Photo: Tim Goalen
Poet and theatre maker Michelle Madsen. Listen and discover what we were NOT wearing! While Michelle shares some of her poems and life stories. Listen! & enjoy!
This month’s episode was recorded in Rich Mix London in front of an audience as part of FLAWA festival where Silvia talks to the authors Alia Trabucco Zerán and Yara Rodrigues Fowler about their novels The Remainder and Stubborn Archivist.
Silvia Rothlisberger: Welcome Alia and welcome Yara!
I’m going to start by introducing the two books and then we will talk about them:
The Remainder is Alia Trabucco Zerán’s debut novel. Written originally in Spanish and translated into English by Sophie Hughes. It won an English PEN award. And it has been nominated for The 2019 Man Booker International Prize.
The Remainder is set in Chile and tells the story of three young adults, Iquela, Felipe and Paloma whose parents were anti-Pinochet militants. The three of them carry their parents past, as something they can neither remember nor forget. It is an obstacle for them to move on with their own lives.
After Paloma’s mother dies in exile in Germany, Paloma decides to repatriate her mother and bury her in Chile. A rain of ashes falls over Santiago de Chile and the airplane carrying the dead body is redirected to Argentina. And here is where the road trip begins… as they rent a hearse and drive to Argentina to repatriate the dead body.
Stubborn Archivist is Yara Rodrigues Fowler’s debut novel. Long listed for the Desmond Elliot Prize. It is an experimental novel narrated in third person and through conversations. A blend of prose and poetry… the book tells the story of a young woman from south London who was born to a Brazilian mother and a British father. Hers is a story of growing up between two cultures, and how her Brazilian background defines the way other people sees her and treats her.
Silvia Rothlisberger: Both books are based on your own family’s history. Why don’t you tell us about which part of your family history inspired the Remainder and Stubborn Archivist?
Alia Trabucco Zerán: Interesting premise because in many ways La Resta/The Remainder is based in my personal history, in my family’s in and my country’s but in many ways it is not an autobiographical novel. Sorry to disappoint you… I haven’t been across the cordillera finding the dead body of anyone… that’s fiction.
And yet the affective landscape of the novel is something that is deeply rooted in me and in my family and in my country’s history. So in that sense it is a personal book that was with me for long before I felt I was able to write it. My parents were active left-wing militants against the dictatorship. I was born during the dictatorship so all of my early memories are very much intertwined with very confusing violent images of that time. So, that somehow shapes the imagination of the book. And the games they play when they were kids and how they see the past and how they want to see the future.
Yara Rodrigues Fowler: I really like the phrase affective landscape. The world of the book [Stubborn Archivist] is very much the world that I grew up in South London and obviously mixed British and Brazilian household like that was very much the world that I grew up in. The languages I grew up in speaking at home. I was really keen to recreate all of those things again but with different events and making things much netter and more sort of pointed. I guess telling a fictional story inside a landscape that was not just familiar to me but also that I hadn’t seen written anywhere else.
SR: There is a parallel in both books between the main characters and the writers’ age. I’m not saying it is autobiographical. But In The Remainder we don’t know how old the characters are but you can tell that they are young adults.
In the case of Stubborn Archivist we know that the main character was born in 1991. So there is a parallel between your own ages and the ages of the characters.
Is there something generational that you wanted to transmit through the book?
Yara Rodrigues Fowler: Definitely. In so many ways! But I wanted to get across what it was like be growing up, not just British and Brazilian but also in London and at a time when the Brazilian diaspora was way less visible and there were actually less Brazilians in London. Because the number of Latin Americans has increased so much. So it was partly writing that thing of growing up in London, but also being able to follow Brazilian news on Facebook or like seeing all of you family’s Facebook statuses all the time. And like being able to have that immediacy. And there is a bit where someone dies and they are calling on Whatsapp. There is definitely that generational thing that is really different to when my mum was here.
SR: communications took ages
Yara: yeah totally! Another thing that is really generational of the book is that it uses a lot of poetry, blank space and not that much punctuation. And the way it is punctuated: we are not sure if its someone thought, speech or conversation and I think that for me that is something very influenced by being on the internet all the time.
