Zeitung für neue und experimentelle Musik

gebiete nebenan luísa saraiva

Aus Noies 04/23 Oktober 2023

Die Choreografin Luísa Saraiva setzt sich in ihren Stücken mit menschlicher Klangerzeugung auseinander: dem Klang des Atems zum Beispiel, oder den Konnotationen, die der weiblichen Stimme anhaften. In ihrem Essay gibt sie einen Einblick in ihre aktuelle Recherche zu feministischer portugiesischer Volksmusik.
Luísa Saraiva (Foto von Dinis Santos)
Aus Noies 04/23

A few years ago I started to listen to a lot of Portuguese traditional female folk singing. Like in any other folk tradition, the songs are mostly related to work, to the seasons of the year, to religious holidays and festivities, but also to love, marriage and other important life stages or rites of passage. Nevertheless, there are also many songs in Portuguese female folk that are connected specifically to female themes, or to a female perspective, on issues such as motherhood, adultery, love and violence against and between women. I was interested in a particular kind of singing that is sung in a very loud and expansive manner, usually connected to the work in the fields in the mountainous landscapes of central and northern Portugal. These types of songs use polyphony, which means they employ two or more simultaneous but relatively independent melodic lines, and are characterized by a balance between harmony and dissonance, using often rough vocal qualities, such as shouting, shaking and screaming. The accent of northern European Portuguese has a unique way of elongating vowels and diphthongs, coupled with rough sibilant and fricative consonants, that allows for a smooth transition between speaking and screaming. Either in choir or solo form, there is a tendency to approach song either as a kind of sung/spoken/prayer-type of expression, intimate and directed inwards, or as a larger-than-life loudness that traverses through space and is projected all around, going beyond the visual reach. In these songs, topics of love, marriage, adultery, motherhood, labour and violence against and between women are recurrent.


En Madrid hay una niña que le llaman Isabel,
que no la daban sus padres ni por ningún interés 
Una noche la jugaron a la flor del treinta y tres
le ha tocado a un rico mozo,
rico mozo aragonés 
Para sacarla de casa mató a sus hermanos tres 
y a sus padres prisioneros 
prisioneros los dejé (bis)
En medio del camino ya lloraba la Isabel 
por qué lloras, vida mía, por qué lloras Isabel? 
Si lloras por tus hermanos que muerte le dia los tres 
o lloras por tus padres 
prisioneros los dejé
No lloro por mis hermanos ni por ningún interés
Tu mataste a mis hermanos y a ti yo te mataré
dame tu puñal dorado que  te lo devolveré
para cortar una pera
que vengo muerta de sed 
Él se lo dio de ‚al derechas‘
y ella lo tomó al revés
le ha cortado la cabeza y se la ha puesto a los pies


In Madrid there is a girl called Isabel,
who was not given  by her parents for any interest 
Not even for whole month’s wage
One night they played the flower of thirty-three
And a  rich young man won her,
a rich young man from Aragon
To get her out of her house he killed her three brothers 
In the middle of the road Isabel was already crying 
Why are you crying, my life, why are you crying Isabel? 
If you’re crying for your brothers who I killed all three
Or weep for your parents 
I left them prisoners 
I don’t cry for my brothers nor for any interest
You killed my brothers and I will kill you
Give me your golden dagger then I’ll give it back to you 
To cut a pear
I’ve come dead of thirst 
He gave it to her ‚al derechas‘ (right side up)
and she took it the other way round
She cut off his head and put it at her feet

The structure of the voices, usually 2 to 4 independent melodic lines that create a harmony, is based on juxtaposition and alternation to give the impression of a continuous sustained chanting that overcomes the limitations of human breath. It is ear-piercing singing. This notion of overcoming limitations does not exhaust itself as a musical resource, but it rather feels connected to the possibilities of expression through sound that would otherwise be censored when done through movement.. There is a clear contrast between the expansion and expressiveness of the vocal qualities and the imovement restrictions and physical presence in public space of working-class women in traditional Portuguese patriarchal societies of the past. In the first film recordings of this repertoire in the 60s and 70s of the last century, we see the women singing, usually standing still and looking down, arms crossed, closing the body to the public. And when the singing accompanies labour, which usually does, the gaze and bodily presence are controlled and restricted, focused on the task at hand. 

