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Intimate Strangers

by Sara Serpa

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  • The Biopholio™ is a two-sided, 20-panel origami-inspired medium, bursting with vibrant artwork and liner notes; each one made entirely out of FSC-certified, robust paper, hand-folded and printed using plant-based inks. There is NO Compact Disk (CD) or plastic in this product. Found inside each Biopholio™ is a unique code for the listener to digitally download the music in hers/his preferred format (high CD-quality, uncompressed WAV files, et cetera...)

    Intimate Strangers is made possible with the support from The NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre by the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in association with the New York Foundation for the Arts.

    Includes unlimited streaming of Intimate Strangers via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
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First Song 03:12
"I can recite distances by heart feet memory I can tell wanderlust rounded as the eyes A walking eye sees itself blind A roving leg crumbles into a pause The only thing a man needs is a suitcase and a soul."
"A man who works on the street, if the street is familiar and his jobs habitual, does not tire from tedium. He is not tired from rising early to present himself for hire. He tires instead from the slow and steady viciousness of staring at the world, idle and underpaid. Men and women who build houses are, for the most part, considered illiterate. Their lives lack the sophistication of the educated, whose work is never menial. Of course this is true in part. Yet to watch labourers is to learn their basic wants: how to eat enough to be strong enough for the longest amount of time. He receives the chatter when his body is benumbed by fatigue. At that time, seeking distraction from the tedium of mundane work, he is nourished by a staple of a different kind: stories."
"How do you know where to go? he asks the boatman with whom he travels. You carry the way, the boatman replies. How can I find it, he asks again? Ask your eyes to show you where to look. Ask my eyes? How? The boatman laughs, and then says, That question reveals your dense blindness. But later, once the boy had been rowed ashore, the boatman tells him how: Go to the beginning. Every lake holds the memory of its mother, it is to her it strives to return, imagining roads that we follow home."
Bamako 02:30
In Bamako, he is known by a byname, which he tells me with no hesitation. But his actual name, Gabriel, he tells me in a whisper, in confidence. When I tell him our mission— overland from Lagos to Sarajevo, along the coast— he says he’s happy we aren’t travelling through the desert. There are many burial places in the desert, he begins to aver. We find stones in the desert. We remove the stones, and see a decaying corpse. The name on the document remains legible. This is how we recognise the person. In the desert, death means nothing.
Lejam 05:02
"Lejam returned from his travels: first west and north Africa, then south and west Europe. There was a world prior to my journeys, then a world after. He told me this. The people I have seen, the people whose stories I cannot forget, he said. The people who will die trying to cross over. The young boys encamped behind a hill, possibly in Ceuta, waiting for the right time to make a run for the fence. Day after day, waiting. For some, year after year. Being driven to the border, Lejam asked the driver to stop close to the foot of the hill. About twenty-five boys encircled him, their number rising like water finding its level. There are portraits of all the boys. There is also a list with their names, ages, and countries of origin. None of these documents have been shown to the public. Here is a possible list, with gaps, in place of all the present and future boys of that Ceuta encampment— ALL VOICES: 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... 7... 8... 9... 10... 11... 12… 13... 14... 15... 16... 17... 18... 19... 20... 21... 22... 23... 24... 25..."
I learn from an afternoon with you how grief accompanies us, separate from our beloved dead. Your dead are: a son, a sister, and a brother, not counting other relatives. All dead in the five years since you’ve been away. Distance, the feeling of distance, is aggravated by guilt. You didn’t tell me this. But I saw on your furrowed face a question, simple yet sempiternal. Why are the living separable from the dead? Why have I remained on this side?What about marriage? she asked you. I give you permission to marry someone else... Who else but you can describe the severity of failed romance? Love annulled by an improbable future. Only those who have faced a similar uncertainty might dare understand
God’s Time 05:03
