sky); then Periplus / Luso-Hellenic Wanderings (2012), considered in Portugal as one of the best albums of the year; and more recently Archipelagos / Passages (2018), which includes a CD and an eBook, where we discover a musical and poetic adventure unfolding between Portugal and Greece, but also open to the wider world. In this work, the two artists celebrate the theme of voyage through different cultures and landscapes, in multiple time and varied space – Portugal, Greece, Macaronesia, South America, the islands of utopia –, proposing a crossed approach, endowed with an original sound that extends the fascinating Luso-Hellenic Wanderings of Periplus, to offer us now some passages that lead us beyond wanderings to new dimensions of the imagination.
Endowed with a great literary and musical quality, Archipelagos / Passages consists of 28 routes, distributed in 10 distinct island sequences, presenting itself as a work in the form of an archipelago. The term “archipelago”, as it is made explicit in the eBook (Archipedia) accompanying the CD (with texts in Portuguese, English and Greek), refers to a meaning prevailing in ancient Greece, where it designated the Aegean Sea, later denoting the Aegean Islands, and finally any island group. But the concept of an archipelago presents a high density of poetic connotations, being a tributary, in the Occidental collective imagination, to past centuries’ utopias in which the island appeared isolated. Talking about an archipelago, we can also evoke the ancient culture and, after Hölderlin, all the Hellenic, universal and immortal cultural richness. According to Saint-John Perse (1887-1975), another great poet fascinated by the island universe, there is an atmospheric environment and a psychological base behind the bright screen of the Mediterranean space impregnated with ancient history and civilization. The album of Amelia Muge and Michales Loukovikas opens with this enchanting dimension, emanating from the adaptation of a poem by Hölderlin.
At the centre of the literary and musical universe this work offers, we can easily identify the paradigmatic concept of Relation, developed by the French poet, novelist and philosopher Édouard Glissant (1928-2011), who proposed a rhizomatic poetics open to Diversity as a crossing between a place and the world.2 Referring to the crossroads of diverse cultures, the Relation reflects an archipelago thinking, in which the islands cease to mean isolation, opening themselves to the whole world, that is, to a radiating force, opposing the totalitarian concept of closure and intolerance.3 Despite the geographical and cultural differences, we think that in Archipelagos / Passages there are in fact echoes of the work of this great Caribbean poet, mainly due to the sense of a trajectory, a precursor and a crossing, which are at the base of a way of thinking that is opposed to a vision of a closed, unitary world, proposing the stimulating presence of the Diverse, marked by the idea of movement. But, as Édouard Glissant has stressed on several occasions, the Relation does not mean a confused and disorderly mixture of cultures, inasmuch as the Diverse understands the existing differences, adjusting to each other, harmonizing. According to the poet, the Relation has an archipelagic dimension open to passage and to the whole world, a notion that allows conceiving not only politics but also identity, ethics, language and different modes of thinking. In Glissant’s opinion, the scheme of archipelago thinking does not lead to the notion of territory that is defined as a continental notion, because the archipelago is discontinuous, decentralized. In this perspective, the poet-philosopher distinguishes:
● continental thinking identifying with the system, arrogant, made of causal logic that can lead to war;
● and archipelago thinking, which is another way of thinking, more intuitive, more fragile, rhizomatic, associated with the unpredictable of chaos-world, a neologism that characterizes not disorder but the unpredictability.4
Poetics of Relation: opacity has the radical potentiality for social movements to challenge and subvert systems of domination. Glissant demands for the “right to opacity”, indicating the oppressed can be opaque, not completely understood, and simply exist as different. The colonizer perceived the colonized as different and unable to be understood, thereby constructing the latter as the Other and demanding transparency so that the former could somehow fit them into their cognitive schema and dominate over them. However, Glissant rejects this transparency and defends opacity and difference because other modes of understanding do exist; he calls for understanding and accepting difference without measuring it to an “ideal scale”, and comparing and making judgments, “without creating a hierarchy” – as Western thought has done.
Rhizome is a philosophical concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972–80). They oppose it to an arborescent (hierarchic, tree-like) conception of knowledge, which works with dualist categories and binary choices. A rhizome works with planar-horizontal and trans-species connections, while an arborescent model works with vertical and linear ones. They use examples from the biological concept of mutualism, in which two different species interact to form a multiplicity. “The rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines, looks for the original source of ‘things’ and towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those ‘things’. A rhizome, on the other hand, is characterized by ‘ceaselessly establishing connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.’ Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a ‘rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, inter-being, intermezzo.’ The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favouring a nomadic system of growth and propagation.”
According to Glissant, archipelago thinking is also thinking of tremor, which is consistent with wandering and open to the future. Thus, shivering or tremor is the quality of what is opposed to the brutal, univocal thinking of oneself without the other, writes the poet, stressing that we need to shiver, because we suffocate in the middle of systemic and arrogant thoughts. We could add that we also need, more and more, spaces of epiphany, as the ones that Amélia Muge and Michales Loukovikas give us to listen to in this disc that designs unprecedented archipelagos, mobilizes mixed cultures, appealing to a dynamic of unanticipated subjectivations that designate a glance, a voice, a breath, a tradition traversed by multiple passages, fluid and shivering memories, in order to think about the complexity of the world, also inviting us to imagine the Encounter and to foster hope beyond all forms of utopia.
According to Glissant, as well as to Amélia Muge and Michales Loukovikas, the landscape is not just a simple scenario, but an active character in history. Thanks to the poetics of Relation, a part of nature, seen through the human eye, i.e. the landscape chosen according to subjective, emotional and affective parameters, is not only in a horizontal perspective, but designs a vertical profundity that invites us to reflection. Thus, the disc’s first thematic axis proposes a series of landscapes that refer to the beauty of Greece sung by Hölderlin, related to fragments of Orestes, the tragedy of Euripides, composed in 408 BC, evoking pain, sung in ancient Greek by Michales Loukovikas and chorus.
We then identify the presence of two distinct musical universes: the Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal, dating to 1400 BC – discovered in Syria in the 1950s, in the archaeological site of Ugarit – and Acordai (Wake Up), a poem by José Gomes Ferreira, set to music by Fernando Lopes-Graça in the 1940s. The sequence begins as a lullaby that starts from antiquity and reaches our days to awaken our sensitivity and intelligence, and imposes itself as a protest song. Parallel to the literary research of this remarkable musical work, we can speak of an ethical and political dimension in the noblest meaning of the term.
The disc begins with a voice of wisdom that recites Hölderlin’s verses (Amélia’s mother, aged 98) and ends with a children’s choir, thus
designing an itinerary that is projected into the future.
Archipelagos / Passages invites us to a voyage through real and imaginary spaces, proposing a geographical, literary and cultural route that convokes voices as different as those of Sappho, Euripides, Hölderlin, Pessoa, José Gomes Ferreira, Saramago, or even Hélia Correia, which is in the centre of the entire CD. It should also be noted that the disc begins with a voice of wisdom that recites Hölderlin’s verses (Amélia’s mother, aged 98) and ends with a children’s choir, thus designing an itinerary that is projected into the future. The ancient world and the space of the Mediterranean, the closed sea, opens up to the Atlantic and is confounded with the universe of Macaronesia, introduced through a traditional song of the Canaries connected with a song of the Azores and Cape Verdean rhythms in a beautiful tribute to Cesária Évora.
We can also observe that all this work is traversed by a fundamental question of Hölderlin, quoted by Hélia Correia: “What is the purpose of the poets in times of such indigence?” This melancholic question, posed in 1800 by the German Romantic poet, underlines the disillusionment of all those who saw the lights of the French Revolution go out in the Reign of Terror. However, Hölderlin does not exactly aim at the disillusioned with history but at those “abandoned by God”, bringing about the spiritual fall, the eclipse of transcendence. Anyway, we should remember that, three years later, the answer to this question arose when Hölderlin underlined the role and responsibility of the artist, stating that “the poets established everything that persists”. In the middle of the 20th century, Adorno evoked the crime against humanity and considered that it would be barbaric to write poetry after Auschwitz. But poetry persisted, as we know, and as is demonstrated by the work of Archipelagos / Passages that celebrates words coming from diverse cultural horizons, to remind us that Hölderlin’s question can be asked again in our days, due to the loss of many values that touch the contemporary world.
Archipelagos / Passages, therefore, celebrates a multiple landscape, crosses memories, establishes a dialogue with written and oral tradition, translates the rhythm of languages (Portuguese, Greek, Spanish, English, Creole), makes us listen to the breath that reveals the harmony, pain and violence of history – it is noteworthy that in one of the most beautiful sequences of the album, Amélia Muge dives right into the memory of the words and sings Sappho in ancient Greek, inviting us to travel through time and face the temptation of silence, before convoking an English poem by Fernando Pessoa to insist on the cadence of the hours, showing that time leads us to what Glissant called chaos-world, where we find the shock of contacts, the mixtures between very different realities, the identities and cultures that come into relationship with each other, without losing anything of their originality. This chaos-world is dominated by the sorcerer sea sung in Greek by another collaborator of the CD, Andreas Karakotas, that convokes an excerpt from the already evoked Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal and leads us to an Odyssey where Odysseus is on his way to his island, after a long journey through unknown lands. “Ithaca was everything”, says the poem, but it no longer exists. Odysseus has become a foreigner who takes the form of a beggar, a refugee – we might add today –, a migrant, whom Europe insults and lets him die in this immense cemetery called the Mediterranean. Then we enter a new thematic axis of the disc opposing utopia and dystopia, where the unforeseen, open to wanderings and sometimes to death, is inscribed, like that of Nicolas the fisherman, sung by Michales Loukovikas – the fisherman his mother is waiting for, as she does not know that her son drowned in the sea.