Alia Trabucco Zerán: I want to comment about Yara’s book that when I read it, I really liked it. I thought it was really interesting how there was something very deeply contemporary about it which is generational but at the same time it creates a nice bridge and a nice dialogue with the experience of being both in your own home and abroad at the same time. In your case being the daughter of a Brazilian and a British, that creates nice bridges with the experience that really is something that you can trace back a lot. I think literature relates to the present in ways that are sometimes less direct.
So, in the case of The Remainder there is a generational element but at the same time the experience of a dictatorship is not exclusive of Chile it’s not even exclusive of Latin America. So you can trace also some connections that are a bit more oblique but of course I would say that the book when it was published in Spanish it was immediately framed as what has been called literatura de los hijos, so this is literature of the children. Which is literature that has been written by the next generation. The generation that lived a part of their childhood on the dictatorship but then the memories are blurry and they weren’t directly involved in the fight against the dictatorship.
And there are also great authors like Alejandra Costamagna, Lina Meruane, Alejandro Zambra only to mention some Chilean ones and there are tons in Argentina as well that have been framed under this kind of umbrella. But at the same time I would say all of these authors also relate to literature and to a tradition that is deeper and longer so it is important to make broader connections as well.
SR: The dictatorships of Brazil and Chile in the 70s and 80s are addressed in both books. Of course it is at the core of the Remainder but also in Stubborn Archivist Isadora, the Brazilian mum of the main character, was an anti dictatorship militant printing clandestine material in a church because quote from the book: “people were disappeared. My friends were tortured. I didn’t see my family for years. I was very young.”
My question to Yara is What was the aim of sharing this experience of political exile in your book?
Yara Rodrigues Fowler: I have two perspective on this, one is the perspective I had when I was writing this in 2014 and 2015 and why I put it in there. And now, after the election of Bolsonaro like how I feel about those parts of the book and when I was writing it. I would not have predicted that Brazil would be in the political situation that it is now. If I had, I might have made those bits louder of harder to miss. So it’s weird looking back and feeling the comfort in which I approached that topic that things wouldn’t go in that direction necessarily again.
But having said that why was it important for me to include them… because at the heart of this book I guess is the story of this Brazilian family that has this big rupture, political rupture which is around the dictatorship and around part of the family being very right-wing and Isadora who moves to the UK… being on the other side. So, when I was writing about this Brazilian family and I guess writing about Brazil I guess it was important for me to show these two elements of Brazilian society and that there’s certainly this right wing, white supremacist very elite element of white upper class Brazil. It was very important for me to show that and that it was rooted in this very violently history and yeah that this trauma that this mum carries around. I guess the incompleteness of the stories is testament to the impossibility of transferring all your experience or knowledge of a situation on to the next generation and potentially also like a desire to leave it behind and that being part of why she migrates and comes to the UK.
SR [Question to Alia]: Chile’s political history is at the core of the Remainder. How important was it to you to write about Chile’s dictatorship in your first novel? As a writer was it something that you had to get of your shoulders to move on…
Alia Trabucco Zerán: I guess I couldn’t have written a different book. It’s something that I wanted to write about the dictatorship but at the same time I did not wanted to write a book that would talk about the dictatorship as a grand narrative of the dictatorship. The Remainder is not that!
It’s basically this younger generation trying to put together small fragments, small pieces. More of a whisper than a loud narrative. Sometimes a crazy whisper, sometimes a beginning, middle, end whisper but it’s something that for me it was part of the background. The way the book refers to the dictatorship even though its in the core of it, it’s kind of indirect.
SR: Yara, you mentioned trauma; and Alia mentions the way the characters were because of what they were dealing. The Remainder and Stubborn Archivist address trauma. Trauma that runs in the veins of the family & trauma from an abusive relationship, from sexual violence to be more precise. Tell us about how your characters deal with trauma…
The Stubborn Archivist and Felipe & Iquela.
Alia Trabucco Zerán: trauma is a very difficult thing to write because I think it moves in this strange tension of being unable to remember and being unable to forget. That’s at least what happens to these characters of The Remainder but the way I wanted to deal with that traumatic past of their parents was through games, through memories of childhood that are strange, that are crossed by an imagination that is also a violent imagination. Their relationship with animals -for example- and also their relationship with language. And which words they choose to talk about that past, and moments when they decide to stop listening. For example in the part that I read, Iquela leaves the room over and over to stop listening. I think are -in a way- strategies to deal with trauma.
SR: and Felipe who is always imagining bodies.
