Author Topic: Joglaresa-Dreams of Andalusia.Jewish, Arabic & Christian songs of Medieval Spain  (Read 617 times)

Offline O

  • Posts: 1982

Por fin un disco diferente, con cantigas que no son las típicas de casi siempre y con una interpretación ... bueno, eso lo dejamos para las muy abundantes reseñas. ¿Qué tendrá este disco para ser tan comentado por los críticos? Por mi parte solo unos apuntes.

Hacía tiempo que me había 'desentendido' de Joglaresa (los recuerdo de la Magdalena), pero a Belinda Sykes no hemos dejado de verla con numerosos grupos, algunos de los cuales vienen listados en, pero justamente no los que yo recuerdo, entre ellos Sarband. Y precisamente con uno de los discos de Sarband, Sephardic Songs comparten repertorio estos Sueños Andalusíes. El infaltable Ayyu-hā s-sāqī, pero también el Hal darà de Ibn Sahl (con otra melodía) y aunque los nombres despisten, Al pasar por Casablanca, que allí se llamaba Una tarde de verano, popularísima melodía española que hasta sirvió para el romance Dónde vas Alfonso XII.

En las Estampida suenan cantigas, al principio las CSM 25 y 42 que son muy famosas, grabadas y fácilmente reconocibles. Después hay otras dos o tres canciones que probablemente sean cantigas, pero no tan fáciles de identificar. Algún día ... También está la CSM 40 en un contrafactum (pero ya había leído la reseña de musicweb-international, deben decirlo en las notas; tal vez haya más, a ver si nos cae el libreto algún día).

A mí más que sueños de Andalucía (al-Andalus) me han parecido sueños de Oriente. Sí, los textos son andalusíes, pero la música... Hasta las cantigas están 'contaminadas' de orientalidad. No me parece mal, hay que oír esa CSM 166 instrumental, normalmente en versiones ramplonísimas y recrearse en esas variaciones casi improvisadas; y solo hay un laúd y percusión suave. Sí que a veces me resulta más que chocante, para las cantigas, esa forma de vociferar, tan próxima a los sonidos con los que las mujeres árabes celebran y se duelen (¿ululato podríamos decir? en cualquier caso en árabe es zagārīd/t - زغاريد  o  زغاريط  -; como nosotros perdimos el sonido /z/ mejor sería escribirlo con s)
Joglaresa are leaders in the improvisational and cross-cultural aspects of their repertoire, which is Medieval, Middle Eastern, Flamenco and Celtic music. The resulting sound on this CD is more like a street carnival band than a highbrow early music group. The quote ‘Medieval Rock ’n’ Roll’ is most apt in describing this CD. It melds together the traditional and contemporary to create a sound that is both extrovert and intimate with plenty of chutzpah thrown in as well. Bring on the belly dancers!
There are no recognizable composers to be listed, unless we count three cantigas of Alfonso el Sabio, all sung at length if not complete. The program is described as Jewish, Arabic, and Christian songs of medieval Spain, the other 11 tracks all devoted to Jewish or Arabic songs. We have heard quite a few of these programs designed to illustrate the mingling of three cultures and faiths in medieval Spain. Belinda Sykes does most of the singing, but Naziha Azzouz is another vocalist in the ensemble, along with five instrumentalists (mostly percussion). There is also a choral group in one cantiga. In addition to singing and directing, Sykes has prepared the entire contents of the program, even to translating the Sephardic and Arabic texts. But she admits that the Jewish and Arab music and performance practice have been re-created from the little traces that survive. That explains the differences among the recordings we have heard. Though the recording was made in 2000 and the notes were written in 2004, the disc has just been issued. There has clearly been a continuing market for this kind of program, and the latest example is well done.
FANFARE: J. F. Weber
"Joglaresa" was a medieval Spanish word for a professional singing girl in Arab-ruled Andalusia (the Arabic term al-Andalus, group leader Belinda Sykes reminds us in her fine notes, meant "land of the vandals").

