Berta Rojas – The Enigma of Arrival

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Berta Rojas by Javier Valdez

I rarely conduct interviews using email and don’t really like doing them over the telephone either. In my view, the talking and listening – more listening than talking, as I prefer it to be – is best done in person, and preferably in a quiet space where I can savour (I use the gastronomic term, “savour”, because it suggests a rather visceral experience), in this case the sound of the words; the way they are intoned gives them a particular colour and texture. They are alive, these words spoken by the person with whom I speak. Alphabets strung together and which ring and resonate making a particular luxurious sound, echoing in this quiet space have more meaning; accented vowels and diphthongs that are formed by the curl of the lips, blushing purple and rushing to meet the wind between her and I sitting close together from music not only to my ears but seem to float their ghostly visages across my eyes. I get so ravenously hungry in situations like this that I devour each word, each phrase and sentence as if I were receiving Holy Communion itself. And so hot are these to the touch of my skin that they burn themselves in the memory.

Rarely, if at all, such incredible magic takes place over the telephone. And when it does happen, I am left breathless as I was when I spoke to the great musician and guitarist Berta Rojas in Paraguay twice over a month and a half. Although she was thousands of miles away, I ‘saw’ her lips part into a perfect, radiant smile. And when she spoke to me it was as if she ‘sang’ her lines; now bubbling as if cascading through laughter, now sombre as if muffled by the ache of a memory, twisting in the gut, now wistful and blurred as if spoken through the translucency of tears; and no matter what, always spoken as if grateful to be alive and present with me – in this case, no matter how separate we may have been, in a place, in space where it felt that if we reached out, we could touch each other and hold hands through shared pain and joy. Berta Rojas is a special person; she has as have I, come face to face with death and been blessed instead by the grace of God smiling as He sent her back from the dead to play music again, and again for a world scorched by fire and drenched by rain. He sent me back too. And I write now not only giving thanks for having my life given back to me (twice), but so that I could not only speak to Berta Rojas but live to write about it too.

Berta Rojas speaks in words adorned with syllables that are redolent of the aroma of frankincense burning quietly somewhere, floating towards the guitar strings that she is plucking with the tips of nails of long, slender fingers, urging them to conjure images of Paraguay, Argentina and Brasil. The music that ensues echoes in between my ears like notes cut in high-fidelity, into a vinyl which spins around and around occasionally accompanied by the strings of an enormous, well-drilled orchestra. The words playback again and again when I listen to Felicidade, a grand work of art made up of the music of Brasil. The song is “Berimbau” by the great Brasilian guitarist Baden-Powell, to whom Miss Rojas is paying homage here, with Toquinho and the wonderful Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional del Paraguay, conducted by Popi Spatocco. The song melts into “Se ela perguntar” by Dilermando Reis. Toquinho is alone with her this time; he is replaced by Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional del Paraguay on “Choro Tipico” and the bracing, lyrical, bittersweet sound-world of Heitor Villa-Lobos, which, in turns melts into Paulo Bellinati’s “Jongo”. I am speechless, and “Jongo” also fades into space – and into silence…

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you so much for introducing me to the work of Berta Rojas. I have never heard a finer classical guitarist, and as you show so well in this marvelous appreciation her altruism, spirituality, compassion and brilliance make her so much more than one of the greatest virtuosos in our world.

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