Alia: Yes, and I think in the case of Felipe is a very violent imagination. He is seeing these dead bodies and counting them. And he is constantly laughing also, in a very sad way. He is the one that has a violent story with a parrot in the book. And with animals in general. But for me in the case of Felipe it’s his relationship with rhythm as well and with language. How he can’t stop being unable to stop is a way of dealing with a violent past. Like a compulsion.
SR: Both books have non-conventional structures.
The Remainder has two narrators… and chapters are numbered from 11 and go all the way down to zero, but other chapters rather than numbers are signalled with parenthesis. The numbered chapters are narrated by Felipe and the chapters with parenthesis are narrated by Iquela.
Stubborn Archivist is narrated in third person and through conversations.
How did you conceive these structures and narrators?
Yara Rodrigues Fowler: I guess it’s very related to the question about trauma so like you said trauma is an unwillingness to forget or to remember. I can’t write like a traditional British realist text about this sexual violence, even about the violence that the protagonist hears about second hand. It would be disingenuous not to show the secondhandness of the violence that happens in, for example, the mother’s stories of the dictatorship but also some of the bedtime stories she gets from her grandma.
So that’s part of why it was conversations, I wanted it to be like this is how we receive these stories. This is how our archive of our history is constructed like it’s full of gaps and it’s oral. And I wanted to make a novel that was felt really oral. As oral as possible. And then the other thing particularly when it comes to sexual violence is that I wanted to create a text that was for survivors. And that the point of this book is not to convince you that sexual violence is bad or that the protagonist really did experienced sexual violence or an abusive relationship. Is not really clear. The book only works if your starting point is that you believe her. And I didn’t want to write a text that had like a graphic violent scene in it. Again, just because sometimes you just want to read a book to relax. So, I wanted to create a text that had gaps in it because sometimes we don’t choose what we remember and what we forget. And sometimes things come in pieces and also I wanted t create a text that was oral and about healing and joy and those things aren’t linear. There isn’t a point when is like you are good now, it never happened.
Alia Trabucco Zerán: I have a very similar answer actually. Because of the topics that I was dealing with it was simply impossible to do like a beginning, middle, end novel. I couldn’t tell this story without any cracks, without any craziness so first I started crafting Iquela’s voice which came first and I knew it would have more than one narrator and I started working and working until I felt I had found Felipe’s voice which would be a voice that would be constantly questioning the other. Constantly making little holes. Constantly showing the silences, the cracks, the noise as well. That is necessarily engraved in such a violent history. So, the question of the form for me and the content where completely packed together I didn’t have the novel until I didn’t have these two voices. And then I had the characters. And then I had the book.
SR : the name of the protagonist in Stubborn Archivist is unknown. We know it’s a foreign name that people find hard to pronounce but we never learn her name. We do know her mother’s and father’s name. Her best friend’s name. Everyone’s name but hers. Why did you decide to keep her name a secret?
YARA Rodrigues Fowler: we do know probably one of her last names. We know one of her last names which is Amado. It’s almost like a running joke in the book because people can’t pronounce her name but also her name is like – I don’t know if other people can relate to – but her name is a springboard into like ‘oooh! Where are you from? mmmm!’.
You know, it’s so boring! so I guess that’s just a little gift to her. To keep that private.
SR : In The Remainder on the contrary we learn the names of the main characters and also the names of their parents. It seems like the names and last names are quite important. To the point that when Iquela hears Paloma’s mum’s complete name, it opens an entire new world to her… maybe you can read this paragraph from the book and talk about this…
Alia Trabucco Zerán: it’s hard to give name to characters. It’s hard because the moment they feel fake until you actually have a subjectivity and until you actually have a character in the page. The names are symbolic. More relevant because of the lists of the names of the death [in Chile during the dictatorship]. And the lists of the people who were banned to come back to the country, and the disappeared, and the long list of the people who were tortured. in Chile, people tend to have two names and two surnames so is this very formal long way of having a name. Which gives them this weigh, so the moment Iquela finds out of Aguirre, [Ingrid’s] last name it becomes also part of something else. Part of that history part of that list. The whole book is filled with reflections on language and names are also a deep part of our language and of our identity.
As Yara was saying you get asked ‘where are you from?’ I get this question wherever I go. It doesn’t matter where I am.
SR: In Chile!
Alia Trabucco Zerán: of course, in Chile. Alia! Is not a Chilean name. it’s a foreign name. it’s an Arabic name. So, I get that question in Chile. I get it here. I get it everywhere. So, it’s something that is important for the identity of the character. Also it’s important for language itself, I think.
SR: The use of language is quite beautiful in both books. Stubborn Archivist was written in English but it has a lot of words in Portuguese
and The Remainder having been written is Spanish also has a brilliant treatment of the language. Which is perfectly captured by translator Sophie Hughes.
[Question to Yara]: Maybe you can tell us about your decision to include words in Portuguese throughout the book…
Yara Rodrigues Fowler: Yeah! I mean, I don’t think I can write without doing that. When I was a child and I was like I would like to be a writer one day, I would think about ‘but how would I write dialogue!’ because how do people even write. Do I switch language? I just didn’t read books that had fluency in two languages. And something that is really hald in each language would not really be marketable. Maybe now there is opening up a Spanish-English market for that kind of thing. So that was something that always worried me as a child: how would I write the dialogue of families like mine when books don’t exist that are one line in English, one line in Portuguese. So, it was just what I had to do when I was writing that family. That is the way we talk to children, we talk to children like you talk to them, you mix your words. They reply in English always and it was really important to me not to italicise like ‘Ooh! Foreign work coming out!’. Because that is not how we speak, we just don’t use the words. We don’t necessarily go like, you know is not like when you use a pretentious French word or a Latin word.
The other thing also about that is like for example the passage I read Coragem Alfredo, I try and read it more just to talk about Brazil’s political situation.
But often poeple stare at me like ‘Ok, what does that mean?’ when I read it. And that’s part of the fun is that there is a special text here for the people who speak Portuguese and English and that’s us. We don’t share it with the Anglophones.
SR: and Spanish, cause I got it too!
Yara: yeah, cause when I was in university I started reading mostly texts by Sandra Cisneros and she has Spanish in the house of Mango street. I felt included in that even though it was Spanish. So, yeah I wanted to create a text that was a place where some people would be disorientated and you know the language exclusion that we see everyday, migrants everyday would be inverted in the life of this text.
[Question to Alia]: tell us about the translation process, how did the rhythm of the book was so brilliantly captured in English…
Alia Trabucco Zerán: Sophie Hughes is a very smart, very talented translator and the moment she grabbed the book she called me, I sort of new that she had captured what I wanted to do. And she translated the book in many levels and when I say many levels I mean she was able to really capture a rhythm that for me is crucial when writing and also the funny bits, the sad bits. And she – I know this because I’ve read some of her interviews actually- many times didn’t translate literally. There are many word games and many reflections about language: about Chilean-Spanish versus other Spanishes. And Chilean-Spanish and that older version of Chilean-Spanish that comes from the 70s generation. All of this she needed to translate into something that was readable in English which was something remarkable to see.
And then we became good friends and the process was really beautiful because we got together to read excerpts so I would read some bits in Spanish as I read them which is really fast. Because that’s the pace for me of the book, specially Felipe’s bits. And then she would read them as fast in English. It was like ‘you got it!’.
So it was really fun and it is weird because The Remainder is of course my book and yet it’s hers. We talk about La Resta, I chose every single word of that book, I know it almost by heart. But The Remainder feels slightly more far away from me in a very nice way that makes me see the novel in a new light so it’s been really quite an experience. Very unexpected and very much fun as well.
SR: thank you. So, now I have one last question for Alia and for Yara and then we are going to open the panel to the audience.
[Question to Alia]: In the last years, there have been an array of Women writers in Latin America. For example since the Man Booker created the international prize: the nominated writers from the region have been women / until this year when apart from you and the Argentinian Samantha Shweblin, Juan Gabriel Vazquez was also nominated. Why do you think this strong wave of women writers is emerging in the region?
Alia Trabucco Zerán: It also has to do with the fact that this festival exists this year. I think feminism has been playing a very important role in the region and you can see in Argentina for example with the movement called Ni Una Menos. With the movement trying to legalise abortion in Chile as well. A whole movement in 2018 was trying to stop sexist education in universities. So is a very active time.
And this has meant that in the cultural and the literary sphere women have been gaining a stronger voice which has meant not only reading more contemporary writers that are writing amazing literature from every single Latin American country. But also re-reading and recovering women writers that because of a sexist cultural sphere were basically forgotten. So our role is very interesting because we have been organising as well. I’ve been taking part of a Chilean group of women writers and we are trying to also question what has been read in the past. Why there are so many female writers of the 20th century have been forgotten. So, it’s a big chorus of very good Latin American women who are writing experimental, very strong and very powerful books. So, it’s quite thrilling to see that recognised as well and I’m very proud of being a part of that. And also I think that this FLAWA Festival is a part of that as well.
Of that feminist movement that is gaining its strength. Its always been there but it has moments when it’s a bit louder and it’s good to be a part of that moment.
[Question to Yara]: I read an interview with you on The Observer where you said that you’ll love it if your book helped to make Latin Americans in the UK more visible. How do you think your book would help to make more visible the Latin American diaspora in London?
Yara Rodrigues Fowler: The context in which I said that was like this book cannot represent everybody and I hope there are more artists and more writers that become more visible.
And I was at a play at the weekend that is called Fuck you pay me! At the Bonker [Theatre] which is really brilliant. It’s by Joana Nastari who is second generation Brazilian and it’s about a striper unionising, a stripper organising and it’s brilliant and everyone should go see it. And it has bits in Portuguese and I was like crying.
There’s also a collective called Invisible Presence which is Latinx Poets which is quite new. So, that’s just the art side and I’m the trustee of an organisation called Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA) who are here tonight and LAWA is like the most amazing organization and it has been around for 30 years but we recently opened a second refuge. So LAWA runs the only two refuges for and by Latin American women in the UK.
I guess visibility is the main demand that I see coming out of a lot of Latin American activist groups in the UK. We don’t even know how many people there are, we don’t know how they are living, there are some studies now and is really important also to recognise like the heterogeneity in our community in terms of class and race and obviously gender.
I mean, for example my book is coming out in the US in July and you would never have a headline in the US like oh! Latin American book because…
SR: It happens all the time there.
Yara: I want more attention to be paid to the Latin American diaspora here what they are asking for. So Seven Sisters market
Silvia: and Elephant [and castle].
Yara: a lot of the things that community need. A lot of it has to do with gentrification. That’s what I was hoping with that.
Thank you Yara and Alia!
Charco Press is a new indie publisher based in Edinburgh dedicated to translating and publishing award-winning Latin American contemporary writers.
Sound engineer: Oscar Perez
On the first half of this episode we interviewed the Chilean author Gonzalo C. Garcia about his debut novel, shortlisted for the Edinburgh First Book Award, We are the end.
We Are The End, is a book heavily influenced by Gonzalo C. Garcia’s marked interest in Santiago de Chile, the relationship between video games, digital culture and everyday constructions of narrative.
In the interview, Gonzalo C. Garcia talks about how music triggered his interest in writing, the music scene in Santiago de Chile, the process of writing his first novel, being a lecturer in creative writing; while sharing some tunes from his We-are-the-end-playlist.
Gonzalo C. Garcia currently teaches creative writing at the University of Warwick. We Are the End is his debut novel.
On the second half of the episode and celebrating the 100 birthday of the poet and singer-songwriter Violeta Parra, we invited the academic, poet and author Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes to talk about the remarkable woman that Violeta Parra was.
Mentioned in this episode:
Indy publisher: Galley Beggar Press
Music band: Miss Garrison
Author: Sherman Alexie
Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist Violeta Parra
Academic, writer, poet and publisher Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes was featured on episode 9!
Songs of Violeta Parra shared in this episode:
Gracias a la vida
Volver a los 17
On this episode Colombian filmmaker, scriptwriter and author Patricia Diaz talks about her debut novel The Golden Bat (El Murcielago de Oro) and why she decided to champion writing over filmmaking.
Silvia Rothlisberger: Sofia, you are a poet and a singer-songwriter. What came first the poetry or the music?
Sofia Buchuck: I think music. My grandmother was a Quechuan lady from indigenous background and she used to always sing in the kitchen, in the house, so, from very little age, maybe, I don’t know five, four years old I was already singing for my own entertainment. And then when my dad died, maybe when I was eight years old I started my poetry.
SR: do you remember how this first poem came about?
Sofia Buchuck: Because my dad died and I couldn’t go to the funeral nor my family went and I felt very lonely and I think it came a lot of feelings altogether that I didn’t know how to express, and the best way for me to express it was by writing poetry. And since then I haven’t stop.
