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  • I'm going to tell you the story of a song.

  • I was in Madrid one night in 2002

  • with my teacher and friend Joaquín Sabina,

  • when he said he had something to give me.

  • He said,

  • "Jorge, I have some lines that you need to put into a song.

  • Take these down, take these down."

  • I looked on the table but all I found was a circular coaster,

  • on which I wrote the lines my teacher dictated.

  • They were four lines that went like this:

  • "I am a Jewish Moor living among Christians

  • I don't know who my God is, nor who my brothers are."

  • Those lines really made an impression on me.

  • I said, "What beautiful lyrics, Joaquín. Did you write them?"

  • He said no, they were by another composer named Chichonchez Ferlosio,

  • who was less known than Joaquín, but also a great poet.

  • These lines came to me at a time

  • where I had been wanting to express something for a while,

  • but didn't quite know how.

  • I was getting up to leave and go home to write,

  • when Joaquín stopped me and said, "Hang on, hang on,"

  • and presented me with this challenge:

  • "Write the stanzas for this song

  • incimas."

  • Now, at this point in my life,

  • I still wasn't completely sure whatcimas were,

  • but I was too embarrassed to tell my teacher I didn't know.

  • So I put on my best "Yeah, I totally understand" face,

  • and went home to look up whatcimas were.

  • I learned that a Décima is a type of verse

  • that only exists in Spanish,

  • and that it has 10 lines.

  • It's very, very complex --

  • perhaps the most complex style of stanza that we have in Spanish.

  • It also has a very concrete date of origin,

  • which is very rare for a style of stanza.

  • Thecima was invented in Spain in 1591,

  • by a guy named Vicente Espinel, a musician and poet fromlaga.

  • And listen to this coincidence: he was the same guy

  • who added the sixth string

  • to what would later be called the Spanish guitar.

  • This string right here --

  • it's called the "bordona."

  • From Spain, thecima, with its 10 lines,

  • crosses over to America, just like the Spanish guitar,

  • but in contrast to thecima,

  • the Spanish guitar continues to live today

  • on both sides of the Atlantic.

  • But thecima, in Spain, its birthplace,

  • disappeared; it died out.

  • It died out about 200 years ago,

  • and yet in Latin America, from Mexico to Chile,

  • all our countries maintain some form of thecima

  • in our popular traditions.

  • In each place, they've given it a different name,

  • and set it to different music.

  • It has a lot of different names -- more than 20 in total on the continent.

  • In Mexico, for example, it's called the "Son Jarocho,"

  • "Canto de mejorana" in Panama;

  • "Galerón" in Venezuela;

  • "Payada" in Uruguay and Argentina;

  • "Repentismo" in Cuba.

  • In Peru, they call it the Peruviancima,

  • because thecima becomes so integrated into our traditions,

  • that if someone asks, people from each place are completely convinced

  • that thecima was invented in their country.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's also got a really surprising feature,

  • which is that despite the fact that it developed independently

  • in each of the different countries,

  • it maintains even today, 400 years after its creation,

  • exactly the same rhyme, syllable and line structure --

  • the same structure Vicente Espinel gave it during the Spanish Baroque period.

  • Here's the structure --

  • I'll give you the basic idea and then later you can look online

  • and learn more about it.

  • Thecima is ten lines long; each line has eight syllables.

  • The first line rhymes with the fourth and the fifth;

  • the second line, with the third;

  • the sixth line, with the seventh and the tenth;

  • and the eighth line rhymes with the ninth.

  • It's a bit complicated, to be honest.

  • And me -- imagine me, trying to write incimas.

  • But it's not as complicated as it seems.

  • Plus, it's amazing that it's survived with the same structure

  • for more than four centuries.

  • It's not that complicated, because it has an impressive musicality to it,

  • a type of musicality

  • that's very hard to describe technically.

  • I prefer that you listen to it.

  • So I'm going to recite a Décima,

  • one of thecimas that I wrote for this song.

  • I'm going to ask that you concentrate just on the musicality of the rhymes.

  • For those of you with headphones on --

  • I see that some of you are listening to the translation --

  • please take them off for a minute.

  • (English) Take your headphones off, it you have them.

  • (English) Forget about the meaning of the words for a few seconds,

  • (English) and then you'll put them back.

  • (English) Forget about the structure.

  • (Spanish) Forget about the structure.

  • (English) And just ... it's all about the choreography of sound of thecima.

  • (Spanish) A choreography of sound.

  • (Sings in Spanish) "There is not one death that does not cause me pain,

  • there are no winners,

  • here's nothing but suffering and another life blown away.

  • War is a terrible school no matter what the disguise,

  • forgive me for not enlisting under any flag,

  • any daydream is worth more than a sad piece of cloth."

  • That's a Décima.

  • (English) You can put your headphones back on.

  • (Applause)

  • (English) Thank you.

  • (Applause)

  • I also applaud Vicente Espinel, because here it is 426 years later,

  • and thecima lives on everywhere

  • in its original state.

  • I wrote three like that one; you just heard the second.

  • I wrote the first one having only recently learned how,

  • and it has some errors in terms of meter,

  • so it's not presentable in its current state.

  • But the one I sang was good, more or less.

  • So: What was it about?

  • What was the meaning behind those lines?

