Wednesday 5 December 2007


Three brief items for Lusophiles...

Here's singer Sara Tavares, born in Lisbon but of Cape Verdean extraction, being interviewed in the Guardian. Tavares' music exemplifies what she herself describes as Cape Verde's 'metisse culture', in which African and Portuguese influences combine, while her lyrics reflect the multilingual argot of Lisbon's younger generation. 'I think anthropologists will study the slang because it speaks a lot about our social evolution and the identity of cities,' she says. I first came across her music via a compilation album that featured her paeon to her home city, 'Lisboa' - the standout track on her album Balancé. There must be something in the Cape Verdean air. Despite its tiny population, it continues to produce amazing - mostly female - singers: first Cesaria Evora, and now Tavares and other rising stars such as Lura and Mayra Andrade.

Staying with Lisbon: the New York Times has a feature describing the city's emergence as a 'serious design destination', highlighting the transformation of the waterfront Santos district. As the paper says: 'Overshadowed by larger, wealthier and more flashy European countries with world-renowned design specialties — Italian lighting, Scandinavian furniture, French fashion — Portugal has long hid on the Continent's margin both geographically and creatively.' But all of that may be changing. It seems there are controversial plans for a Norman Foster-designed 'futuristic tower and commercial complex' on the waterfront, the goal being a project that 'promotes the worlds of design and the arts', but which some argue will ruin Lisbon's historic skyline. When we were in Lisbon last year, we stayed in the Santos quarter, close to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga - Portugal's national gallery. It's an attractive area, but rather spoilt by the noisy expressway connecting central Lisbon to Belem in the west, which cuts it off from the Tagus. And it has interesting literary associations: not only did Antonio Tabucchi feature the Museu in Requiem, his hallucinatory fictional tour of Lisbon, but the nearby York House hotel is a key location in Dutch author Cees Nooteboom's experimental The Following Story and (more popularly) in John le Carré's The Russia House.

And finally: BBC4 screened the second in the Brasil, Brasil series last Friday. The focus was on the Sixties, when the country languished under a military dictatorship and the Left was divided as to whether the proper cultural response was serious, nationalistic folk music or the western-influenced hedonism of the Tropicália movement. As in the first programme, there was some fantastic archive footage. The final episode, which explores the Brazilian music scene today, will be broadcast this Friday.

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