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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mackey's relationship to "Deep Song"

[This is a continuing series of posts that reflect on Nathaniel Mackey's Songs of the Andoumboulou, a series of poems that Mackey has been working on through three books. His latest book with Andoumboulou poems in them, Splay Anthem, won the National Book Award. I take into consideration his allusions, Mackey's prose, interviews with him, and critical discussions of his work. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. To access all of the posts, click on "Nathaniel Mackey" in the list to the right.]

[I am currently discussing Mackey's book Whatsaid Serif. If for some reason you cannot buy it (and I sincerely hope you do), many of the poems can be found here. Also, Mackey reads 10 of the poems with musical accompaniment on an album entitled Strick.]

Because the early poems in Whatsaid Serif are so indebted to Lorca's notion of Andalusian "Deep Song," it seems imperative to return to his ideas. I will sketch out Frederico Lorca's comments on it today, then look more closely at them tomorrow, in addition to working with Mackey's essay on the topic, "Cante Moro."

Frederico Garcia Lorca was fascinated by a type of folk song native to the Andalusian region of Spain. Called "Cante Jondo," or "deep song."

A handy New Directions Press book from 1998, In Search of Duende, gathers Lorca's essays and speeches on this subject. In the first essay, "Deep Song," Lorca makes a sharp distinction between the Cante Jondo and the better known flamenco.

The Andalusian folk songs are primitive and filled with simple truth. They resulted from the combining of original, pre-deep song Andalusian music with gypsy musical tendencies, after the travelers had arrived.

The "deep songs" are also maligned, considered debauched and dirty -- in a way similar to the blues in the U.S.A. context?

Meanwhile, Flemenco is considered Spanish, not Andalusian, and it is a celebrated, civilized derivation of the more true and primitive folk songs.

It is important to see that Lorca is not creating a simple dichotomy and lauding one half of it. He hardly sees the "deep songs" as culturally pure — rather, they are an accident of history, the result of various musics coming together because peoples came together.

However, this accident has created a cultural form with a unique ability to confront the largest issues of life with a directness and simplicity that creates overwhelming awe and almost unendurable intensity.

Lorca notes some great European musicians, most notably Debussy, who have commented favorably on the "Cante Jondo" and even incorporated some of its aspects into some music.

Tomorrow, on to how Mackey makes use of Lorca.

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