Vocalist, songwriter and nyckelharpa instrumentalist Ana Alcaide has released a new video for her delightful song ‘En El Jardin De La Reina’ from her critically acclaimed album La Cantiga del Fuego.
Alcaide’s music draws on influences of magnificent Toledo, Spain and the Sephardic traditions of the city. She uses a wide range of world music instruments like the oud, santoor, bouzouki, mandola, medieval lute, darbuka along with her own playing of the nyckelharpa and Celtic harp. The final result is a sumptuous and intricate musical landscape.
The more unique an artist’s path to self expression is, the more heroic and delightful is the result. Ana Alcaide expresses herself with, to quote Wikipedia, “a nyckelharpa (literally “key harp”, plural nyckelharpor), sometimes called a keyed fiddle, … traditional Swedish musical instrument. It is a string instrument or chordophone. Its keys are attached to tangents which, when a key is depressed, serve as frets to change the pitch of the string“. Okay, that’s off the beaten path in itself, but here’s where it gets really good — She uses her nyckelharpa to play music, as her label puts it, “inspired by the journey of the Sephardic Jews and the city of Toledo.”
So meet Olga at the casbah, but not before dusk on Saturday. There is a hint of the exotic, Moorish flavor to her music, but none of the minor key drone one would expect of klezmer, another Jewish musical form. This is the sound of fresh air, hope and excitement, of packing for a better life, of pageantry and rhythm.
Spanish musician Ana Alcaide has become a familiar name in Europe thanks to her new album La Cantiga del Fuego that hit the world music charts in Europe at number three. The album will be available in Europe and North America in November 2012.
World Music Central’s Angel Romero interviewed Ana Alcaide to find out more about her background and La Cantiga del Fuego.
When did you begin learning music?
At six. My parents detected that I had a gift for music and signed me up for after school programs in my school.
Which was your first musical instrument?
How many instruments do you play now?
Primarily the nyckelharpa, violin and vocals. I have an ability to play instruments, specially the bowed strings (rabel, kamanche, other fiddles). There are many others that also attract me and that I use in studio recordings, such as the Celtic harp and santur. The problem is finding time to study all!
You use as your main instrument the nyckelharpa, a Swedish instrument that is not well known in Spain. How did you discover it?
When I was finishing my degree in Biology, I was given an Erasmus scholarship to study in Sweden and I lived in Lund for a year. Attracted by the great Swedish musical tradition, during my free time I tried to attend all the music events posible and in one of them I saw a nyckelharpa for the first time. I fell in love with its sophistication and depth of sound.
Where did you learn how to play it?
Two years later, in Toledo. Until then, I didn’t have the economic means to get one. Then I started to play in the streets of Toledo during weekends, since during the weekdays I studied violin at the conservatory. A few years later I returned to Sweden to complete mu music training and to deepen my knowledge of the nyckelharpa.
You latest album is titled La Cantiga del Fuego. What does it mean?
The name comes from a traditional Sephardic song from Thessaloniki in Greece, that describes a fire that took place in that city. This title seemed very symbolic and suggestive, and I used it as the main the thread of the entire work: ‘The cantiga del fuego is the voice that has always been inside and that leads us to be what we are, that ancient powerful voice that echoes inside us since ancestral times.’
The songs on Las canciones de La Cantiga del Fuego have a Sephardic nature but they are original. What sources did you use to write the lyrics and compose the music?
I like to compose new melodies in the ancient language. The composition process is a very special phase: I let myself be carried by my instincts and I leave the rational on the side. When an idea appears, I try to mold it and find the song. I’m passionate and have fun arranging and producing my musical ideas. It’s what I enjoy the most!
When I compose a song, I always begin with the melody, lyrics come later. Perhaps because I feel more an instrumentalist than a singer, and the world of melodies is where I feel it’s easier to create. For this album I had the collaboration of my great friend and poet Beatriz Moreno-Cervera, who wrote two of the lyrics for my melodies. It’s been a really fun and enriching collaboration, that I’m sure will continue in the future!
What musicians did you use to carry out this Project?
This has been my first large production experience and I have learned a lot. I used great musicians and friends who provided special and enriching sonorities, expanding and coloring my musical ideas. The list of collaborators is very long and begins with the musicians with whom I work regularly. On ‘La Cantiga del Fuego’ you can listen to the psaltery, santur and oud of Bill Cooley, winds by Jaime Muñoz, basses by Renzo Ruggiero, guitars by Josete Ordoñez and Rafa del Teso, percussion by Diego López and Sergey Saprychev. In addition, there are very specific special collaborations such as the voice of Iranian artist Reza Sheyesteh, the Greek lyre of Dimitri Psonis and the hansa veena of Ido Segal.
Do you plan to take La Cantiga del Fuego to the stage?
The album came out in May in Spain, but I’ve been presenting live since January. I’ve performed over 40 concerts this year, most of them in Spain and a handful in France, Italy and Portugal. It’s been a very intense and productive year. In the future I plan to do international tours.
