Fama 198001 via Pink Records
Only a small ethnic group in the northwestern part of Europe speaks Frisian, a Germanic language now surviving mostly in the Netherlands, more specifically in the province of Friesland. Frisian is the only protected minority tongue in the Netherlands where Dutch of course remains the main language.
From this forgotten province of Friesland, there arose a poet-cum-doctor named Jan Jacob Slauerhoff who became a roving seafarer. One of his trips landed him in Porto, Portugal. This town made such an impression on him that it became the beginning of a long-lasting relationship with Portugal and its people. He reveled in Lisboa's contrast and coexistence of beauty and deterioration. Its monuments rich in memories of a great history tower above the dark ruins of the slums filled with the poor and hopeless. In his poems, Slauerhoff feels one with these miserables whose despair, their saudade, is reflected in the Portuguese blues, the fado. O Engeitado | The Outcast, Vida Trista | Sad Life and Angustia | Sorrow are just a few of these poems written in Dutch though some Portuguese appears in their titles.
Some 75 years later, fadista Cristina Branco records nine of Slauerhoff's poems on her year 2000 CD Canto Slauerhoff. The poems are translated into Portuguese and Branco's guitarist/husband Custódio Castelo writes the music. The recording session takes place in a Leeuwarden church just a stone's throw away from where Slauerhoff lived between his journeys at sea. The setting is quite traditional fado - Portuguese guitar, violin, bass and Cristina's voice. Together with the original compositions, the lyrics, now at last in the language of the people they speak about, cast palpable images of the feelings Slauerhoff must have nursed throughout his life - paralyzed and outcast, victim to an immense despair by being born in the wrong era. Slauerhoff wanted to revive the times of the great discoverers like Vasco da Gama, to return to the era of Pessao or Camoes. Alas, all that's left of them is his palpable saudade.
At the end of the last century, a young Frisian girl heard the soundtrack of the movie Primal Fear featuring Dulce Pontes. She decided right then and there that she wanted to sing fado. Some years went by and Nynke Laverman finished her studies at the Performing Arts school. It was at an alternative music festival where she first presented her fado to a wider public. The reactions were overwhelming and Nynke decided to proceed.
Nynke has a knack for languages. Her love of the fado makes her love Portuguese while her Frisian background makes her love her native tongue. When she listened to Cristina Branco's Canto Slauerhoff, she realized that she had to combine her two loves. She translated the Dutch Slauerhoff poems into Frisian to accompany Custódio Castelo's music.
The result is not an A-to-B copy at all but a thorough overhaul. The Frisian language features the same thick "l", rolling "r" and harsh "aye" sounds as the Portuguese. Together with a group of hot-blooded musicians, the original Castelo compositions find themselves reworked for cello, double bass, Spanish and Portuguese guitars and the marimba.
Slauerhoff the seafaring doctor wrote many poems about the sea, the longing for the sea or the distance the sea creates between lovers. This had Nynke recall an ancient myth of the sea, about Ondine (or Undine in Germany, Melusine in France) the water nymph or mermaid who falls in love with a mortal but cannot share her secret without being drawn back into the sea (or forsake her watery existence for human mortality). Composers like Hofman, Reinecke, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak all picked up on this sad tale of love and desire. Nynke now puts her interpretation to music by Waldemar Bastos, the Angolese singer/songwriter and sets it right in the middle of her album.
Sielesâlt | Salt of the Soul begins a capella. Nynke's voice is more powerful than most fadista's, extending farther into the lower regions to render it broader yet sporting the same nasal higher end. Clear from the start is that Nynke and company don't fear silence. Here and there the music simply halts for a moment to create even more impact. The Frisian lyrics fit miraculously well with the music and even the Portuguese original when really needed where Slauerhoff included it to add an extra expression -- smoothly blends in.
Choosing a different musical setting than the traditional instruments from classical fado adds even more depth to the saudade. The lower reach of the cello -- in particular when bowed -- adds the same emotional tension which this instrument injects into tango orchestras. An emotional highlight on this recording is Nynke's own "Der wie ris | Once upon a Time", her song about the Ondine. Guitar and bass begin to accompany the lyrics and just at the right moment, the cello enters. This is one of the few recordings that's guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes every time it is played. The song ends at with a fortissimo heightened by the addition of a Peruvian slapped cajon.
The recording was done live on stage and features wonderful dynamic range. Recording live eliminates most if not all timing or pace errors to result in a very natural sound and continuous delivery. The mastering too is a great example for how things can be when people care enough. Despite the expansive dynamics, digital clipping is completely absent on this CD. Nynke's voice remains open and clear throughout the songs.
"Angustia" prominently displays another non-traditional fado instrument, the big drum. Take care with your windows when playing this song back at realistic levels. Done on purpose or not, when the last song "O Enjeitado" with the marimba ends, a mere 30 minutes have past. This leaves the listener in a state filled with tangible sorrow, not only because of the Portuguese crescendo phrases where the sob in the voice is so typical or the subtle marimba licks, but also because of the reprise of the moving theme of "Der wie ris": Stil, myn leafste, oer leafde net prate no. Hush, my love, don't speak about love now.