The poetic and musical route opens up, nevertheless, to the vision of a utopia, referring to the famous island invented by Thomas More in 1516, and whose roots are found in Aristotle and Plato. Utopia, as we know, represents something perfect, inseparable from the quest. The political meaning of utopia is related to an imaginary government that is impossible to achieve. The transformation of utopia into dystopia reveals a melancholic tropism that concerns our representation of time and history marked by catastrophe where the dream can be transformed into a nightmare (this catastrophe of which Walter Benjamin, the German Jewish philosopher, spoke in the early 1930s, already sensing the horror of the Holocaust); or into Neverland’s lost kids, sung by Amélia Muge, in a beautiful adaptation of a traditional Thracian rhythm, arranged by António José Martins and Michales Loukovikas.
The question posed by Hölderlin (“What is the purpose of the poets in times of such indigence?”), gains great intensity, like a litany, when it is expressed with Hélia Correia’s voice that evokes the ruin of Hellas, abandoned by all the gods (above all the gods of Finance in the moment of the recent crisis). The dystopian nightmare is transmitted with Beethoven’s music, more precisely the 2nd movement of the Third Symphony, the Funeral March, adapted by Michales Loukovikas, to express what Hélia Correia describes as the Third Misery (title of a magnificent book of poetry).5 The “third misery” mentioned by Hélia Correia, is “that of those who just don’t listen nor ask questions… don’t remember”, and corresponds to the dehumanization of the world in which we live, populated by shadows, that world that has lost every sense of hospitality – We Talk About Shadows is rightly the title of this song, in one of the most beautiful sequences in the CD.
The next thematic axis of this work finally addresses the issue of migration with the nostalgia that fuels the singing of the migrant, where we hear echoes of other well-known tunes, Violeta Parra’s voice, or Rosalía de Castro’s verses, set to music by José Niza and sung by Adriano Correia de Oliveira.
Throughout the album, we can see that the Relation presents itself as something dynamic that reveals the world in its transition between interior and exterior, subjective and objective, near and distant. This Relation, as Édouard Glissant certifies, is a knowledge in the sense of knowing about oneself and about others, when the artist opens himself up to the drama of the world, but it can also mean a universe where Alegria (Jubilation) is sometimes inscribed – it’s the title of a poem of José Saramago, adapted by Amélia Muge and António José Martins, based on a composition and arrangement by Giorgos Andreou.
The poetic and musical voyage finally converges in a celebration of the sea, a meeting space to revisit a celebrated cantiga de amigo (a friend’s song) of Martín Codax, Waves of the Sea of Vigo, sung by Michales Loukovikas (in Greek) and Amélia Muge (in Portuguese), with a melody of rebetiko by Panaiotis Tountas – a music of Relation par excellence. The last sequence of Archipelagos / Passages is projected into the future because, as Amélia Muge sings, “there is always a boat to appear” and “everything will soon converge”.
In conclusion, we can certify that this remarkable work by Amélia Muge and Michales Loukovikas does not intend to present a static world of formal knowledge, but opens up to a universe of relationships and possible revelations. Thus we discover the world in its unpredictable diversity through a voyage made up of multiple itineraries that pass through places that populate our memory, designing a trajectory attentive to the dramas of contemporary democracy, but also to the ever renewed miracle of life, of the splendour of a landscape, the shivering of hope. The album works on a constant Relation between the subject, the world, poetic and musical writing, utopia and dystopia, corresponding to an emblematic route that leads us to overcome all borders, all walls, to design a geopoetics of archipelagic insularity like a necklace of islands that “are there always calling us”, as we listen to in the last passage of the disc. For all these reasons, we think that Archipelagos / Passages constitutes a beautiful illustration of the Glissantian concept of Relation fed by mobility and passages, which include decentralization, shivering, openness to the Multiple and the Diverse, but also an invitation to an ethical and political reflection that projects us into a plausible future, which must take into account the generosity of an imagination capable of transforming the world.
● Presentation of ARCHiPELAGOS / Passages in Paris, Fondation
Calouste Gulbenkian – Délégation en France, November 7, 2018.
● Published in Limite, Revista de Estudios Portugueses y de
la Lusofonía, Universidad de Extremadura, vol 12.2 / 2018
● Adapted into English: Michales Loukovikas