CD-Cover «Portugal – Tras-Os-Montes – Chants Du Blé Et Cornemuses De Berger» (France, 1980)

Nevertheless, this controlled physical presence encounters its rifts. Still today, in Porto, where I was born, it is common to hear female voices screaming on the street. As I am writing this text from my apartment downtown, I am listening to a woman scream through my open window. She is screaming on the street, insulting someone, cursing at the son-of-a-bitch-motherfucker who has done her wrong. As a loud woman myself, I have a heartfelt appreciation for the (mostly older) women reclaiming their place in the streets through conversations from window to window, heated discussions or outbursts of anger that spill to the outside. I am interested in how bodies are shaped and transformed by the voices that produce them, with a perspective on the voice that is de-individualized and de-centralized. The voice does not belong merely to an individual human, it speaks through bodies, always in relation. Its source can be both within and outside of bodies. And these songs say much about how experiences of care and violence pass through the bodies of the singers across times.

I like to think about these acts of public externalization, of acting out of discontent, frustration or anger on the street as expressions for one of the many paradoxes of traditional female roles in southern cultures, of simultaneously reclaiming power and space through violent emotionality, while at the same time fulfilling the ideology of naturalized female bitterness and suffering. There is an implicit understanding that dealing with personal issues in privacy and secretiveness has done little to protect women from the devastating emotional consequences of patriarchy, and that song has been a way to voice female culture and transgression. 

CD-Cover «Mirandun, Mirandela… – Tras-Os-Montes, Portugal – Chants Et Musiques Du Concelho de Miranda Do Douro» (France, 1996)


Estando Dona Irene à porta sentada 
Passa um passageiro pedindo pousada
Estava a porta aberta pela casa entrou
Estava a cama feita nela se deitou
Eram onze horas passageiro pediu água
E a filha mais nova levantou-se a dá-la
Era meia-noite, casa roubada 
Todos apareciam, só a Irene faltava 
Andaram sete léguas sem dar uma fala
ao cabo das sete léguas perguntou como se chamava
Em casa de meus pais era Irene adorada,
Agora na tua sou a Irene desgraçada 
Andaram outras sete léguas sem dar outra fala
ao cabo das sete léguas perguntou como se tratava
Em casa dos meus pais era vitela assada
Agora na tua é sardinha salgada
Pegou pelas algemas e ali a algemou
Tirou o punhal
Ali a matou 
Cargou-a de soutos no ermo ali a deixou
É a dona Irene que nos foi roubada
por um passageiro que lhe pediu pousada
Perdoa-me Irene, meu amor primeiro,
como queres que eu te perdoe meu maroto traiçoeiro
fizeste do meu corpo como lobo do carneiro


Dona Irene was sitting at the door
A passenger passed by asking for an inn
The door was open and through the house he entered
The bed was made and there he lay 
It was eleven o’clock and the passenger asked for water
And the youngest daughter got up to give it to him
It was midnight, the house was robbed 
Everyone showed up, only Irene was missing 
They walked seven leagues without a word
At the end of the seven leagues he asked for her name
At my parents‘ house I was Irene, the adored
Now at yours I’m Irene, the disgraced
They went another seven leagues without another word
At the end of the seven leagues he asked for her family
At my parents‘ house there was roast veal
Now at yours only salted sardines
He took her by the handcuffs and there he cuffed her 
He took the dagger and there he killed her 
He cut her down in the wilderness  and there he left her
She’s Irene who was robbed from us by a passenger who asked her for an inn 
Forgive me Irene, my first love
how do you want me to forgive you my treacherous rascal 
you made of my body like the wolf does to the sheep

Luísa Saraiva ist eine im portugiesischen Porto geborene Choreografin und Performerin. In ihrer choreografischen Praxis verwendet sie einen transdisziplinären Ansatz für Bewegung, Sprache und Klang. In der Spielzeit 2019/2020 war sie eine der Choreographen-in-Residence am K3 | Tanzplan Hamburg.