Posts Tagged ‘interpretation’

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my favourite song – Aaliyah – 4 Page Letter

August 13, 2009

Okay, I realise that I have been neglecting this feature somewhat, but I’ve had so much else to write about!  Don’t worry, I’ve quietly been queuing up some of my favourite classic songs & I won’t forget to write about them.  I am a big fan of Aaliyah, and in the UK the majority of people only heard of her once she was killed in the plane crash.  It was only then that she hit #1 (with “More Than A Woman”) in this country, but I had latched onto her during the promotion for her One In A Million album (I don’t remember even hearing anything from Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number on the radio back when I was a kid).  Listening to songs such as “If Your Girl Only Knew”, “Hot Like Fire” and “One In A Million” opened my eyes and ears to a sound that was innovative, sexy and groove-led.  The videos were super-stylish, and I often find myself wishing that I could go back to the days when Timbaland and Missy Elliott made real, innovative R&B.

Out of all of the outstanding tracks on One In A Million, “4 Page Letter” has to be my favourite.  Starting with a subdued beat, Aaliyah exhorts the producers to “turn the music up”, and the volume rises to a normal level.  A deep, stuttering bass and shuffling shakers propel the song forward, while Aaliyah’s graceful, effortless vocal floats masterfully over the top.  Here was a vocalist who exuded sophistication from a startlingly young age (she was only 16 during recording much of One In A Million, a fact that still astonishes me) not just in her style and look, but in her voice and the way she sang.  Blessed with a strong, clear tone but never one to oversing, Aaliyah famously regarded herself as an “interpreter” who sought to do every song justice.  Here (as with almost all of her material) she succeeds, conveying the longing of a chaste romance, sending the object of her affections a “4 page letter” to express her feelings despite warnings from her family and friends.

I knew that I wanted to include an Aaliyah song almost from when I decided to write about some of my favourite songs.  Aaliyah has shaped my perception of R&B, just as she shaped the genre itself (with the help of Timbaland & Missy).  I find myself reminiscing back to her class and sophistication, and how the way she carried herself, the way she moved, the way she danced and the way she sang exuded grace and mastery.  Her untimely death in 2001 still resounds today, as the majority of new female singers fall incredibly short of the promise Aaliyah displayed during her all-too-brief career.  If she were still here, would Ciara have gotten her big break?  Would we be able to see how bereft Rihanna is of talent (apart from picking decent singles and wearing hot clothes)?  Would Beyoncé still be considered the best current R&B female singer?  We can but wonder, but there is a bittersweet blessing on the flip-side of Aaliyah’s passing: She left behind a near-perfect legacy that only shines more brightly with time.

Mama always told me to be careful who I love
And Daddy always told me, make sure he’s right
I always had my eyes on this one particular guy
I was too shy so I decided to write

I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time
I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time

People always sayin that I play myself for you
They say that you dont even notice me
Maybe when I get the nerve to come to you
Promise me that you wont diss me

I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time
I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time

I’ma write you a love letter tonight
You better keep watch cause the mailman’s coming
I’ma write you a love letter tonight
You better keep watch cause the mailman’s coming

I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time
I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time.

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translation.

July 20, 2009

As you may or may not know, a year ago I graduated from Oxford University with a BA Hons degree in French and Spanish.  I’m still waiting for that to deliver the promised kick-start to my professional career while I flounder between perfume shops, hospitals and careers guidance diplomas, but one of the more interesting aspects of that degree was the idea of translation.  It relies on two not-so-basic conceits – that you understand what the words mean in the passage you are translating, and that you understand what the author of the passage is trying to say.  These two ideas have to be grasped before you even attempt to replicate what you’re translating in your chosen language, and these two ideas are much more disparate than they may first appear.  Let me break it down for you, because I have a point to make 😉

You can see the word “tree”, for example, and it conjures a certain image in your head.  That image represents what “tree” means to you.  The Spanish word for “tree” is “árbol”.  So you can put “árbol” down.  That’s done… but by doing that, you’re having faith in the fact that the image you see when you think of “tree” / “árbol” is the same as what the author’s conception is.  If for example, the author has a completely different idea in his head, then your translation may be distancing yourself from his/her original intentions.  And that’s just one word; what happens when you have sentences, paragraphs?  Translation takes a lot of confidence and a lot of people-studying and effort to grasp what people mean when they speak; all the nuances behind their choices of vocabulary, their syntax.  At the heart of it: can we really trust that people mean what we think they mean when they say what they say?