The group Joglaresa is British, not Spanish or Arabic, but it includes a striking lead vocalist apparently of Arab background, Naziha Azzouz. Of all the various sounds that have been proposed for dealing with the multicultural (Arab, Jewish, and Christian) music of medieval Spain, this one is among the most musically convincing.

It's also rooted in documents and iconography of the time. Sykes points to a text by al-Tifashi of Tunisia, who wrote before his death in 1253 of a female slave musician who "comes with slave-girls to beat the drum and play the reed for her." From this passage Sykes infers an attractively spare setting, with one or two voices (her arrangements sometimes split the vocal line between herself and Azzouz, with simple imitation effects), shawm or bagpies, perhaps a vielle, and percussion.

Even more intriguing is what might be called the central thesis of this disc: that the music of the three cultures ran together. This development is credited to none other than Ibn Bajja, the Islamic philosopher, known in Latin as Avempace, who was the leader of the Islamic Aristotelians and transmitted a great deal of ancient philosophy to the European world. Here one learns, amazingly enough, that he "secluded himself with skillful singing-girls and combined the songs of the Christians with those of the East, thereby devising a new style found only in al-Andalus, toward which everyone inclined, so that they rejected all other styles." A poem by Ibn Bajja is even performed, using a Tunisian melody (most of the actual music is adapted in this way).

Sykes extends this stylistic umbrella to the Cantigas de Santa María, which were not specifically Andalusian, and to Jewish music of the period, which may be a stretch. But it works. The three traditions are inflected differently in the vocals but presented as deeply interrelated. The repertory Sykes chooses is mostly secular, and often either romantic or humorous; the specifically religious pieces seem to flow naturally within this context and not to disturb the common culture presented.

All texts are given in their original languages: Arabic (in one case written in Hebrew lettering), Judeo-Spanish, or Galician-Portuguese, with English translations by Sykes (Arabic and Judeo-Spanish) and Stephen Parkinson (Galician-Portuguese). The album is beautifully designed, with architectural detail, Arabic calligraphy, and a great epigraph from Ibn Zamrak of Granada: "And a dancing girl, twirling in the fountain, responded to the melodies of the singing girls by rising into the air -- when she descended, she scattered pearls over the surrounding spectators." A lovely release that makes the Spanish Golden Age come alive, and an ideal gift for anyone headed for southern Spain.
This is one of my favorite Joglaresa Albums, the others being Magdalena and Stella Nuova.

Joglaresa is consistently top-tier quality for medieval music, and their offerings aren't as narrow or myopic as most artist who typically focus on Medieval British or Gaelic stuff. Joglaresa does all sorts of medieval music from Andalusia to Britain and beyond.

I don't have the time to write a 9-page essay style review, but know that this music is soulful, inspiring, and auditory bliss, Cheers to Belinda Sykes and her stellar artists/arra
Islamic Spain from the 8th to the 15th century allowed a great flourishing of musical traditions. This multicultural haven, known by its Arabic name of al-Andalus, where Arabic, Spanish, Latin, Hebrew and Ladino were spoken, gave us troubadour lyrics, canto hondo, flamenco and the guitar – fashioned by the great Arab musician, Ziryab, who added a fifth string to the lute. The critical innovation in song was the strophic (verse-form) song with refrain: the muwashshah written in classical Arabic and the zajal written in Andalusian dialect of Arabic. The texts are reproduced with translations in Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish in the booklet.

Joglaresa is a band that embraces with gusto the extraordinary character of this spectacular music. The band is drawn from a group of musicians with both classical, world music and jazz backgrounds. Belinda Sykes, its leader, provides a characterful and virtuosic voice backed up by a thorough knowledge of the idiom, history and music of this period. The rhythm section of the band also gives a powerful and strong identity to this celebratory music and roots it very strongly in cultural traditions. The band displays the boldness and improvisatory chutzpah that gets straight to the heart of medieval music and is not too precious.

