it turned out that the song the faki mentioned was not an uruguayan song after all, but one that had shared meaning in the context of the relationships that formed in port
“porque te vas”–why do you leave, my love, the faki translated the song for me. “porque te vas,” “oh when the saints,” and “seagull” were songs that accompanied him as he took the boats across the atlantic, frequenting capetown and a port in uruguay whose name no one quite remembers. “seagull” (海鷗), one of the early “new folksongs” that would become popular in the mid-1970s, was already popular in taiwan, but spoke to the condition of those young men who were on the boats, “flying, flying, all the way to capetown”
what about porque te vas?
as the faki remembers it, the lyrics of this song talk about a boat leaving uruguay, and not a train station. true to form, he can weave the hook into an evening of ‘amis songs as he plays Am until dawn. even though he says that the song is “has great difficulty” and that it’s been nearly 40 years since he thought of the lyrics, the song is part of a repertoire appropriate for gatherings of friends at home or at a betel stand, particularly if one improvises ‘amis language lyrics. once one sings the hook, more than a few other people will recognize it, this song about a boat leaving uruguay
“this song was the song that they sang for us, when we were running the boats,” says the faki, “because it was unavoidable that we would have someone in port whom we loved. and when we said, ‘mi amor, my boat leaves tomorrow morning, mañana‘–that is tomorrow in spanish–‘mi amor, el barco, the boat, mañana, tomorrow.’ they would sing the song for us, ‘porque te vas, why do you leave.’ but we had to leave, our boat was going, we were going back to work on the ocean”
he sings part of the song as he remembers the lyrics, the words about a boat leaving. curious about the song, i later discover that the song as he sings it is a parody of an internationally popular song with spanish, french, and english language versions. the song was first performed by jeanette, a singer active in spain in the mid-1970s. the song became popular in 1976 because of its appearance in a critically acclaimed film. it is over produced in that plush 1970s way.
jeanette, “porque te vas” (1974), the video is likely of a 1977 german television performance
because w faki never mentions that the song circulated on the radio or on recordings–odd, because he does talk about listening to vinyl records and consuming music in live music venues in capetown–he is likely only to have heard it performed live in uruguay. in jeneatte’s original release, it is difficult to see how “porque te vas” became a song we might sing together, braiding it with other songs, as we sit in my ina’s betel stand and general store. a possible way of rendering the tune acoustically, however, was recorded by mano chao in 2013. this version gives us a few clues to possible alternate performance styles
mano chao, “porque te vas” (2013)
in this version, we can begin to hear features of the song’s structure that make it amenable to an ‘amis vocal aesthetic: note, in particular, the swing pulse that makes the song danceable and the figure in the hook line (porque te vas) a triplet repeated across two registers, which can be bent in ways that ‘atolan ‘amis singers say are “just like ocean waves”
the musical form is compelling, but the song circulated among ‘amis musicians in the context of the far ocean fishing trade. no longer an international novelty, “porque te vas” spoke about and to the lives of those who met in port. today, it still signals the cosmopolitan outlook of men who took to the boats. as the faki plays the song, he tells me about performing at a club in capetown. although the song “has difficulty”–after 40 years, can one still remember the lyrics that clearly?–the hook line forms a ready addition to a song session. a sonic trace of his travels, it also indicates the circuits in which ‘amis musicians absorbed latin musics