I Can See the Gates of Heaven
Sofìa Rei Koutsovitis
The label World Village provides its listeners with diverse women’s voices. From Peruvian Tania Libertad to Tibetan Soname and too many women musicians to name in this review, the recordings fall somewhere between comfortingly familiar to exotic, with many of the musicians falling into cutting edge. Some of the musicians such as Susan McKeown collect and preserve traditional songs and others such as the globe-trotting women vocalists in the French group Lo’Jo offer a musical stew.
Hungarian folklorist and musician Màrta Sebestyèn collects traditional Hungarian songs, and has been doing this since her childhood when she won a song contest. A photograph of her circa 1977 appears in the liner notes in which Màrta collects a field recording from a traditional elder vocalist. However, Màrta with her traditional vocals and ear for beauty is more than a song-catcher.
On her collection of sacred and secular songs of Hungary, I Can See the Gates of Heaven, the vocalist sounds almost otherworldly and at other times, downright global. She brings voice, tin whistle and a drum to the recording and is accompanied by Balàzs Szokolay Dongò on bagpipes, shepherd’s flutes, traditional Hungarian instruments, saxophone and overtone chants and Màtyàs Bolya on lutes and zither. And together this trio performs songs that echo other traditions. For instance, the vocals and musical arrangement on Heritage sound like they hail from Tibet or China. Invocation sounds oddly Greek and Armenian.
My personal favorites though are the Hungarian romp, Driving Away Sorrow and the gentle Flower Gatherers with its lilting rhythm strummed on a lute and lyrical flute (sounds Celtic). The entire album offers a delightful respite from the chaos of everyday life. As any musical tradition, this one feels nostalgic and no doubt, many traditionalists and Lomaxians will embrace this offering.
She opens with the Colombian-tinged Coplera with its gentle thumb piano, double bass and vocal harmonies that gracefully rise and fall in a dreamy cadence. Certainly this song provides a lovely way to awake in the morning. The titular track also flows at a gentle pace with minimum instrumentation and emphasis on carefully phrased vocals in this regard I am reminded of Brazilian Monica Salmaso’s (World Village), work. Instante de vos picks up the pace especially after the traditional percussion kick in and Sofìa raises the intensity of her vocals a few notches. She reminds me of Marta Topferova (World Village) and Marta Gomez on this track.
The beautiful milonga Segundo final with its jazz-tinged guitar and haunting violin offers just the right instrumental support for Sofìa’s stunning vocals. The jazz element comes out in the opening of the track, La Chongoyapana and Imaginaria but if you want to jumpstart your day, listen to the Colombian feast for the ears, El Mayoral.
These two women vocalists bring the world to our ears and I for one, am enriched from the experience.