Thursday, June 21, 2007

Spain's Musical Regions & Traditions

I was listening to my local NPR station the other day and to my surprise was treated to a story about my favorite Spanish band, Ojos de Brujo. I first discovered this group in a mesmerizing LINK TV video about a year ago. I was hooked. I was surprised to hear the NPR announcer refer to the band's eclectic and infectious style of music as Barcelona Bastardo. Didn't think the respectable Catalans would take a shine to this edgy sound. I was wrong (again). When asked, I describe this band as "Flamenco Fusion." With Gitano roots and a Flamenco soul. To this core, the band adds hip-hop; Andalus Arabic ornamentation; Cuban rhythms, even raggae. And it all works in a magical sort of way. Check out this video for a taste. Or this awesome animated music video.

When most music lovers think of Spain, Placido's tenor or the guitar of Andres Segovia often come to mind. Perhaps a favorite Flamenco tune. Digging deeper, Spain has arguably the richest musical tradition in all of Europe.

The music of Andalucia in the south is influenced by the Moorish era and has distinct Arabic elements. Thanks to another NPR story, I recently discovered the music of Ghada Shbeir. A Lebanese singer with an Masters in Musicology, she has taken some time, effort and love to reconstruct the songs of Al-Andalus. There are few other opportunities around to hear thousand year-old songs. Not exactly easy listening, these pieces are however very valuable bits of Arabic and European history, reflecting a unique moment when the two cultures were at their closest. For the musically curious, this new CD is a real wonder. And yet another thread in the colorful tapestry that is Spanish music. You can hear a BBC interview with Shbeir and a sampling of her songs here. During Moorish rule in Spain, diversity was encouraged and common. The Spanish Jewish community flourished at this same time. I've posted before about the Ladino language music of the Sephardic Jews here.

Travel a little farther north and you're in the heart of Flamenco country. Gitanos, Spanish Gypsies, are the principal performers of Flamenco song and dance. Their colorful and musical festivals are a regular draw during the "Flamenco season." Here are some Flamenco artists of note.

Of course, the Castellanos of cental Spain have their own unique folk traditions outside the Flamenco space. There is no better exemplar of this kind of traditional music than the celebrated band: La Musgana. Check out a sample of their sounds in this video (Picao).

The Catalans in Barcelona have their own musical traditions and further west into the Pyrenees one encounters Basque country with a decidedly different musical tradition that pre-dates even the Moors. Basque music, often dances played by a small group including a diatonic accordion, Alboka flute, fiddle and a wooden percussion instrument, is rich in folk tradition with a unique sound all of its own. The group Alboka is building quite a substantial presence on the World Beat scene.

In the north, on the Atlantic coast of Spain is one of only two Celtic colonies remaining on European territory. (The other is Brittany on the coast of France.) Here's a piece of trivia that will win some free microbrew in a pub wager: The world's most popular bagpipes player, based on CD sales, is a Spaniard. That's right, as counter-intuitive as it may sound. Hevia sells more CDs of bagpipe music than any other recording artist. Who'd a thought? His video is stunning, set on the Spanish coast with a solitary dancer on the sand as he pipes from the cliff. Yea, that's what I'm talking about. Hevia is following in the footsteps of the greatest Galician piper of all times, Carlos Nunez. He performed at Celtic Colors on Cape Breton Island last year.

Then, of course, there's that sort of dreamy, new-age flamenco guitar thing. Since I'm not much on "new-age" music, I'll leave that alone.

Ah, Spain. The most "emotional" country I have ever had the pleasure of visiting - and I've been back on three occasions. One element that is common across all Spanish music I have heard, regardless of genre, is the passion and authenticity that is communicated through song, dance and instrumental performance.


steve h said...

Great article offering insights into WORLD music beyong that of popular US culture.


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