The maestrina describes us as five magnificent girls, with different backgrounds and natures, simultaneously attracted, from several places in Africa by the sound of a piano. Five young girls dispersed, born and brought up in different regions and nevertheless equally fascinated by the same music. It was the beautiful sound of the Grand piano, the Yamaha, forgotten in a garage looking out on the Tage, it was this piano that called us, one after the other, as its magical teeth moved constantly day and night.
In this book of litten up by the narrator, Solana de Matos’s song writing and read for the Spanish and Portuguese lit month, Lídia Jorge tells us the story of five young singers in Lisbon, singing in a garage as in many other garages elsewhere in the world in 1987, of Gisela, the maestrina, of the two sisters Maria Luisa and Nani Alcide, trained clasically in a conservatory, of Madalena Micaia, the African Lady and finally of Solana de Matos. This is the story of the end of the Portuguese empire in Africa, all of the singers were children when they fled Africa with nothing and came back to Portugal with no help from the government, no state of emergency was announced, what was left behind was lost and many of those that came back died of depression or depression related causes. These girls were the survivors.
The book begins twenty years after at a television show where the singers, with the exception of The African Lady who could not be reached in her village in Africa, were reunited in what was a “perfect night”, Gisela navigating easily the television stage and introducing the other singers, as described in the opening quote. but as we are taken back to those months of 1987 we discover a very different story. At the outset there was Solana de Matos, a student and her friend Murillo, with the contrast between his view of world politics and injustices, of getting ahead by small steps and Solana’s view of the world, a view of a shrinking horizon, of coming back with nothing, of being ready to give everything for her passion, of her parents striking example of building up a farm with hundreds of livestock in less than ten years from literally nothing. Her life was the opposite of small steps. There were the Alcide sisters whose parents were amongst those that had died since their return from Africa, there was Madelena Micaia with the Jazzy voice and then there was the ultra driven Gisela for whom money seemed to be no problem, she asked her step father Mr Simon and people were paid.
This is a story of awakening for the young Solana, discovering the world for what it is, she leads a chaste love affair with João de Lucena the dance coach for the group. Amidst Gisela’s one minded tyranny to keep the girl’s focus, insisting they do not see men, even humiliating Nani in front of the other girls after she discovers she is seeing a boy, getting her to repeat after her in front of the others, over and over again:
I will concentrate night and day on my role since I will only have in mind to give my all.
Why does Gisela does not admonish Solana, she must know of their discreet afair? When Solana discovers the truth, she learns to handle it as a song writer she looks for rhymes for what she sees, words to rhyme with lecherous, or shame.
Things don’t go as planned as Madalena gets pregnant putting pressure on the girls planned opening concerts, leading to tragedy. Finally the relationships between the different characters are more complex than Solana’s first assessment as she learns to handle Gisela.
First Published in Portuguese as “A noite das mulheres cantoras” in 20011 by Publicações Dom Quixote.
Translated into French by Geneviève Leibrich and published as “La nuit des femmes qui chantent” by Editions Métailié in 2014