La Cantiga del Fuego, which is an independent production reached number 3 in the European World Music Charts. What does this mean to you and did you increase your sales?
Undoubtedly, it’s a great recognition that fills me with hope and motivation to continue! Sincerely, I was not expecting it, and I am very grateful to everybody who has supported me and I feel a commitment to continue to offer the best of me. These types of recognitions don’t have an immediate direct effect in record sales, but rather positive long term consequences, such as more publicity and international recognition.
I understand that British label Arc Music is going to release the album in November
Yes, I’m very excited!! ARC Music is going to release the album worldwide and this is a very good opportunity to get international exposure for my music, as well as reaching places that I can’t reach. I’m very happy to work with the ARC team.
You live in the ancient city of Toledo, a city in which Jews, Christians and Muslims coexisted. Paco de Lucia lived in Toledo recently. What does it mean to live in Toledo? And why do you think it attracts musicians and other artists?
Toledo is a beautiful city that attracts numerous artists because of its extremely rich historical past, no wonder it’s known as the ‘city of the three cultures.’ It’s a city that allows itself to be rediscovered over and over again. To me, it means a daily environment for inspiration, and I love being carried away by its influence. I’ve lived here for 10 years and this environment has provided me the necessary ingredients to develop my musical and artistic career: spirituality, inspiration, history. I love living in Toledo, I carry her with me.
Lately, there seems to be a renewed interest in Sephardic music in Israel, Spain, the United States, Europe and several countries in the Mediterranean. Why do you think there is such an interest?
In Spain, the interest has to do with tourism reasons, since we have a Jewish heritage that has not been promoted enough. I don’t know the reasons in other countries. In any case, the story of the Sephardic peoples is really interesting: it means a great example of coexistence, exchange and cultural enrichment.
If you could gather your ideal musicians or bands, who would you call?
What a difficult question! Above all, I admire great producers and composers, such as Gustavo Santaolalla, Nycky Ryan (Enya), Mike Oldfield, Karl Jenkins (Adiemus), Alan Parsons, and Quincy Jones. I love the songs by groups like Abba and Roxette. I understand music in 360º.
Spain is suffering a great economic crisis. How is it affecting musicians?
Being a musician in Spain is not considered a serious or honorable job. It’s not well recognized academically or valued socially. There is no support for musical creation, or for projects, or tours. The few supports available are practically designated, since Spain is a very corrupt country. In general, people don’t understand that we musicians are professionals who play a role in society, like other professionals. We don’t have a professional association that represents or supports us, and we are much disunited among ourselves. The fundamental problem is a great lack of culture, a tremendous lack of vision that feeds the great cultural crisis that is eating up Spain. The radical measures of cuts in education and the arts show a great ignorance by those who are in charge and forecast a very dark future. It’s very disheartening to live in such an environment with so little motivation. As a Spaniard, I am not proud at all of this situation and sometimes I feel like running away.
What music are you currently listening to?
Lately I listen to soundtracks. I find very interesting the job of joining music and film. The latest album I purchased is the soundtrack of ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ by Harry Gregson-Williams.
What do you like to do during your free time?
I travel a lot. I always love to have a trip in mind so that I can dream about it and plan it. I’m very attracted to other cultures and learning more about them. I love to go out to the countryside, specially the mountains. I like to read and cook a lot. I’m interested in natural sciences, phytotherapy and natural remedies.
What country or countries would you like to visit?
In general all! I’d love to see India, Korea, Thailand and the south of Asia. I’d also like to see Albania. I would also like to know more about Latin America, where people seem happy and joyful. I’d like to go to Chile and Costa Rica. My next trip is to Mexico, a country that I know and love. I like to learn about places in depth. I prefer to stay in a place for a long time and get to know it well rather than traveling in a superficial way.
If someone were to travel to Toledo, what places would you recommend for sightseeing, food and music?
Above all, my recommendation is that they forget about maps and get lost in its streets. Aside from the main monuments, I recommend that they visit historical spaces that open only on certain days and that are quite charming (organized by consorcio de Toledo). Also the thematic routes, there are some that are really varied and interesting.
For food: La Abadía. To have a coffee or attend a concert, the Círculo de Arte de Toledo.
What other projects do you have?
My family. I have a beautiful son and a wonderful partner! I love being with them. If I had more time, I would study some natural medicine, Philosophy and Art History.
Fans of Celtic powerhouse Enya’s early work will likely dip into Spanish singer, songwriter and musician Ana Alcaide and find a reason to rejoice. Hitting the world music charts in Europe at number three with her La Cantiga del Fuego, Ms. Alcaide will soon be available to a worldwide audience with the recording’s release on the ARC Music label come November. With previous recordings Viola de Teclas and Como La Luna y El Sol to her credit, Ms. Alcaide pulls out all the stops on this latest project.
