I will be presenting a paper at the 18th biennial IASPM conference in Campinas, Brazil, on 30 June. My paper is entitled ‘Excavating “Coimbra”: Genealogy, Nostalgia, and the Material Life of a Portuguese popular song’ and the abstract is below.
This paper uses the story of a particular song, the Portuguese fado ‘Coimbra’, as a way of exploring the relationship between representational distance, ‘prescribed’ or ‘instant’ nostalgia and history. ‘Coimbra’ began its life as a musical representation of a city but later became, as ‘April in Portugal’, an international representation of a country and of a more general sense of nostalgic longing. Telling this story chronologically will encourage a focus on the twists, turns and mutations that occur during the life of a much-performed song, tracing in particular the way in which this song’s inherent representational distance grows into ever more distanced , displaced and distorted configurations. This journey will travel from Portugal to Brazil, from France to the USA, as well as many points in between. The second part of the paper reverses this historical chronology by focusing on the chronology of the research process, on the unearthing, excavation and genealogic processes involved in historical song studies. What can be understood from having all of these ‘Coimbras’ available to us, not least on digital platforms such as Spotify, YouTube and iTunes? Here, notions of the archive, of media archaeology and of the material life of music become paramount and impact on the questions of nostalgia and temporal displacement with which this panel is engaged.
My article ‘Time and Distance Are No Object: Holiday Records, Representation and the Nostalgia Gap’ has been published in the French popular music journal Volume! in an issue devoted to popular music and nostalgia.
ABSTRACT: Whether temporally or spatially focussed, nostalgia results from a division between what is longed for and the moment of longing. This article examines this ‘nostalgia gap’ alongside the analogous gap found in representation. The relationship is highlighted via an analysis of ‘holiday records’, a genre of recordings that became prevalent in the 1960s. The genre intersects with the more familiar genres of exotica, mood music, easy listening and ambient, but is distinguished by its emphasis on a particular form of spatial reminiscence and imagination. Using the example of ‘April in Portugal’, a song that started life as a Portuguese fado and subsequently became an international hit and mood music staple, I address a set of questions that illustrate the nostalgia gap. What is being remembered or imagined in the song? Can we distinguish between described and prescribed nostalgia? How is saudade, the specifically Portuguese ‘grammar of nostalgia’, related to nostalgic languages found on other holiday records?
More information here and here.
My essay ‘The Choreography of Longing: Songs, Screens and Space in Carlos Saura’s Fados’ has been published in a special issue of the journal Quaderns de Cine on cinema and urban popular musics, edited by Kiko Mora. An abstract and pre-publication draft can be found here.
An article by Naresh Fernandes on fado for Live Mint. Naresh interviewd me for the piece, during which process I was happy to discover his previous writing. Naresh is a journalist and author of the book Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age. There’s a great blog to accompany that book, which also has links to some of the other texts Naresh has written.
I’ll be intorducing a screening of Carlos Saura’s film Fados as part of the Vamos! festival in Newcastle upon Tyne on 9 July. Details here.