"In Kidira, as I approached the border station a hundred paces away, I stopped to catch the words of a man standing by himself, reclining on an electric pole. The street was busy: idlers mingling with passengers; hooting cars synchronous with bleating goats. The man’s head was inclined downwards and his voice was subdued as a whisper, but I’d been walking so close I heard him. SARA SINGS: He said: Today and tomorrow, God’s time is the best. His backpack, similar to mine, looked emptier and ragged. I stood beside him. For a minute or more, he didn’t look up. When he did he smiled, and when I smiled in return I got the sense that there was potential for conversation, a story. Then we sat under a mimosa tree. The words I’d heard him repeat were the same used often in the book. I wasted no time. It seemed timely that a man standing on the roadside agreed to read a book I carried around. The uncanny comes unrehearsed. I was making this trip because I chose to write a book about the Senegal River and its tributaries, and the lives of the people who lived along its banks. I wasn’t courting a better life in Europe. His ragged backpack told the opposite— his travels were an imperative harsher than a choice. I had read only the epigraph before he stopped me. Even a life full of holes, a life of nothing but waiting, is better than no life at all. In the length of time his eyes remained closed, I thought he had fallen into a trance. But soon his face was folded in a frown. He spoke with his eyes shut: I have been travelling for a long time, going and coming many times. I have even gotten as far as Tangier, then sent back. Then got there again, then sent back again. See this paper I have, I got it there. It was two-sided, crumpled and timeworn, advertising an exhibition of photographs. Two children in the picture were playing in front of an advert box in a port’s transit area in Tangier. The ship in the picture was luminous with fluorescent light, harboured on a blue sea, or approaching anchorage, calm as a stone."
Kidira 03:00
I am in Kidira, waiting... My friend was arrested. We were standing in front of a train. I told him this must be part of the Dakar-Niger line. I took the photograph with my phone. Two policemen approached us. They asked for identifying papers. I brought out my passport. My friend had none. When he was being taken away he smiled at me. But his face contracted into many furrows, and he held open his palms like a supplicant. I watched him retreating, half-expecting he would turn to look at me. He didn’t. Now it was clear that our relationship was not one among equals. I have waited for his reappearance. I have dreamed of him reclining on an electric pole reciting a chant: Today and tomorrow, God’s time is the best. I have searched for him. I have been warned by policemen against circling the border station, peeking through cobwebbed shutters. Yet without his name I am told I cannot be given any information. In the dozens of hours we spent together, I didn’t ask for his name, and he didn’t ask for mine.
In the dozens of hours we spent together, I didn’t ask for his name, and he didn’t ask for mine. I have known many shames, but none like the afternoon of my friend’s arrest. I recount this encounter to transfer some of that shame. This is the photograph of two carriages of a broken train. It becomes many things when I look at it. But most of all, it becomes the end of the world, le bout du monde.
"My dear Emmanuel, Will you draw a dinghy for me? Keep it long but low. There should be no difference between the shape of the forward part and the shape of the other end. Keep these words in your mind, my boy. Pronounce them like dates rolled over your tongue. I was once told that parts of dinghies are named after good mermaids who befriend the sons of fishermen! Imagine your boat will carry a lot of passengers. It will be rowed slowly, wavering in the afternoon sea. Colour it deep dark brown. In the blue of the Mediterranean, against the white vastness of nothing from horizon to horizon, it will be noticeable by a rescue ship from afar. Now you are a boat maker! Your uncle."
"You will hear about this news in due course. This certainty— or, to be less optimistic, this resignation— is one shared by anyone who makes a life in the traffic of borders. A life of being away from home only to return tainted by wanderlust, unable to stay. A traveller for whom all restless cities appear similar in size and in labyrinth."
Night 03:23 video
"When night covered me in a prayer blanket I interceded for our recumbent figures And watched the interminable horizon of lost love I know you twice first as azure distant beauty second as marigold glistening body They say those who leave die slowly I say I dream much mourning I dream you leaving."
For you I must become a tree. Every tree is the opposite of wandering.


A collaboration between Portuguese vocalist-composer Sara Serpa and Nigerian writer Emmanuel Iduma, drawing inspiration from Iduma’s latest book, A Stranger’s Pose, a unique blend of travelogue, musings and poetry. In a combination of music, text, image and field recordings collected by Iduma during his travels, Intimate Strangers explores such themes as of movement, home, grief, absence and desire in what Iduma calls “an atlas of a borderless world”.

Intimate Strangers is made possible with the support from The NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre by the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in association with the New York Foundation for the Arts.


released December 3, 2021

Sara Serpa – voice, composition
Emmanuel Iduma – text, spoken word
Sofía Rei - voice
Aubrey Johnson – voice
Matt Mitchell -piano
Qasim Naqvi – modular synth


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Sara Serpa New York, New York

Singer | Composer
Lisboa | Harlem

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