Friday, May 15, 2009
Pierre and Queen Nefertari
Master guitarist Pierre Bensusan has a lovely, lyric little masterpiece of a tune called Nefertari.
Nefertari, whose name means, variously. "beautiful companion", or "most beautiful of them", was the favorite queen of Pharaoh Ramses II way back in circa 1290-1250 BC.
She was uniquely loved by her husband, as, at his time, most royal marriages were made and kept solely for political reasons. Nefertari was 13 when she was betrothed to the 15 year old Ramses. From his numerous wives he is said to have fathered 100 children but Nefertari remained the favorite companion. She is oft depicted in paintings of the era as the same height as Ramses which was an unheard of violation of Egyptian representational protocol! Ramses built a temple for her and the god Hathor at Abu Simbel, and she is seen on the walls there as a companion of the goddess Isis.
Nefertari apparently took an active role in negotiating peace between the Hittites and her husband, and there are surviving cuneiform tablets from Turkey that contain correspondence from Nefertari with the king and queen of the Hittites.
Poems written by Ramses to her filled her burial chamber, and in one he says;
"My love is unique—no one can rival her, for she is the most beautiful woman alive. Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart."
She is pictured below playing senet, a boardgame that, when skillfully played, insured smooth transition into the afterworld.
Pierre Bensusan has long been a favorite guitarist of mine. I discovered his Pres de Paris record in a Santa Cruz shop in the mid-70's and was bowled over by his solo fingerpicked renditions of the Irish jigs Cunla and Merrily Kiss the Quaker's Wife. On those tunes, much like Martin Carthy or the bluesman Mance Lipscomb, Bensusan propels the beat with a dampened, often monotonic bass on the low strings while the intricate melodic line rides on the high strings. He makes liberal use of open strings in the melody and this gives the tunes a harp-like singing, suspended sound. His placement of open string notes is tastefully and expressively executed; without the excessive "open-tuning" drone style of most American "folk-style" players and, on the other hand, it creates a resonance that would would be lost in most "classical" guitar renditions which are stultified with precise clipped notes.
Inspired by Bensusan's example as well as similar ventures by Carthy and John Renbourn I went through 2 years of playing almost exclusively in the tuning DADEAD (sometimes used by the latter two) and concentrating on Irish/Celtic instrumental tunes and my own material before it dawned on me that I was digging myself into a pit of obscurity and would need to return to standard tuning if I wanted to interact at ease with other musicians. Pierre, plays solely in DADGAD - the "Davy Graham" tuning - but has the technique and versatility to, doubtlessly, adapt to any musical situation.
Here , Pierre plays two Irish tunes