Sunday, March 6, 2011

In review--Music and Bread

Aulaga Folk
A menos cuarto
Armando Records


This isn’t the first time a recording by the Spanish folkloric group Aulaga Folk has crossed my path. And once again I feel tongue-tied in trying to describe the folkloric music on the CD. In 2006 I reviewed the group’s no es mala leña which wed jazz to regional folk music (Extremadura, Spain). The CD was easier to describe than the current recording a menos cuarto (a quarter to the hour) which harbors elements of Celtic Spanish with Arab-Andalusian music, and yet is neither. The album comes with a CD featuring an array of special guests including other Spanish folkloric luminaries such as Javier Ruibal and Eliseo Parra, a second disc featuring mixes and a DVD with three music videos so we can see the band in action, and not just performing music, but also collecting it.


The musicians feature music from the mountainous region of Spain, Hurdes, which doesn’t have the happiest of reputations and was featured in a 1933 documentary Land without Bread by Luis Buñuel, which the surrealist film director doctored up a bit. Once the region of intense poverty, illiteracy, sickness, and superstition, Las Hurdes now attracts tourists. And the songs from this region featured on a menos cuarto sound jaunty with hummable melodies. Four of the ten tracks on the CD come from Las Hurdes with the remaining tracks hailing from Extremadura (Badajoz and Càceres). The band includes jotas and other traditional music that shifts directions at a blink of an eye.


I’m at a loss to describe the music. Rough Guide to World Music (2000 edition) doesn’t mention the traditional music of Extremadura. My Spanish language skills are limited and the CD and supporting material and website are in Spanish. Yet my curiosity is aroused now and I’m ready to learn more about this regional music, its influences, (some from Portugal). It borrows flutes, pipes, and traditional percussion from Asturias and Galicia, but features rhythms from southern Spain, such as flamenco. The vocals range from jaunty to haunting Arabic. As you can imagine, there’s a lot going on here. Traditional music contains history of a people, a region, and all the nomadic influences that passed through, not to mention influences of other musical styles.


From the little I could find online about music from this region, I learned that Extremadura is the poorest region in Spain, that historically many people of this region fled to Latin America, but the stunning music I’m listening to proves to me that this region is musically-rich. Alan Lomax ventured and collected traditional music here on the sly in 1952 (check out the recording on Rounder Records, 2002). The combination of flutes, lutes, bagpipes, accordion, and array of percussion that shows up in these songs possess intricacy as they switch between rhythms and styles. Just listen to Extremairlandura or my favorite Los Carnavales and you’ll see what I mean. And for those seeking a more familiar sound, “Reeguedoble” recalls early country western music of the US with its languid vocals, bluegrass-like fiddle and laid back guitars.


I doubt you’ll find this recording anywhere in North America so I’ll direct you to the band’s website http://www.aulagafolk.com/ (Hope you know Spanish).

The first post of this review is at World Music Central, http://worldmusiccentral.org/

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