Thievery Corporation gives universal meaning to saudade, an exclusively Portuguese word, in their newest album.

Thievery Corporation's Saudade

Thievery Corporation’s Saudade

Since the mid-90s, Thievery Corporation, a D.C.-based duo consisting of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, has been incorporating influences from all over the globe in their music to create smooth, downtempo sounds. Through this wide use of worldly influences, they have made music into a common tongue, where different languages such as English, Hindi, and Persian can meet.

In this tradition, the ever-versatile duo has created their latest album, Saudade; the word itself a reification of a nostalgic yearning for something no longer there. Despite that saudade has no mononymous equivalent, each track, whether in French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, or English, translates into an overflow of emotions—a dichotomous overflow full of the empty despair that inevitably comes with a loss, and the happiness that comes in celebrating what was lost. Thievery Corporation explores this notion with lethargic samba beats and dreamlike vocalizations from the five female sirens that lend their voice for Saudade’s sake. They include Loulou Ghelichkhani, Elin Melgarejo, Karina Zeviani from Nouvelle Vague, Natalia Clavier, and Shana Halligan from Bitter:Sweet.

Saudade steadily begins with “Décollage,” where Loulou Ghelichkhani, who first appeared on The Mirror Conspiracy in 2000 and has frequently contributed since then, recollects a transcendental moment where she takes off to space (“décollage dans l’espace”). It’s an unattainable illusion that can only be induced by her implicit drug use (“nous avions trop fumé”).

Elusiveness reappears in “Sola In Città,” a melancholy melody sung in Italian, in which Elin Melgarejo seems unable to find what she is looking for. Half in mutters and half in her mellifluous voice, she repeats the same phrases over and over again, alternating between declarations of her lack of knowledge of the city (“una città che non conosco”) and questions of the location of this person (“dove sei?”) Ultimately, she speaks in circles, lost in her own loss, never finding the aforementioned evasive lover or friend.

Saudade isn’t only full of stagnancy and sorrow. It also reminds us that there is a refreshing and reviving quality in remembering what once brought joy. A gleam of this renewal can be heard in “No More Disguise,” where a jaded woman tired of people living lives like they’re “playing roles in silent movies,” begins to believe in the possibility that she could change with her new love (“dancing away like golden stars up above.”)

Finally, Thievery Corporation ties all loose ends with “Depth of My Soul,” a mysterious tune that challenges all to look into the endless, enigmatic abyss of songstress Shana Halligan’s soul. Perhaps saudade is the most present in this final song, where the Bitter:Sweet singer reveals enticing images of somewhere deep inside her spirit, equally full of bitter and sweet (“fountains full of flowers on islands full of tears,”)  yet this part of her is as beyond reach as anything could ever be.

Though the concept of Saudade starts with its Portuguese etymology, the profound understanding elicited from that concept is a human emotion. In fact, it should be noted that its title track consists of no words and is purely instrumental, as if it is to be felt rather than heard; as if feeling is a function accessible all in cultures. Through this album, the eclectically attuned Rob Garza and Eric Hilton are able to dissolve linguistic barriers and extract from a foreign term a familiar sensation; they prove that with music, the unattainable can be easily recognized and related to.

Stream Saudade on NPR now.

Article by Linda Choi

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