Interview with Spanish Folk Music Band Aljibe about Agua, the Music of the Tagus River Basin

Spanish folk music band Aljibe has released a remarkable album titled Agua, Músicas tradicionales de la cuenca del Tajo (Water, the Music of the Tagus River Basin) that consists of an audio CD and a 144-page book. Aljibe has 33 years of experience in the Spanish traditional music scene.

The project highlights the value of the traditions that have developed around the Tagus (Tajo in Spanish), the most extensive river in the Iberian Peninsula. Aguat is a collective work that praises all that the Tagus River has contributed from different points of view: historical, artistic, literary, anthropological, musical.


Aljibe – Agua, Músicas tradicionales de la Cuenca del Tajo

Aljibe uses a combination of traditional Spanish musical instruments like the guitar and zanfona (hurdy gurdy) as well other instruments from other traditions. Regional instruments used by the band include the guitarro manchego, a small guitar from the La Mancha region of Spain; pito castellano, a high pitched Castilian flute; and the pandero cuadrado, a square frame drum from western Spain.

The lineup on Agua includes Teresa García Sierra on vocals, violin and nyckelharpa; Manuel Marcos Bardera on vocals, zanfona and keyboards; Luis Ramón Martín-Fuentes Palacios on guitar, guitarro manchego and Spanish lute; Domingo Martínez Martínez on acoustic and electric guitars and bouzouki; Luis Miguel Novas Morera on flute, pito castellano and clarinet; Pablo Rodríguez-Tembleco Guilabert on drums; Juan Rodríguez-Tembleco Yepes on vocals, pandero cuadrado, bottle and accordion; and José Manuel Rodríguez-Tembleco Yepes on bass, frying pan, guiro, horn and vocals.

Manuel Marcos Bardera
Teresa García Sierra – Photo by Paco Gómez

Guests musicians Benito Cabrera on timple (small guitar from the Canary Islands); Eliseo Parra on vocals and percussion; Miguel Afonso on accordion; Jamal el Auraoui on darbuka, bendir and karkebs;  Juan Manuel Sayán on palmas (flamenco handclap percussion), castanets; and Spain-based Argentine tango ensemble La Porteña Tango Trío: Alejandro Picciano on electric guitar, Federico Peuvrel on piano, and Matías Picciano on bandoneon.

The book features essays about the Tagus from writers José Luis Sampedro and Olga Lucas; history and legend by Almudena Cencerrado; nature and poetry by Joaquín Araújo; and the current state of the Tagus with the narration of José Ángel Gracía-Redondo.

Interview with Manuel Marcos Bardera:

How did the project of making a book and album about the music of the Tagus River Basin come about?

When we speak of traditional or roots music we usually limit it to that belonging to a country or a place, but we forget that the music moved with the people, being a common heritage of large areas. We think that the rivers and their valleys have always been the easiest roads for this communication, and we came up with the idea of ​​looking for and rescuing melodies along the basin of this great river that runs through Spain and Portugal.

Aljibe

How long did the development period last, from the idea to the final product?

Seven years have passed since our ninth album “Enea,”  and since then we  started working on new songs but it was approximately four years ago when we defined the idea that it was a work framed in the Tagus River and released in the form of a CD-book.

Who contributed to the 144-page book as writers?

There was much to tell, because the Tagus has seen through its shores the extensive history of the Iberian Peninsula and because the longest river in Spain at present is subject to serious problems like lack of water and pollution. That’s why we contacted the writer Olga Lucas, who gave us an unpublished text by the writer and philosopher José Luis Sampedro, author of the well-known bestseller “El río que nos lleva” (The river that takes us).

The naturalist Joaquín Araújo also collaborated. He was recognized with the Global 500 prize granted by the UN to the people who have done the most for the defense of the environment on the planet.

We also have texts by Almudena Cencerrado, president of the Association of Professional Tourism Guides of Spain and José Ángel García-Redondo, forestry engineer and member of the Tajo Research Group of the University of Castilla-La Mancha.

Casa Diamantista in Toledo 1922. The house was owned in the 1800s by Don José Navarro, jeweler and royal crown maker. Currently, it’s used as a hotel

The book has many fascinating historical photos. How did you get the material?

The truth is that it took a long time to contact so many friends who have collaborated in this project. Starting with Agustín Tomico, who provided us with many photos of the whole riverbed and through the Doce Calles publishing house, we had to look for the first historical photos of Talavera de la Reina thanks to Miguel Méndez-Cabezas, or old photos of Jean Laurent or by Otto Wunderlich, facilitated by Eduardo Sánchez Butragueño.

