The first sounds of the "chthonic stir" we hear are flamenco strummings
and burr-throated singing, "raspy as night." Nathaniel Mackey
looks onto a band of gypsies on the shore: "They were dredging/
the sea," while an otherworldly percussive sough draws us off-shore,
out of time, to watch the eerie, weary work of gypsies "counting
the sand." In a compellingly repetitive monotone, Mackey then
draws out a map of the world of flamenco, the world that drives
unsung, lost inside
the oud's complaint...
The same cry taken
up in Cairo, Cordoba,
Red Sea near Nagfa,
Muharraq, necks cut
with the edge
The oud is the instrument, according to the Encyclopedia of Islam, at the heart of the Islamic people. The land of this people
is evoked by the places in Egypt where oud music might be strummed,
sounding out its complaint. Flamenco is the music of some ecstatic
elsewhere, the Andalusia of Cordoba, as noted for the gruff vocal
qualities its singers strive after as for the proficiency of the
plucking and strumming of its guitarist.
We are in the thicket of associations Mackey in a sense untangles,
then weaves tightly back together. Andalusia harbored Islam in
the Middle Ages: oud-music, whose techniques reach as far east
as Pakistan, had its presence there, a presence resounded in the
cante jondoö"deep song";or better, cante moroöthe "Moorish song"
that registers an African presence as well, and so evokes the
other side of the Mediterranean. The deep song is significant
to Mackey because it involves duende, the longing that has no
object, but more importantly: "It is something troubling. It has
to do with deep trouble." The sound of duende, at least as it
is sung in "flamenco's gnostic moan," is the sound that comes
from a throat cut with the edge of a broken cup.
It would be enough to hear Mackey read his way through these poems
with his clipped but uniformly rhythmic reading voice. But Strick
lets readers listen in on an unusually fruitful collaboration.
Mackey is paired up with percussionist Royal Hartigan - who plays
an array of instruments; the jazz player's drum kit is one small
portion - and with reedist Hafez Modirzadeh, likewise playing many
instruments: tenor saxophone, flute, nay, zorna, suling, and punji.
The effect is to enhance what is already present in Mackey's reading
and propose a new possible meaning. Take "Song of the Andoumboulou:
16," subtitled cante moro. As Mackey reads lines about a flamenco
singer as "burr-throat/ threnodist..." and about being "In a
dark room/ discussing duende," Hartigan employs a set of Chinese
opera drums, clappers, and cymbals toward establishing a dramatic,
Noh-like ambiance. And all the while Modirzadeh is evincing a
"gruff alterity" from his saxophone, vocalizing a scream that
buzzes through the reed and gets slightly stifled in the mouthpiece.
As such, we get less a performance of Mackey's poetry-which would
be like a dramatic reading of the script of the poem-than a three-dimensional
aural text of the poem.
Or take what happens in "Song of the Andoumboulou: 18." The poem
is polyglot, traversing continents and time with references to
gypsies in Egypt, the Andoumboulou, the "inept," "failed creation"
of Ogo, the Pale Fox of Dogon mythology, an "Ethiopian moan,"
the voudou lwa Ogun, and "the Long Night Lounge" that begins the
poem, evoking American jazz and its onetime late-night culture.
All of these varied references are highlights of an otherness
Mackey strives to describe, never more succinctly as when he says:
The gnosis of Mackey's cross-cultural otherness is elaborated
in Hartigan's insistent patterns beat out on the donno, described
in the CD liner-notes as a West African string tension, double-headed,
hourglass shaped drum. Hartigan emphasizes the West African milieu
of Mackey's poem with his playing, syncopating his beat with a
similar cross-culturality: Hartigan - a white man - comes to the donno
by way of his own experiences in the Long Night Lounge of jazz.
Modirzadeh confounds this cross-cultural weave with his own wild
thread, improvising a soothing melody on the suling, which is
an Indonesian bamboo flute used in degung music. Degung is to
traditional Indonesian gamelan music what jazz is to classical
music: stripped down, more flexible, amenable to amazing improvization.
Modirzadeh's suling is aberrant yet stitched into the whole. In
a sense, it is a further figuration of the haunting, duende-laden
croak of the flamenco singer, or the funerary song of the andoumboulou