Baroque in the New World
Viola da gambist Jordi Savall
Jordi Savall will probably not play "La Bamba" when he performs at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on Thursday, September 30--though it's not entirely out of the question.
Acknowledged as the world's premiere viola da gamba player, Savall has already performed just about everything that can be played on his instrument, from Marais' sensual suites through Bach's spiritual sonatas, from Hume's cheerful solos through Sainte-Colombe's melancholy duos. With his wife and longtime musical companion, Montserrat Figueras, plus the ensembles they founded, Hesperion XXI and La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Savall has explored much of Baroque ensemble and choral music. And as a leader in historically informed performance, Savall has dug back into the forerunners of Baroque music, even to its folk music roots.
Now the Catalonian musician has discovered America. When Savall performs at St. Francis, he will bring with him not just his gamba, his wife, his five-member band, and his five singers, but also Temembe Ensamble Continuo, a Mexican Baroque ensemble, to perform a program entitled "The Route to the New World." Its unwieldy but accurate subtitle: "A musical dialogue between Old Spain, the Mexican Baroque, and Mexico's living 'Huasteca' and 'Jarocho' traditions."
This brings us back to "La Bamba"--or, rather, the roots of "La Bamba," the son jarocho. Born hundreds of years ago in Veracruz of Spanish and Mexican parents, the son jarocho is a kissing cousin of the son huasteco, the indigenous music of the region north of Veracruz. And "kissing" is the key word: the son jarocho and son huasteco are sung as well as played, and the lyrics are usually about love and sex--indeed, some authorities hold that the word jarocho comes from the old Spanish word for "horny."
Temembe Ensamble Continuo, a seven-member group that takes its name from the river running by its rehearsal space, specializes in fusing the son jarocho and son huasteco traditions with the music of the Mexican Baroque. In practice, this involves six members of the ensemble
playing various guitar and guitar-like instruments plus percussion, while four members sing and one dances. How this will work with Savall and his singers and players is anyone's guess--but anything's possible. With their slashing guitars and flailing percussion, some of Savall's recordings of early Spanish music with Hesperion XX (as it was known in the last century) sounded like an early-music version of the Who, so it's not unthinkable that this collaboration could sound like a down-home version of Los Lobos.
As always, the only way to know is to go.
[Originally published in September, 2010.]