your guitars, one and all
takes is a a few guitars to bring people together. In this case, a group of men
from the island of São Jorge in the Azores and their violas da terra, playing
and singing in unison while walking the old cobblestoned streets of Madalena,
Pico. The beautiful, traditional sound of the steel-stringed Azorean guitars
and the melancholic strains of fado filled the town centre, causing the old men
on the bench who sit day in and day out, and the visitors downing their Sagres
at the cafe, to simultaneously turn their heads.
wonderful scene was due to Cordas World Music Festival, an annual festival
celebrating string music from local arts and cultural company MiratecArts, led
by Artistic Director Terry Costa. Signs of the festival could be seen all over
the island, but in case anyone missed the posters on the shop doors and
pamphlets in the local restaurants, they knew about it now.
musicians made their way to the praça, the town square where the pretty Church
of Santa Maria Madalena resides, continually strumming and lightly stomping
their shoes as they walked, it was evident who the tourists were. It wasn’t due
to their tell-tale hiking shoes and backpacks, but because of the cameras and
smartphones they were wielding, each craning to get a shot of the travelling
band. But the local men on the bench, faces worn and weather-beaten from the
harsh island climate, simply watched. And listened. A couple of them mouthed
along to the words of Saudade, an old folk song, and one rose from the
bench and leaned against a large tree trunk, eager to get a closer listen.
of the row of musicians emerging from around the corner was completely
unexpected on this quiet Sunday afternoon, shrouded in grey clouds and a slight
mist while Pico figured out her mood for the day. The sound of the multiple
violas da terra and an accompanying violinist filled the area with melodic
string music, causing town folk to emerge from the few shops that were open,
curiously surveying the scene.
a few Dutch players, who now call the Azores home, waiting in the square for
the men to arrive. When they heard the strumming of those steel strings, they
followed suit, forming part of the growing procession. A local woman, one of
two females with a guitar that day, also quickly grabbed her instrument,
joining in with the others and not missing a beat.
struck me most was how the expressions on the faces of the men on the bench
slowly changed from ones of quotidian boredom to joy. This music of the people,
the traditional songs they were raised on, was bringing them back to another
time. To witness first-hand the comfort and delight these melodies brought to a
group of people from around the world, in this isolated archipelago in the
middle of the Atlantic, was a special sight.
continued down the street and to the Madalena Auditorium, where people were in
line to see the latest film screening. Their ticket-buying was put on a happy
pause as the musicians entered, switching to a more rousing tune. Later the
celebrations continued at MiratecArts’ Galeria Costa in nearby Candelária
parish. Despite the mist that later turned into fat drops of rain, the band
played on, but eventually had to seek shelter under a tent to protect their
outdoor gallery, containing one kilometre of art in nature, became occupied by
animated visitors, rain be damned. They were treated to a couple of moments of Chamarrita,
traditional Pico folklore dancing, usually done on smooth wooden flooring, but
today performed on wet, crunchy earth. As is tradition, spectators joined in,
tapping their damp shoes and swinging their hands toward the sky. Elderly
village women who can no longer take part happily watched under their
umbrellas, adding to the rhythm with their perfectly timed hand claps.
music and dance performances, Costa was busy showing visitors the various
artwork and local flora found throughout the vineyard, taking them deep into
the Galeria’s landscape, where people stopped to admire the unique art and
sample some delectably fresh figs. At one point, I overheard a woman, struck
with emotion, say to Costa what the day meant to her: ‘It is things like this
that connect me to my land’.
many moments like that one, and even some tears that day. I believe I saw one
of the old man’s eyes get a tad watery – I certainly felt mine.
World Music Festival, a presentation of MiratecArts, runs annually in September
for one week throughout Madalena and Pico island. Join the celebration of
string music: www.festivalcordas.com
Matos is a Portuguese-Canadian writer and journalist, with parents hailing from
Pico and Faial, Azores. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia after her family
emigrated to Canada, Nancy has written about the global Luso community for more
than a decade.
by: José Feliciano Photography