A menos cuarto (Armando Records, 2011)
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 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, Las 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 transformed its image and 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 other parts of Extremadura (Badajoz and Cáceres). 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 frolics 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 to this region and collected
traditional music on the sly in 1952 (check out The Spanish Recordings: Extremadura 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 aulagafolk.com (Hope you know Spanish).
Patricia Herlevi has contributed to World Music Central since 2003. She enjoys researching and writing about the world’s music traditions. She also researches, and teaches about the healing power of music at
her blog The Whole Music Experience. She has ancestors from somewhere in Spain, but was only told north and south.