a world of writing

Music and writing: the search for perfection

We asked Pangea author Mary Farquharson to talk about how she juggles her double life as a writer and a producer.

My double life between music and writing enters a new phase with the selection of my story, ‘Sofia the beautiful’, for the Pangea anthology. Without the contact with traditional musicians, I couldn’t have written this story, although – equally – the technical demands of writing short fiction have improved my work as a producer and concert organiser.

I began writing as a journalist in Venezuela although I was never very good; press conferences were boring and manipulative and the idea of sniffing out a news story didn’t motivate. I wanted to find out who or what was behind the news and usually took so long that no one was interested in publishing my findings. I thought that writing about the men and women of the llanos plains, living on isolated farms, roasting meat and playing very sweet, haunting melodies on harps and guitars, was more interesting than reporting on the plunging price of oil.

My stories didn’t sell but they convinced me, back in London, to take a break from writing and join a small n.g.o. promoting traditional music from non-western cultures and had the great privilege of working with artists like Youssou N Dour and Omara Portuondo on their first visits to London, as well as street bands from Kenya, a whore-house singer from the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and several incredible griots from West Africa. The best concerts, not surprisingly, were ones in which the Senegalese or Syrian or Colombian communities came out in force and lapped up the music from their homes. The musicians responded to their nostalgia with a creative generosity that was contagious.

When I left London for Mexico, the schizophrenia continued; I worked first as a journalist and then set up – with my Mexican partner – a traditional music label that promotes Mexican and Cuban roots music. This work has taken me to towns and villages all over the region, meeting, talking, listening and dancing with musicians who have usually inherited the music they play and who compose verses spontaneously in a way that makes you think twice about the long hours doubled over a computer, waiting for words to stumble onto the screen.

Journalism was never enough to communicate the essence of this world and so, a few years ago, I turned to short fiction which has demanded of me new levels of commitment; it is much slower, more difficult and satisfying than journalism, and requires a search for truth that is not always important for newspaper or magazine writing. Producing records and concerts requires the same search for perfection; the refusal to accept the fast track, but rather to look deeper and more slowly at people and to reflect their personality only when you understand, or think you understand, where they are coming from.

Good musicians are generous always, they share their gifts easily and, when they feel they are understood, they respond in ways that one might never imagine. They are great characters: huge, unpredictable, difficult, inspiring. In all my stories, including ‘Sofía the beautiful,’ these musicians are present, as the central character or, as in this case, as the chorus.  My work does not permit me to write as much as I would like, but to write what I like, which is probably more important.


1 Comment»

  indichandrasekhar wrote @

Lovely article, and what a great picture!
Can’t wait for more on Chavela Vargas.

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