By Maria Caetano
Listen to the pena. It’s the first thing to notice on the latest collaboration project took up by Portuguese band Clã, joining one of the most acclaimed heritage singers from Northeast India state of Manipuri, Mangka.
Resembling an archaic lute, the one-string instrument is played with a bow in the same way a violin would. The pena, made from bamboo and coconut shell, has been around for centuries, releasing a syncopated bass-feel Western listeners are prone to associate with some Orient mystique. A once guttural and then trebled voice emerges in an Asian language we may have trouble in discerning, Meitei, and goes in hand with a culture of Classical Indian arts of particular idiosyncratic traits — those bordering the Himalayas and Myanmar.
On the other side of the song there’s a Portuguese pop rock band that surprised its fans by the end of the 1990s with the riddle query of whether it was acceptable to sing I love you in Portuguese, lest you sound too corny (Problema de Expressão, 1997). Fans said yes, enthusiastically, and Portuguese-sang pop rock has been sound ever since. Clã are not exactly on the folklore side, but they have had their contribution to identity in Portuguese music. They have also been active proponents of international collaborations — namely with Brazilian songwriter Arnaldo Antunes.
This one is the latest, and yet a needle in a larger stash of hay. Clã meet Mangka for the song Nura Pakhang (eu e tu) in a larger hosting project, named T(h)ree and set in motion by producer David Valentim in 2008. Valentim, a firm believer in long-haul music collaborations and some of a globetrotter himself, has been the go-between of musical matchups for almost a decade, putting Asian and Portuguese bands together to work on songs. He has produced three albums by now, and his fourth, “T(h)ree — A Musical Journey From Portugal to Asia, will be out on April 28, via Omnichord Records.
This time the T(h)ree record is issued in three volumes, one pairing Portuguese musicians with those from Bahrein and United Arab Emirates, the second with bands in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and the third with Indian and Sri Lankan acts. It is in the later that we find Mangka’s wondrous voice in dialogue with that of Clã’s Manuela Azevedo, in the first issued single of an album in which there are also contributions from Portugal’s Amélia Muge, Old Jerusalem, or First Breath After Coma, among others.
The range of songs in this album is far too variable to be contained under the world music catalogue — no matter how fitting it literally sounds — and often too specific to go by the alternative rock label. It is indeed a journey, one worth making, and an interesting exercise on our musical standpoints.
T(h)ree — A Musical Journey From Portugal to Asia
Omnichord Records, 2017