For weeks, months actually, I feel as if my Muse has deserted me. Here’s why. Resettling my vocal music library about a year ago I found this brightly-coloured package that I had received around that time; perhaps earlier… I kept picking it up and putting it down. Sometimes bright colours on a CD cover can intimidate me and I simply cannot say why. My Brasilian sensibility ought not to be intimidated but there you have it. “False starts,” I kept trying to convince myself. And they were – all those times I actually picked up this intriguing package and then put it down. Sadly the CD made it to a very ‘safe’ place in the vocal music library so ‘safe’ that I did not find it again until almost two years later. Feeling mortified, I put in the CD tray, this album called Bring Nothing But Your Heart (Jazilian, 2013) and the music started to play. I was speechless. Who was this young lady who was urging me to listen with nothing but my heart? I could not resist the music and it played all day that day. Words failed me though and continued to fail me for months. I was stricken with ebullience and anxiety all at once.
However, I soon realised that Sue Maskaleris – for that was her independent release of 2013 that had so beguiled me – had got under my skin. She had managed to send her music coursing through my veins as I am sure she did for many who listen to her music. So even when the music was not playing on my stereo, I was hearing it, playing it back, recalling fragments of lyrics in electric flashes of memory, wondering what they meant, who they were referring to… hearing the lyrics as if they had just rolled off Sue Maskaleris’ tongue, sensuously, with profound beauty. This is about life, I kept thinking to myself. Yes, artists attempt to write about life as their art imitates it but in the mess of life much is forgotten. Not Sue Maskaleris’ music. This young lady made music that seems to come from a realm where special artists are endowed with the quintessence so that the music they make is endowed with four dimensions – three that can be perceived palpably and then a fourth, spectral one from which hypnosis is unleashed upon the heart’s ear. I am her prisoner and this I have been, unabashedly I admit, from the very first notes of Bring Nothing But Your Heart which is written in a metaphor that is flutteringly imaginative and all her own.
I have a theory about Sue Maskaleris and how music becomes her. First of all I will posit that she is made completely of music. She hears not only melody, but harmony and rhythm as well. Songs are formed completely and it is as if she simply reaches out and finds the idiom, made, it would seem, out of mouthfuls of air. There is also the element of skulduggery, putting it down on paper but here’s how that works: Even as she might begin to compose one reassuring line per day to seemingly placate her public with a positive gesture this she quite simply owes herself. It happens like this, I believe: First of all she must breathe deeply and look into the mirror on the wall until she likes what she sees; then she glances around the room for a truly insignificant object, ignored by everyone but which she gazes upon lovingly; a speck of dust maybe that for her represents all of the galaxies. As soon as she feels the world to be good or even wondrous, she hurries to her piano, holds her breath and pens her panegyric. Whereupon she breathes out and leafs through the latest news from the cosmos, which just happens to be my own beloved Brasil most times. Then, like the proverbial Diana, she draws her bow and bravely aims the music at the heart… a fine quivering heart. My heart.
I wonder why I have been singled out for such beauty sometimes and search for words to bring that beauty, with which I have been stricken, to life, yet words fail me. But then I remember the one Portuguese word I live by ‘saudades’ and a Spanish one that haunts my very soul ‘duende’. I find that both words are untranslatable although they are leaden with meaning. The former word is tinged with not a little sadness. But surely it contains that very chemical that leads to alegria (boundless joy, ecstasy…). But it is also a misty eyed longing for anticipated and boundless happiness, and in Sue Maskaleris’ music, is that proverbial Holy Grail that remains forever out of reach. I live through her songs, sometimes vicariously, but always with a sense that I am getting closer to my own Holy Grail. Sue Maskaleris can have that effect on you and me. She leads me to believe for instance that she is about to lead a Lush Life (Bring Nothing But Your Heart), for me and only me. I experience redemption. My heart soars. And then there is the mystical, magical force of ‘duende’ which tears my soul apart. Federico Garcia Lorca described that force – and I paraphrase – as one that grips the soul and puts a painful twist in it like a physical chokehold that will not ever let go until you experience a pain that frays the nerves. Sue Maskaleris does that to me as well. Time and time again my eyes have misted up and overflowed when listening to “I Can’t Cry Over You Any More” (Unbreakable Heart, Jazilian, 2001). I am unashamed to say that today, as I mull the significance of loss, the eyes overflow.