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Conference in Ethnomusicology and Popular Music Studies


Songs from Ceylon: collection of Portuguese Creole musics from South Asia


November 19th, 2018 | 11:00 - 12:30 | Room 21.2.20 | Departamento de Comunicação e Arte | Universidade de Aveiro


Kenneth David Jackson




The “Songs from Ceylon” represent the musical survival of the Portuguese descendants’ culture in the Island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The communities of the so called “Portuguese Burghers”, isolated in the east cost of the island around the Batticaloa and Trincomalee harbors since the 17th century, constitute the largest groups of families preserving the creole music and language. They served as a focal point for the linguistic contact (Tamul, Sinhalese and Portuguese) and for the folklore’s syncretism. To the sound of “Chikothi” and “Cafferinha”, accompanied by raban, triangles and violin, they sing the traditional verses of their “cantigas”. This is a rhythmic and syncopated music, which in the 20th century originated the Sinhalese popular music known as “baila”. The cafrinha was associated to the decadent reputation of the Portuguese Burghers’ festivities, represented in a popular album cover by a picture of badly dressed people, spirits bottles, games, dances and the presence of women. The field recordings are part of the collection “The Journey of Sounds”, prepared for EXPO’98. However, in 2018, researchers of project for the documentation of Portuguese in Sri Lanka found and recorded the same traditional songs.




Kenneth David Jackson is professor of Luso-Brazilian literature at Yale University. He specializes in modernist movements in literature and other arts, Portuguese literature and culture in Asia, poetry, music, and ethnography. He researched musical traditions in Goa and Sri Lanka. In Yale, he organized the conferences: “Goa: A Postcolonial Society between Cultures” (2013) and “Portuguese World Music” (2006). Among his publications, he highlights: A Hidden Presence: 500 Years of Portuguese Culture in India and Sri Lanka (Macau, CCPD, 1995); a study of Creole folk verse in Asia, Sing Without Shame (Amsterdam & Macau, 1990, also in Portuguese, Macau, 1996), and three CDs of field recordings of Creole music in the series The Journey of Sounds (Lisbon, EXPO’98). He is the author of Adverse Genres in Fernando Pessoa (Oxford, 2010) and Machado de Assis: A Literary Life (Yale, 2015).