Drawing on influences of Toledo, Spain and the Sephardic traditions of the city, Ms. Alcaide flavors La Cantiga del Fuego with a wealth of world music instruments like the oud, santoor, bouzouki, mandola, medieval lute, darbuka along with her own playing of the nyckelharpa and Celtic harp against her sweet vocals to create a lush musical landscape that is delicately and intricately worked.
Writing all of the tracks on La Cantiga del Fuego, Ms. Alcaide opens with the brightly worked “El Pozo Amargo” before slipping seamlessly into the intriguing “Baila Donde El Mar.” Cleverly working with a wide range of instrumentation, La Cantiga del Fuego dips toes into Indian, Middle Eastern and Spanish influences effortlessly, stacking up a series of tracks that blurs musical boundaries.
Music fans are sure to enjoy “La Cantiga del Fuego – El Viaje” before delving into the fragile beauty of “Luna Sefardita.” Other gems include “”La Reina Ester,” “En El Jardin de la Reina” and “La Cantia del Fuego – La Cancion,” not to mention the fabulous duo “Mikdash Intro” and “Mikdash.”
Eliseo Parra is one of the treasures of Spanish world music. He focuses on the lesser known folk roots of various Spanish regions, including Castile, Extremadura, and Asturias. Parra is an innovative singer and multi-instrumentalist, who specializes in Spanish percussion and stringed instruments.
On his latest CD, De Ayer Mañana, Parra uses an extensive collection of conventional and unconventional musical instruments, including kitchen utensils and garden tools. With his instruments, accompanied by excellent musicians, Parra recreates ancient folk songs and gives them an inspired new life.
La Jambre is a wonderful discovery. This imaginative group comes from southern Spain, but it does not play Flamenco, nor Gypsy rumba. Instead, it plays revitalized versions of traditional folk songs from Andalusia. The approach on Saltalindes is very contemporary, with an exhilarating mix of funk bass, trap drums, reeds and other instruments.
Bebe has been called a punk rebel, but her music has little to do with punk rock. She is an urban singer-songwriter who shows her Andalusian wit and good humor in her lyrics. Her style is hard to categorize. On Pafuera Telarañas one
can find hip hop beats, folk, pop, ska, R&B, and Flamenco rumba.
One of the most interesting Flamenco recordings is the debut CD, Son de la Frontera, by Son de la Frontera. Purist curmudgeons have already manifested their lack of enthusiasm for this group, claiming that it is not Flamenco. But, how do you tell musicians from one of the cradles of Flamenco (Morón de la Frontera), some of whom are direct descendants of legendary Flamenco performers, that their music is not Flamenco?
Son de la Frontera use ardent flamenco beats (primarily handclaps and taps), guitar and cante jondo singing. What makes them peculiar is the use of the Cuban tres as a solo instrument. The tres is certainly not a Flamenco instrument, but when it’s played by fiery flamenco musicians it undoubtedly sounds like it.
Madrid composer, flautist and sax player musician Lorenzo Azcona produced and released his CD Bajo la piel (under the skin). Stylistically, composes contemporary instrumental music that has a cinematic feel. Sometime he ventures into jazz and chamber music. Other times he explores world sounds through the use of percussion, zanfona (hurdy gurdy), didjeridu and other instruments.
The Rough Guide to Flamenco Nuevo focuses on Flamenco innovators and new trends in flamenco. There are many artists included who certainly deserve more attention from the international public. The ubiquitous fusionists Ojos de Brujo are included as well as veterans like virtuoso sax player Jorge Pardo, known for playing with Paco de Lucía and Chick Corea. There are lesser known veterans such as Diego Amador and Flamenco jam master Diego Carrasco.
Andalusian singer-songwriter Javier Ruibal writes some of the most beautiful Spanish songs I’ve heard. He has grown in popularity in the UK. Ruibal is not a flamenco singer, although he uses Flamenco elements in his music.
Some of the new blood in Flamenco and its offspring are represented on Rough Guide to Flamenco Nuevo: master guitarist Jerónimo and Son de la Frontera (mentioned earlier). Other artists made it to the compilation that perhaps shouldn’t have. French Gypsy rumba is not exactly Flamenco and there are dozens of similar bands in Spain that are just as good if not better.
Another Flamenco angle is provided by innovative cellist José Luis López. He has recorded a CD, Soleando, where he plays Flamenco with a cello. The result is an intriguing and ear-catching mix of chamber classical music with Flamenco melodies and beats. The album is available from flamenco-world.com.
Eclectic keyboardist and accordionist Tomás San Miguel has recorded an extraordinary series of primarily instrumental albums that feature San Miguel on accordion and Ttukunak on chalaparta (an ancient Basque percussion instrument). Dan Txa is the latest album in the collection. The new pieces are inspired by Basque melodies and txalaparta rhythms. In addition to San Miguel and Ttukunak, the album features Dissidenten percussionist Marlon Klein, sax player Jorge Pardo and guitarist Antonio Gómez.
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