Sur la place où tout est tranquille
Une fille s’est mise à chanter
On the square, where everything is quiet
A girl has started singing
Franco-American singer songwriter Rosemary Standley and Brazilian-born singer and cellist Dominique Pinto (aka Dom La Nena) released their enchanting self-titled début Birds on a Wire in 2014. Since then, the Paris-based duo has been revisiting with great passion a timeless and international songbook of traditional, classical, folk and contemporary ballads.
Steeped in the same delicate and restrained style, Birds on a Wire’s new album unearths another treasure trove of lesser-known songs from around the world in nine different languages. Ramages was released on 28 February 2020 last on the PIAS label.
To the casual ear, Ramages is a collection of covers. Yet, the source material is not confined to a particular origin or style. Coming from ten different countries, the songs revisited also span several centuries – from undated traditional Breton or Catalan songs, an 1879 lullaby put to music by Gabriel Fauré (Les Berceaux) to folk songs from almost every decade of the 20th century. Lucilla Galeazzi’s “Voglio una casa” was originally recorded in 1997, yet it is based on an old popular song from Sardinia. Leonard Cohen’s 1974 “Who by Fire” and Pink Floyd’s 1975 “Wish You Were Here” are therefore the most recent reprises on Ramages.
More than a longitudinal appraisal of folk singing, Ramages also pays homage to many of the strong voices on the Latin American and world scene. The traditional Breton dance song “Duhont duhont ar a mane” was one of late singer Yann-Fañch Kemener’s signature songs as the latter recorded it many times during his career with various formations. “Que he sacado con quererte” celebrates the immense talent of Chilean songwriter Violeta Parra. “Shake Sugaree” honours much loved blues singer Elizabeth Cotten while “Tonada de lune llena” remembers Venezuelan singer Simón Díaz. “Sur la Place” highlights a lesser known song from Belgian singer Jacques Brel.
By stripping the original songs from their associated time or style markers (a classical piano, an electric guitar, a synthesiser, a greek bouzouki etc.) and performing them as a pared-down vocal duo with cello accompaniment, Rosemary Standley and Dom La Nena put all melodies on an even keel, thus shining a new light on this particular repertoire.
As well as that, more political songs like Chico Buarque’s “Calice”, Vassilis Tsitsanis’ “Sinnefiasmeni Kiriaki” or Florence Reece’s 1930 union song “Which Side Are You On?” are moderated by the pitch-perfect harmonies and subdued accompaniment.
Blessed is the memory
Of everybody’s child
Beautifully titled, “Ramage” is a poetic French word which refers to bird songs. It can also be used to describe the incessant chattering of small children. Alongside a recurring lunar and avian imagery, the themes of singing and childhood are a constant throughout the album and six songs are well-known or traditional lullabies.
Back in 2002, Catalan soprano and early music specialist Montserrat Figueras released Ninna Nanna, a compilation of lullabies collected around the world and ranging from the 16th century to modern times. By also revisiting the lullaby repertoire, or by simply stripping down existing popular songs to their quintessential melodies and performing them as a female duo, Birds on a Wire somewhat perpetuate and rejuvenate the same lullaby tradition.
“El cant dels ocells” (Song of the Birds) for instance is a traditional Catalan lullaby which was made famous in its instrumental version by legendary Spanish cellist Pablo Casals. “La Marelle” as well is a bilingual children song in Portuguese and French. It was originally performed by Brazilian singer Nazaré Pereira and became a hit in France in 1980. The moving Birds on a Wire version highlights the universality of the playground, schoolyard and street game – “La Marelle” in French or “Amarelinha” in Portuguese translates as hopscotch.
As with the duo’s début CD, the accompanying booklet for Ramages is lavishly illustrated with paintings from around the world, ranging from classic artworks by Jan Brueghel the Younger or Boticelli to Felix Valotton, Pablo Picasso, Edward Hopper or Horace Pippin.
It is in this space that the child experiences his first dialogue, his first story, his first contact with the teachings of tradition, experience and culture, which over time build into an essential part of our collective memory. Montserrat Figueras – liner notes to Ninna Nanna 1520 – 2002