SR: Sofia I noticed that in your music and in your poetry you write in Quechua as well. Tell us a bit about Quechua, about the language and about your connection with it.
Sofia Buchuck: Well, Quechua is not only a language is a culture, it’s a Cosmo vision, is the way how we see everything that surrounds us and we have a different way of thinking, our own philosophy. It also has spirituality, we believe in nature, Mother Moon and Mother Sun, the Mother Earth. It’s a very deep philosophy of life as well. An economy, in a way, because we don’t use money, we work with retribution and I learned the language and the culture from my grandmother, my mother’s mum and then obviously because I lived in Cuzco until I was 12 or 13 years old, I have been involved in the culture from a very early age. And then when I came to London it just emerged naturally because it was already in me. In some of my songs I talk about this cosmo vision, for me is very important as part of my identity and as part of the identity of so many people out there that share this Cosmo vision. Is very present in my singing, is very present in the books and I think is very important to keep it alive because is a living culture.
SR: Your music is going through a path of healing. So why did you go through that change and what is it about?
Sofia Buchuck: I’ve been doing healing for 20 years mainly with Mama Coca, which is a Coca leaf and it’s a sacred ritual where you gather, especially women and with the moonlight and you heal your emotions and music was very much part of that because you know music also in-tunes with your emotions very much. So, from that point of view I was already healing. But this wasn’t public; this was my private thing to do and I was already doing my art separately. It was separate roads.
Then in 2004 when I went to Mexico I started to go more into depth about music and healing, especially with the Huichols. The Huichols in Mexico they use art to heal, mainly painting but also dances. From then on I started to go in depth more into the role of healing and learning more and more. And then all came together I think in 2014 when I go back to Peru for the first time. I started learning more songs about healing. But the songs where mainly with pan pipes, pan flutes, and I thought that people were very attached, especially people who had problems with depression, they feel very attached to the soothing sounds of pan flutes and some other instruments. By now I can say I completely work on both fields. I completely united my healing with the music. So in Peru I was doing lots of ceremonies where I heal people with plants and I sing all through the ceremony or play instruments, sometimes pre-Columbian instruments and here in England too; I’m doing some workshops with singing, healing, workshops with healing.
SR: Your next album Heart Portal to the Cosmos is coming out in July is going to be different from all your past works.
Sofia Buchuck: In a way different, but it has most of the instruments I’ve been using in past albums. I use a lot the guitar, for example the charango, I use pampais, I use flutes. This CD is going to specialize on healing, the songs are for healing, but the instruments are almost the same. We are still using the same instruments and I’m doing two albums: one with Chano Díaz Límaco, who is very well known. He was the director of Killa Raymi my second album. We are using more ocarinas, like clay instruments, singing, maracas; is more tribal in a way. It’s very ethnic. It has very few songs with guitar.
SR: What is the literary collective Hispano-American Women Writers on Memory about?
Sofia Buchuck: This collective of women…well, we were at the beginning four, and then we became six women from different countries, from Chile, I am from Peru, there were some women from Spain, from Mexico. The idea was to share this memory of who we are here in London. Because is so interesting how we build up our identity here in London.
We build, we create our own identity here in London. Because we come from South America with this other identity that is very Peruvian, very Chilean, but here in London we become Latin-Americans. And not only Latin-American, but we also have this Spanish identity that also crosses with other identities; and the English identity, because we’ve been living here, in my case 25 years. So, the memory of who we are, who we become, who we are still, you know? It combines also with some memories of exile, memories of migration which is very interesting as well and memories of home, because home is also England for us, living here for such a long time. Home is also, in my case, Peru.
It was a very interesting… it is a very interesting group of women. Some of them are academics, some of them not, but all of them have very strong ideas, very lovely poems about life in London as well. Which I think is very good to document, to see how Hispano-American people have created this lovely memory of being in London.
SR: Sofía, where and why did you study Ethnomusicology?
Sofia Buchuck: In Mexico at Escuela Nacional de Música at the University of Mexico (UNAM).
I was studying Spanish and Latin-American Studies at the Metropolitan University in London and one of my teachers was Marta Dueñas, a lovely lady from El Salvador, and she knew me very well because I was so passionate about Latin-American studies. I loved the literature, I loved economics and I loved so much Anthropology; Anthropology and Ancestral cultures. I was so passionate about it, and not only about the music, but the history behind the music, the history of the instruments.