I started thinking about this after Saturday night, meeting with Karina and Davina at Las Iguanas for some caipirinhas and tapas (which was delicious).  Karina was talking about a lil’ dispute she was having with her boyfriend (who lives at a distance), because she had a hospital scan (I won’t go into the details on here because it’s not really my place) and was somewhat nervous.  When, after listing his (admittedly inferior) stresses in retaliation to her current stuff, he finally asked “Do you want me to come down and visit you?”, she said “No, don’t be silly, you need to save your money.” (He’s moving)  And he took that at face value, and didn’t come down to see her.  Hence Karina’s somewhat irritated diatribe against him on Saturday night. Now, I know from my knowledge of women’s minds that they often don’t mean what they say, and they can in fact often mean the opposite of what they say.  By saying “don’t visit me”, Karina was sending a message saying “I don’t want you to spend your money, but at the same time I really wish you could come here and support me because I need you right now, and you shouldn’t need me to tell you that because in addition to the fear of this scan, I don’t want to succumb to the humiliation of appearing weak to you and admitting that I want you here with me.”  Me and Davina understood this straight away, but evidently her boyfriend did not.  But who is in the wrong?  I mean, he was only listening to Karina’s words and following them.  Should he have known better?  After all, if he’d said “No” to her in the same situation, Karina said she would have scraped together whatever she could have and gone to visit him regardless (I don’t doubt that this is true).  But then, Matt might have meant “No.” He’s a guy, guys tend to be more straightforward, perhaps more two-dimensional at times.  And Karina would have gotten it wrong.  It’s almost a no-win situation if you can’t navigate the nuances of people’s thoughts behind the words they say… which is difficult when their words tell a slightly different story.  We all have to play translators at times.

I give you another example.  After seeing Davina and Karina, I went to the club to meet B and his friends for the first time (which was exciting).  The night seemed to be an unqualified success: I had a great time at a club I previously had written off, thanks to he and his friends embracing me wholeheartedly.  He and I were quite touchy-feely, we spent the whole evening talking, dancing a little bit, joking with his friends and other people we ran into (he seemed to know practically everyone).  When we got out of the club at 4am, my bus wasn’t coming for another hour, so we wandered around trying to contact another friend of his who seemed to have gone astray, eventually waiting at the bus stop, chatting / hugging / flirting.  Nothing too untoward, a brief kiss on the lips when my bus finally arrived.  So there was nothing wrong with that, right? It was flirtatious without going too far, a fun night without us exchanging wedding vows, a light-hearted night of clubbing with friends and with someone who might become more.  After my last relationship getting far too intense far too quickly (despite my lack of feelings), this should be exactly what I wanted.

Of course, I was still worried that maybe he had gone off me.  Because he didn’t jump on top of me, rip my clothes off and make love to me on the floor of the nightclub, I didn’t know if he still liked me.  I am aware that this is more than faintly ridiculous, don’t worry – and if this had happened, I would be worried in contrast that all he thought of me was that I was an easy slut.  So I was trying to read entirely too much into his actions.  Let alone the fact that mine mirrored his in any case… isn’t it easier when the other person makes the first move?  When they seem to know exactly what to say?  Which I clearly do not.  We texted briefly on Sunday:

Me: “Hey hope u got home ok this morning! I had a fun time last nite, thanx to u and ur friends for entertaining me! How ru doing today, up to much?x”

Translation: “Hi, I hope you somehow didn’t think I was an idiot last night and behaving too drunken / flirty / not flirty enough.  I think I might like you, you need to tell me that you might like me too and that you want to see me again. And preferably at a different venue with just the two of us.

His reply: “Hi  yeah good to meet u 🙂 I’m ok just been chillin all day with music and cats lol x”

My interpretation of this: “Hello, yes you were nice enough but I don’t know if I want to see you again, I have not been thinking of you too much today and I was quite drunk last night so pay it no mind.

The exchange of text messages went on a bit longer but I cut it short soon after because I wanted to maintain an air of nonchalance, as in “I’m not that easy, you don’t have me wrapped around your finger, I have other things to do!  I will talk to you when you happen to cross my mind again, maybe in a day or two, because my life is perfectly fulfilling tra la la.”  The messages and nuances hidden behind words can just as easily apply to silences/ goodbyes, and we need to interpret and translate pauses and immediate replies accordingly.  Today, when I was half-expecting him not to text me (I had resolved not to initiate conversation – air of nonchalance, nonchalance!), I was on msn and suddenly he starts talking to me (he was set to ‘invisible’ so I didn’t even know he was there) and we have a great conversation.  We flirt and joke a tiny bit and he says “ok lover” at one point.  My current interpretation: everything is in a spirit of fun, but we are still flirting with each other and there’s some affection there so this just might work well so DON’T BE A FREAK AND OVERANALYSE THINGS!!! And although I feel relieved, and I feel like I have learned sometimes that it is better to say what you mean, and other times it’s better not to say anything at all, it is obviously far too late for the restraint from over-analysis!  So I’m cooling down and determined to enjoy this flirting stage, whether it evolves or not… because after all, this is exactly what I said I wanted… and I don’t remember any hidden notion behind that when I said it!