The programme includes Cantigas de Santa Maria where there are extant music notations. No such records exist for Arabic and Hebrew songs so in recreating them they have drawn on living traditions relating to the songs, using known Arab-Andalusian and Christian melodies and improvisation. In this way they are fitting inheritors of a distinctive group of performers who have explored with their imaginations this repertoire Andrea von Ramm, Esther Lamandier, Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall.
The learned Benedictine nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim (c.935-c.1002), poet and dramatist, described the Andalusia of her time as “the ornament of the world”. She had never visited Andalusia, but had no need to do so to be fully conscious of its reputation for scholarship and artistic creativity. And for what, sadly, now seems a remarkable degree of religious tolerance and cultural interaction. From the middle of the eighth century until the fifteenth, Islamic, Christian and Jewish populations lived in relative harmony with one another. Their various cultural traditions - in such matters as philosophy, mathematics and science as well as in the arts and such arts of living as food and clothes - coexisted in complex patterns of mutual influence. María Rosa Menocal borrowed Hroswitha’s phrase for the title of her fascinating and accessible book published in 2002: The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. It is the musical dimension of this ‘ornament of the world’ that Belinda Sykes and Joglaresa explore on this CD, recorded as long ago as January 2000 but only now released.

Belinda Sykes, director of Joglaresa and the musical mind behind this anthology, certainly approaches the repertoire of the period in the spirit of cultural interaction. The emphasis is upon the strophic song with a refrain (a model which spread throughout Europe from Andalusia), which existed in two major verse forms, the muwashshah (written in classical Arabic) and the zajal (written in an Arabic dialect peculiar to Andalusia). Although a healthy selection of poetic texts of such songs survive in Arabic, as do texts for the Hebrew and Christian songs (such as the famous Cantigas de Santa Maria), we have far fewer musical records where the Arabic and Hebrew songs are concerned. To make possible the performance of such Arabic texts, Sykes and her colleagues have sometimes resorted to fitting the text to a surviving medieval Christian melody or to a traditional Arab-Andalusian melody; elsewhere they make use of a traditional melody to which the particular text is still sung (and which may, conceivably, be a direct descendant of the original melody); sometimes they rely upon improvisation within the conventions of such medieval Arab-Andalusian music as we do have.

The results are generally very impressive. With plenty of percussion, with some fiercely reedy instrumental accompaniment and some fine work on the oud and the vielle - plus, of course, the voices of Naziha Azzouz and Belinda Sykes herself, powerful but capable of appropriate subtlety - these songs communicate their sentiments vigorously and the performances are never short of energy. For the most part only a single pitched instrument is used at any one time, and this allows a degree of intimacy and freedom in the interplay between voice(s) and melodic accompaniment, both supported by the hyperactive (but never over-fussy) percussion section. There would, of course, be plenty of room for scholarly debate about the ‘authenticity’ of much that can be heard on this CD. But these are performances that have (irrespective of any such debate) their own kind of authenticity, their own truth to human emotion, to musical intuition and (where the resources exist) to scholarly information. Belinda Sykes is both an experienced performer in a range of musical traditions and Professor of Medieval Song at Trinity College of Music. Were she only the one or the other - intuitive performer or scholar - the performances would undoubtedly be rather less satisfying than they are. The sung texts here vary from the praise of the Virgin Mary to the celebration of the “love’s intoxication” and Joglaresa find apt language for these and for many other sentiments. Sometimes the fusion of sources strikes unexpected sparks; so, for example, the text of a poem by Ibn Quzman of Cordoba (c.1080-1160) is sung to a traditional Algerian melody and in a rhythmic mode taken from the folk music of the Maghreb; or, to take another example, a poem by Don Todros Abulafia of Castile (1247-1306) is sung to the melody of one of the Cantigas de Santa Maria (No.40) - the text of the Arabic poem is a woman’s praise of her lover’s character, that of the Christian song it ‘replaces’ is a hymn in praise of the Virgin. Time and again, these performers make such combinations work, as they effect their own kind of convivencia.

The recorded sound is good and does justice to the fascinating percussive textures that distinguish so much in the programme. The motif of cultural interplay and layering is nicely enhanced by the fact that this recording was made in the late Georgian church of St. Martin of Tours in East Woodhay.