And then she said to me: ‘Sofía why don’t you study Ethnomusicology? This would be so good for you.’ And I said ‘What is that?’ And then I did an essay about the music of Tito La Rosa which is a very famous composer in Peru and he does a lot of ritualistic music actually. And I did a research of his music and the silbatos pre-colombinos, which are pre-Columbian, whistles. And then she said: ‘Why don’t you send this to México and apply for a scholarship, maybe you can study there musicology’. And I did! I was awarded a scholarship to study there Ethnomusicology and it was fantastic. I was so grateful to Marta and so grateful to the UNAM as well because they were very generous to me.
SR: And did you introduce what you studied there, what you learned in your poems, in your music or in your short stories?
Sofia Buchuck: Completely; I think it changed my view about everything because before, music was only restricted to ‘oh, yeah, music is to remember this or to remember that or to have an idea about this and that.’ But when you study Ethnomusicology you go deeper than that. You understand the history of music, Latin- American music, where did it start, what is Latin-American music, what is La Nueva Canción, what is ancestral music, what is popular music. You study all of these things in depth. So I had a deeper understanding about music and the new emerging cultures as well, and it really overlapped very well with my other career in oral history. I studied oral history at the Museum of London and it’s very similar to Ethnomusicology because you do a lot of interviewing, and then you allow people to have their own identity. It brought in me ideas, because when you just study Folklore you have this music and it puts people in boxes. But with Oral History and Ethnomusicology you are more open because is like life: We are here, then I am in Peru. You have these crossed identities and that comes in my stories, my poems, even about the time I was in Mexico as well. And I did like ten different albums about Ethnomusicology here in London. I recorded a first album of Latin American musicians in the UK. I recorded young people doing music and their identities in the UK and we did some videos and I worked with the Museum of London collecting the stories of Latin American refugees and we collected their poems, their music, and their stories.
It was a big research, with two lines Oral History and Ethnomusicology, that overlapped very well together. Also, recently last year I was teaching Ethnomusicology in Peru at Universidad Nacional José María Arguedas which is the only university for arts and culture in Lima that does folklore and dance and music.
SR: You are one of the founder members of the literary group Spanish and Latin American Poets and Writers (SLAP). Why did you create this collective and what is it about?
Sofia Buchuck: I knew many poets, obviously after all this time of being here in London. We met at so many places. I knew Isabel del Río for example, who is a very well-known poet, for 25 years. I also knew Eduardo Embry, a very well-known poet from Chile living in Southampton, and so on. And also, I knew emerging poets like Denisse Vargas Bolaños from Bolivia and Soraya Fernandez DF from Ecuador, and so many young poets. And I thought it would be great to create a collective. One day talking with Eduardo he said ‘Why don’t we have a group? It would be so interesting to mix all this poetry, all these different tendencies on poetry, the way we write with different kinds of flavours.’ And then when we got together, we were so many, I think we were like 12. We ended up being I think like 9, but still a big group. Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes is also part of that group, Mabel Encinas, Isabel Ros López. So it was a combined art as well, not only poetry. There were people who do painting, people who do music, like me. Others who do also other things like multimedia art.
And it was a fantastic group. We did a few performances and the idea was to share these mix identities. There were people from different parts of Latin America and people from Spain.
SR: What books do you recommend?
Sofia Buchuck: On poetry: Wonder Makers: Navigators of the Thames the poetry book but also the short stories are really lovely. It’s both in English and Spanish and you can really sense the strong identity they have still about Latin America but also the life in London and how you become a Londoner as well.
Now for understanding poetry I like a lot Sylvia Plath. In Spanish definitely I love Vallejo, it’s my favourite. It’s not an easy poetry but that doesn’t mean that it is not strong and actually one of my teachers of the UCLA, Stephen Hart used to say: ‘To understand Vallejo you have to break the wall.’
But I think for writing poetry is not only learning the technique, is not only learning the language, is a journey as well. It’s a discovery journey. I think it helps when you travel; it helps when you go out of your own boundaries and you see the world with different eyes.
There are great other poets as well like Sandra Cisneros, she writes about identities, about migration. And music is fantastic as well, because music gives you the kick to feel the emotion and then as a poet you can come and write about that. Go out and live the world, live the life, travel, fall in love, fail, win, do everything, and you will write great poetry.