Monday, June 27, 2016

The Power Of Song, The Trackless Wild

Lately, I've been musing about the power of song. Song, in some ways, is like prayer, in that, it often seems no-one is listening, but the declarations and incantations can bring us to some unlikely, far flung, sometimes beautiful destinations. Though I'm not one for prayer, I do sing. And it is important to wish, to envisage, to sing, to remember. In my own case, whether it was myself or the songs that took me to those "wild places" I guess I'll never know, a combination of both I suppose.

Buckley's Bar, 2013
For the last few years I've been singing out two songs collected by Edmundo Murray in the Pampa's of Argentina. Edmundo is a founding member of SILAS or the Society for Irish Latin-American Studies. The songs were written in the 1870's by men born in Ireland, living on the Pampa's plains. They were put into print in a local paper ("El Monitor De La Campaña") at that time. It is there they survived to be picked up by Edmundo in recent years. Edmundo had the words, it was easy to breathe melody back into the lyrics. The first lyric tells us it is an Argentinian version of the famous air "The Home I left Behind." The second song, "The Pampa's Fairest Child," fits hand in glove with the air "The Mountains of Pomeroy." I've sung both all around the pubs of Kerry, in bars in Tompkins Square, New York and even out in Cuba. I've sung them beautifully, badly, when no-one was listening and when you could hear a pin drop. I've sung them drunk, sober, merry and sad.

"The Pampa's Favourite Child" details a courtship between a local woman and an Irishman. The song begins "Its not from home this fair ones come, though handsome is her mein." The other song "At E'r As Oer The Trackless Wild," concerns an older Irishman who has spent most of his adult life on the rolling Pampas of Argentina. He looks back with great fondness on "The Home I Left behind." Could that man imagine that his song would be woven into the fabric of new life in a new century through Edmundo collecting the words and my own incantations of the original writer's wistful and beautiful muse?


The Trackless Wild

At e’er as oer the trackless wild my saino* bounds along
My thoughts are of a pleasant land and of a gladsome throng
Of scenes no southern sun can scorch in memories verdant plains
Though bronzed may be the tenement where-in such fancy reigns

And as I reach that distant mount my thoughts come back again
And place before my longing eyes the children of the plains
Whose merry laughs recall the days of innocence and joy e’er
Cares and blighted hopes of youth could sweets of life destroy.

Yet little weep I for them both, my God steed and I
Are sailing o'er the Pampa plain beneath his care on high
And every bound my saino takes rewards a weary strife
And makes me gay and happy in this wilderness of life.

So hail La Plata! though by birth an exile from your shore
Adopted land both wild and grand and I’ll try to love you more
For freedom unadorned hold, last my roving mind
And help me scarce lament the land and home I left behind.

*Saino is a type of horse popular in Argentina.

Once I wrote a song about the San Patricio Battalion, I sung away to myself in English in an empty room in Glenbeigh, Ireland. I found myself singing that same song 10 years later in Irish, to an old Mexican lady in Vera Cruz. Edmundo Murray mentions the song in an article he wrote about Irish music in Latin America entitled "Una Poca De Gracia." I am well aware of the transformative power of song. Songs travel, and men travel with them. Sometimes people listen, sometimes they don't. That song led to me presenting a documentary about John Riley, the leader of the San Patricios. Just last night, I sang another song, "Johnny Dynamite Marine Mambí," to a guy from San Diego. The song was sung while people chatted, oblivious, all around, I had one listener, as far as I'm aware. I've sung that same song to Johnny's great-grandaughters in Arkansas, I've sung it to drunks, loved ones, enemies, amigos and deaf men. I've changed the words numerous times, to try and catch up with my own learnings on the man called "Dynamite John." That particular song and story took me all over the U.S. Cuba and Ireland in pursuit of the bright ghost of a wily mariner. In that way, song is like prayer-we may change the words, the place, the voice, but once it is sung at all, that is what matters.

Here is the last of the Argentinian songs "The Pampa's Fairest Child." It would be great if people would take the two Argentinian songs themselves and start singing them, they have had a hiatus of almost 150 years. Also, it would be mighty if this blogpost started some thought or discourse on the words. The first verse of "The Trackless Wild," in particular, sparks off some wildly beautiful images in my mind!

The Pampa's Fairest Child
By J. J. M.*

It's not from home this fair one's come
Tho' handsome is her mien
She's a fair lass none can surpass
Born on the Pampa's Plains.
My wishes keen have always been
And they still hold out unfailed
to love this dame unknown to fame
The Pampa's Fairest Child.

When I saw her today with her smile so gay
Cupid did me enchain
Perchance ere long if fortunes strong
Her affections I might gain
Her looks do show she's handsome O!
She leaves one all beguiled
Her winning glance I met by chance
The Pampa's Fairest Child.

'Tis natural for me living free
Among the gaucho tribe
To be carried away by a maid so gay
Whose beauty I can't describe.
Some people say I'm led astray
And harbour thoughts too wild
In loving one and others none
The Pampa's Fairest Child.

* 'El Monitor de la Campaña' N° 40
(Capilla del Señor, 25 March 1872)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Snows Of Yesteryear

It's "Bikefest" again in Killarney, it seems to be circling around me, or I've been circling around it, like a bird around a motorbike. I've no bother with the bikes, but about as much interest in them as a bird. I did get a provisional bike license at one point, but those plans came to naught. I once had visions of myself hurdling along the wild atlantic way, but they dissipated like the snows of yesteryear.

It was Bikefest weekend five years ago when I first hummed the melody to "In My Own Country." If I remember correctly, I was waiting for a friend who was ensconced in the dole office. The song will be on the album "Where Splendour Falls," which is going to print as we speak. Dispensing with Cds, I'm having 250 vinyl records of it printed. "In My Own County" is the first track on the second side...

In my own country I am in a far off land,
I am strong but have no force or power,
I win all yet remain a loser.
At break of day I say goodnight,
When I lie down I have great fear of falling.

I die of thirst beside the fountain,
I never work, Oh but how I labour.
I laugh in tears and hope in despair,
I'm sure of nothing, but what's uncertain,
I'm hot as fire shivering in the flames.