The Translator Relay: Amaia Gabantxo at Words Without Borders

You are also a very accomplished flamenco singer. What’s the relationship between your singing and your writing as a translator?

It took me a while to realize this, but I now know that both my singing and my writing (I consider my translations to be part of my literary output—everything that comes out of my pen is my writing) stem from the same impulse: the need to make art with words, the need to givevoice to things. The sung and the written are two manifestations of the same instinct for words.

Being a flamenco singer has sharpened my awareness of rhythm and sound. Mastery of different beats is essential in flamenco, as is mastery of silence and stillness, and of measured yet free and spirited expression. All these things—and the profound existential knowledge this form has provided me with—influence my writing, as do the beauty and philosophy of flamenco lyrics. And recently my two loves (my two selves?) have begun to coalesce into one concrete project that combines flamenco performance with the creation of new English translations of Federico García Lorca’s poetry.

It is well known among literary translators that the existing English-language translations of Lorca’s poetry are not very satisfactory. I think I know why this is, at least in part. Lorca’soeuvre is in itself a translation of flamenco, and the existing translations of his work into the English language have not observed that. The rhythms, imagery, breath, and impetus of Lorca’s poetry are a flamenco manifestation.They are coded in the flamenco form, and any attempt at translating those works into English would need to take that into account. I am bringing together a group of flamenco artists (dancers, guitarist, percussionist, a singer) and a team of international scholars of different disciplines (translation, performance, music, film, sound) in a multidisciplinary project that will aim to illuminate Federico García Lorca’s poetic legacy in ways that English-language readers of Lorca will find newly revealing and authentic—and which will hopefully invite a fresh and deeper understanding of this incredible poet, his outlook and intention, his universal song.

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