Thursday, January 17, 2013

In review--Streets of Toledo

Ana Alcaide
La Cantiga Del Fuego
Arc Music

I heard about the Spanish traditional musician Ana Alcaide last December. Alcaide interests me because the musician/culture preserver/composer/performer went from playing her nyckelharpa (a traditional Swedish keyed-fiddle) on the streets of Toledo, to producing the album La Cantiga Del Fuego which landed on the top of the World Music Chart in Europe. Alcaide’s journey has lasted over a decade thus far, and which also includes higher education in music conservatories in Sweden and Spain, studies in biology, and a fascination with both musical traditions of the Sephardic Jews of Spain and North Africa, as well as, the nyckelharpa.  If you want to know how all of that fits together, then you must listen to La Cantiga Del Fuego, an album filled with stories about love, tragic loss, exile and hope, brimming with the sounds of exotic European and Middle Eastern instruments.

Journalists have compared Alcaide to Enya and Loreena McKennitt, and certainly, I can hear those comparisons.  However, I would add Arianna Savall, a Catalan harpist/vocalist to this list.  Alcaide sings in a Mediterranean voice and you can hear Southern Spain dripping from her lips, but her musical approach includes international instruments in which she moulds a soundscape that compares to an exotic tapestry.  You’ll hear oud and santur, along with Jewish clarinet, accordion, Spanish bagpipes, electric bass, percussion, and I swear I heard didgeridoo on one of the songs, Queen Ester, even though it isn’t listed in the credits.  This song sounds like it came straight off a Gjallarhorn album (a Nordic band that plays traditional instruments and songs from Sweden and Finland).

The songs all flow smoothly into each other.  However, if you listen closely, preferably through headphones, you will hear intricate rhythms, delicate interludes, and exquisite vocal phrasing.  From haunting ballads to the wedding song, Ay que Casas! which features Spanish bagpipes and a Bulgarian 9/8 rhythm, we can see why European music audiences sent this CD to the top of the World Music Chart.  This leaves me wondering what other types of music we would find on Toledo's streets.

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