  • I had just returned from doing a concert in Israel,

  • and I was very emotional over a problem that hits really close to home,

  • which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • I'll explain: my dad's family is Jewish,

  • and my mom's family are non-practicing Christians.

  • I was raised in a home where the two traditions lived together

  • more or less in harmony.

  • It wasn't unusual to see my Jewish grandpa dressed as Santa Claus, for example,

  • or to see my non-Jewish grandpa at the synagogue wearing his kippah,

  • at family celebrations, wearing the same expression that I probably had

  • when Sabina told me --

  • (Laughter)

  • that he had somecima lines for me.

  • For someone raised in that kind of environment,

  • it's especially painful to see the difficulty the opposing parties have

  • in putting themselves in the other side's shoes even for a moment.

  • So that's what I wrote about.

  • I already had the lyrics,

  • I had the form -- thecima -- and the content.

  • I needed to write the music.

  • I'll give you some context.

  • I had only recently moved from Uruguay, where I'm from, to Spain.

  • And I was feeling very raw with nostalgia,

  • like many of you here, who are away from home.

  • And I wanted my song to be very, very Uruguayan,

  • the most Uruguayan type of song there is -- the milonga.

  • So now, I had been studying thecima, and after finding out

  • that everyone tried to claim thecima as their own,

  • that it was invented in their country,

  • it made me wonder:

  • What does it mean when we say the milonga is Uruguayan?

  • The milonga has a rhythmic pattern that we musicians call 3-3-2.

  • (Counts out the beats) One two three, one two three, one two.

  • And it has a characteristic emphasis.

  • (Sings)

  • But this characteristic rhythm pattern

  • comes from Africa.

  • In the ninth century you could find it in the brothels of Persia,

  • and in the thirteenth,

  • in Spain, from where, five centuries later,

  • it would cross over to America with the African slaves.

  • Meanwhile, in the Balkans, it encounters the Roma scale --

  • (Sings)

  • which in part, gives birth to klezmer music,

  • which Ukrainian Jewish immigrants bring to Brooklyn, New York.

  • They sing it in their banquet halls.

  • (Sings "Hava Nagila")

  • And their neighbor, an Argentine kid of Italian origin

  • named Astor Piazzolla,

  • hears it,

  • assimilates it

  • and transforms the tango of the second half of the 20th century

  • with his ...

  • (Counts out the beats) One two three, one two three, one two.

  • (Sings "Adios Nonino")

  • He also played it on his bandoneon, a 19th-century German instrument

  • created for churches that couldn't afford to buy organs,

  • and that ends up, incredibly, in Río de la Plata,

  • forming the very essence of the tango and the milonga,

  • in the very same way another instrument just as important as the bandoneon did:

  • the Spanish guitar.

  • (Applause)

  • To which, by the way, Vicente Espinel, in the 16th century,

  • added a sixth string.

  • It's amazing how all these things are coming full circle.

  • What have I learned in these 15 years since the song was born

  • from going all over the world with four lines written on a coaster

  • from a bar in Madrid?

  • Thatcimas,

  • the milonga,

  • songs, people --

  • the closer you get to them,

  • the more complex their identity becomes,

  • and the more nuances and details appear.

  • I learned that identity is infinitely dense,

  • like an infinite series of real numbers,

  • and that even if you get very close

  • and zoom in,

  • it never ends.

  • Before I sing you a song and say goodbye,

  • allow me to tell you one last story.

  • Not long ago, we were in Mexico after a concert.

  • And since the concert promoters know me,

  • they knew I was a Décima freak and that everywhere I go I ask about it,

  • insisting on hearingcima artists.

  • So they organized a son jarocho show for me at their house.

  • If you recall, the son jarocho is one of the styles of music

  • that usescimas in its verses.

  • When these amazing musicians finished playing

  • what is for me, something amazing, which is the son jarocho,

  • they finished playing and were ...

  • I went up to greet them, really excited,

  • getting ready to thank them for their gift of music,

  • and this young kid says to me --

  • and he says it with the best of intentions -- he says,

  • "We're very proud, sir, to be keeping alive the purest origins

  • of our Mexican identity."

  • And to tell you the truth, I didn't really know what to say.

  • (Laughter)

  • I stood there looking at him. I gave him a hug and left, but ...

  • (Laughter)

  • But he was right, too, though. Right?

  • In reality, thecima is its origin, but at the same time,

  • just like in the milonga and in thecima,

  • are the roots of many more cultures from all over the place, like he said.

  • Later, when I got back to the hotel, I thought about it for a while.

  • And I thought:

  • things only look pure

  • if you look at them from far away.

  • It's very important to know about our roots,

  • to know where we come from, to understand our history.

  • But at the same time, as important as knowing where we're from,

  • is understanding that deep down,

  • we're all from nowhere

  • and a little bit from everywhere.

  • Thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

  • This is "The milonga of the Jewish Moor."

  • (Music)

  • (Sings)

  • For every wall a lament in Jerusalem the golden

  • and 100 wasted lives for every commandment.

  • I am dust in your wind and although I bleed through your wound,

  • and every beloved stone has my deepest affection,

  • there is not a stone in the world worth more than a human life.

  • I am a Jewish Moor who lives among Christians

  • I don't know who my God is, nor who my brothers are.

  • I don't know who my God is, nor who my brothers are.

  • There is not one death that does not cause me pain, there are no winners

  • there's nothing but suffering and another life blown away.