The Lijadu Sisters

Wislawa Szymborska meets the Lijadu Sisters

The Lijadu Sisters

Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska died last week in Kraków, Poland. My love of her country and culture, meantime, spiked last month with word that my two favorite Polish metal acts, Behemoth and Decapitated, play San Antonio's White Rabbit on April 29 and Emo's May 1 respectively. Szymborska's “On Death, without Exaggeration” suits both:

It can’t tell a joke
from a star, from a bridge,
from weaving, from mining, from farming,
from shipbuilding, or baking.

When we’re discussing our future plans
it’s got to get in the final word,
off the topic.

It doesn’t even know the things
directly tied to its trade:
digging graves,
assembling coffins,
cleaning up after itself.

So busy killing
it’s doing it badly,
without system or skill.
As if it were just learning on each of us

That’s from Miracle Fair, Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, which I bought used on Saturday at Half-Price Books on North Lamar along with another collection, View with a Grain of Sand. I’ve not had much chance to flip through them, but the cat poem quoted in her New York Times obituary last week sold me – and I’ve never even dreamed of owning a cat! – written from the feline perspective, after its owner has died:

Dying – You can’t do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment

The simplicity of Szymborska’s (shim-bor-ska) expression – translated into English as it is – lilts an obvious conversational whimsy, demure but direct. Brain whisperer, that’s the poet, turning words we use daily into a unique stream of consciousness through emotion. If every picture tells a story (don’t it?), the best poetry is metaphysical microfiche.

This Thursday’s Music reissues crossed paths with my introduction to Szymborska and the reminder that less can be still always more, especially in the daily scroll of words on the universal blog roll. The Lijadu Sisters’ 1976 debut Danger, reissued by the Knitting Factory’s label arm, lodged itself in my home stereo throughout the holidays, but the words to describe it not so much. Nigerian Afro-rock categorizes Danger, yet captures nothing about it.

As with Szymborska, “lilting” comes up central to the sibling’s vocal spells, and harmonies, and acid rock guitar solos, but weaving all that into a tapestry of critic-speak and Lester Bangs-like self-expression seemed counter to the Lijadus' (lee-jah-do?) alternately earthen and celestial bottom line. Takes but a few words to describe Danger – in what order I’ve little clue – and maybe that’s the whole point. Just a few words will do.

So with eternal apologies to Mother Poland and Wislawa Szymborska – and yet liberated by the latter’s tip-toeing format – here’s the fewest words I could come up with about Danger. This recent interview with Lijadus fill in the rest.

The Lijadu Sisters
Danger (Knitting Factory)

Twin sisters Taiwo and Kehinde,
Second cousins to Fela Kuti.
Celestial harmonies;
Black Charlie’s Angels.
Tight coils of acid rock guitar,
Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles.
Cry “danger,” and “danger day,”
1976 Nigeria.
Slowhand sizzle on ensuing “Amebo,”
“Life’s Gone Low Down” – pure voodoo.
Six songs warp 32 minutes,
“Cashing In” sounds like “passionate prostitution.”
Mother Africa (1977), Sunshine (1978), and
Horizon Unlimited (1979) follow on Knitting Factory.

Danger: Four stars. Baaaaaad (cough) “poetry,” psychic scars.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle