Europe’s deep colonial reach in the 19th century enriched it in ways that are too often forgotten. Remembering can be an active, creative process that makes connections.

Think of a poem. Now think about what sounds were in the air when it was written. What music did the poet hear? What sounds? And what about the sounds and music that could not be heard? What went unheard? What was kept away? Which voices were silenced?

Sing no Sad Songs for Me draws on poetry from 19th-century London by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). Rossetti has been claimed as an English poetess, or at best as an Italian-English poetess. Her writing is admired as intense, deeply religious, and personal.

But in Sing no sad songs for Me I make her poetry cross a threshold to blend with sounds from the edges of the British Empire: the Indian tabla, the eastern lutes (oud and tanbur), and the musical language of microtonal modality. Similarly, these sound worlds cross a threshold into the most personal poetry of Rossetti, and are transformed in their new setting.

Edward W. Said proposed that writers on 19th-century Europe should connect with the people that it tried to exclude from itself, those in Africa, Asia and the Americas subjected to the control of Empire. Sing no Sad Songs for Me is a similar response, but in music: it brings sounds from the edges of Empire to words curated in the secluded centre. It is one part of a broad attempt to rethink Europe, and European subjectivies.

I am joined in Sing no Sad Songs for Me by musicians Ciro Montanari, Kostas Tsaroukis and Evgenios Voulgaris.


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