Melting Melodies: Hijas Del Sol

Hijas Del Sol - Kottó
Hijas Del Sol – Kottó
Hijas Del Sol

Kottó (Nubenegra/Intuition, 1998) & Kchaba (Nubenegra/Intuition, 2000)

Both of these recordings, Kottó and Kchaba, by EG (Equatorial Guinea) duo, Las
Hijas del Sol  are a few years old now. Kottó (released in 1998) features vocalists, Piruchi Apo and Paloma Loribo (an aunt and niece) in a predominately acoustic environment with plenty of Afro-Cuban rhythms, western instruments such as clarinet, accordion, double bass, cello, violin, Cuban tres, and some electric guitar. Plenty of room exists for the duo to perform their elaborate vocal harmonies and the end result is a vibrant and joyful recording. The same producer Alberto Gambino and engineer Hugo Westerdahl came on board for the 2000 release, Kchaba, but sadly, this CD is weighed down by electric guitar effects and technical prowess compliments of the production teams egos.

Fortunately, the vocalists extraordinary talent and humility salvages this recording to an extent.I read a bit of background on Las Hijas in a very short chapter on the music of Equatorial Guinea that appears in Rough Guides to World Music (Volume 1). It isn’t for lack of interest that the African country’s musical output comprised a short chapter. I believe that the international community would find the indigenous music of EG to be quite stunning, but this former Spanish colony, like many other African nations suffers from repressive government and lack of support for its local music community. Las Hijas and many of their musical compatriots live outside of Madrid in a small suburb the EG community dubs Malabo Dos (Malabo is the capital of Equatorial Guinea). And you can hear about this community and even the Spanish hot climate in Las Hijas’ lyrics. You will also hear about various tribal traditions of EG as well as, Las Hijas native tongue, Bubi, mixed in with a fusion of western and Afro-Caribbean sounds.

Kottó fascinates me in the same way as the Italian vocal group Faraualla’s recordings. Lately, I have found myself drawn to various vocal traditions from around the world and I have fallen in love with a cappella singing. Las Hijas strike a balance between a cappella and accompanied songs.

When I listen to Kottó, I can hear the women vocalists’ immense pleasure in explore in their singing craft. They offer traditional fare as well as, a couple of reggae tunes (titular track and Hoéo) and Sipólo resembles Cuban son with its mix of piano, Afro-Cuban percussion. The calypso-like La Despedida features bottles, bass, jungle sounds and African drums.

My favorite tracks are the a cappella, E Riwèé (with open-throat singing that recalls the music of the Balkans and Eastern Europe), Tóli Kópé, another a cappella song with a tempo change that falls at the song’s half way point, and Experiencia that features Mónica Campillo’s dreamy clarinet solos.

While some of the elements from Kottó, including the Afro-Cuban percussion, lush vocal harmonies and exotic appeal appear once again on the 2000 CD, Kchaba, this album is uneven at best. It starts off on the right note with the duo singing the short a cappella song, O Botyibi and Hue and M-30 also highlight the duo’s vocal skills and ethnicity. The country western tune, El
Viajero distracts from the flow of this recording. However, the most noticeable flaws on this otherwise intriguing CD are the guitar-heavy funk song , Grito Libre dedicated to the late Afro-Beat Fela Kuti and the drum & bass, La Princesa Perdida which sounds like a pop song wafting through a shopping mall. Sibolló puts the album back on solid ground and sports a nice balance between guitar and vocals. The a cappella E ria e nta highlights what this duo does best and Alale returns to Afro-Cuban/Caribbean fare.

I highly recommend Kottó, but I have reservations about Kchaba. However, this duo is charming and their vocal talent appears limitless so picking up both CDs might not be such a bad idea for listeners who don’t mind the tracks taking a sharp left turn now and again. Personally, I feel that Kottó offers a more pleasurable listening experience that Kchaba. I think the artists that appear on the cover of the CD and not somebody’s dream of building a wall of guitar sounds should be the producer’s primary focus. But that is just one person’s opinion.