In terms of the photos of Aranjuez we mainly have the photos of Guirao Girada from the Doce Calles archive and vintage engravings from the Museo del Prado.

The book is very beautiful, with a hard cover. How was the project financed?

Like all Aljibe projects, it started being self-financed by the group itself. However, we called on many doors of institutions because we thought it was a beautiful and exciting project to defend the river through music and culture.

Fortunately, several institutions responded affirmatively and have supported us with the purchase of copies, facilitating the dissemination of the project. These institutions are the Junta de Castilla-La Mancha, the Diputación de Toledo and the municipalities of Aranjuez, Yepes, Madridejos, Chinchón and Toledo as well as private companies such as Anber-Fenienergía and El Rana Verde.

View of the Tagus from the castle in Monfragüe in the province of Cáceres.

Regarding the music, the Tagus basin includes several regions. How was the investigation process?

Well, through many sources, starting with a review of the songs that we recorded ourselves from villagers in the area, as well as reviewing other recordings in different archives, such as those made in Spain in the 50s of the last century by Allan Lomax or those of Kurt Schindler, Manuel García Matos and José Manuel Fraile Gil.

And how were the final songs chosen?

The songs have been chosen mainly for their musicality, their instrumentation and for their relationship with work or work related to the river, as well as geographically represent all the provinces and countries of the basin. So we can find the rogativas (prayers) of Valdelaguna, which is still sung in that town in Madrid to ask for rain in the dry season, or the Gancheros de Aranjuez, that tell us about the work of the men who came with the trunks down the river from the sierras of Guadalajara and Cuenca until arriving to Aranjuez.

We also remember the different cultures that inhabited our country with the inclusion of a Sephardic song, “Me dice la gente,” and of another song, “Tikchbila,” which talks about the expulsion of the Moriscos and that is still sung throughout the Maghreb.

The gancheros (river log drivers) of Aranjuez in 1900
A reenacting of the gancheros in 2016

What’s the situation of the traditional music of the Tagus basin?

Traditional music is gradually being claimed not only by veteran groups such as Aljibe but also by new groups that are coming up.

Tagus River, La Escaruela waterfall in Zaorejas, Guadalajara

What are the current environmental threats that the Tagus River is experiencing?

The main one, without a doubt, is the existence of the Tajo-Segura transfer that collects the water in the marshes of the headwaters of the river and, through its capture in the Bolarque reservoir, carries the water 300 kilometers away to the Segura River.

Up to 650 cubic meters per year can be extracted from the Tagus River, which logically means that the river lacks a large part of its natural flow with the damage that this causes to its flora and fauna. Additionally, it is also under pressure from the waters , better or worse filtered, poured into the Tagus by the  more than 10,000,000 people throughout its watershed and countless industries, including mines, nuclear power plants or paper mills.

Tagus River, Poveda waterfall in Guadalajara

How has Aljibe’s sound evolved since its inception?

We are now 33 years old and logically it would not make sense to sound like in our beginnings where the instrumentation was based on guitar, lute, bandurria and vocals. Little by little some musicians left the group and others joined. At the moment, Aljibe is made up of eight musicians from different origins as instrumentalists but with the bond of love for roots music.

In addition to using Spanish instruments, you also use the Greek bouzouki and the jembe of West Africa. What other instruments do you use or would like to use?

As we do not consider ourselves a “purist” group of research and exact interpretation of the music of our ancestors but a group that recreates these songs that allows us total freedom at the time of the instrumentation. That is why we combine traditional Spanish instruments such as the Spanish pito, the three-hole flute, the hurdy-gurdy, the guitar, the lute, the square tambourine … with others such as the bendir, the tar, the karkebs, the jembe, the ney, the bouzouki or the Swedish nyckelharpa.

Much of what is broadcast on the radio, internet and movies is pop and hip hop. How do you divulge your music?

Thanks to the publisher of the CD-book we have managed to spread the album better because they have a communication department that has allowed us to reach more radio and television stations. On the other hand we are also visible through the main virtual stores such as spotify, itunes, amazon prime music …

Is there any effort on your part to make folk or traditional music known to children and young people?

Most of the members of the group are music teachers in primary and secondary schools, which is why we have always spread this music among our students, as well as holding concert conferences about traditional instruments and music. In addition, even Aljibe’s first album was a collective work on Traditional Children’s Songs of Madrid.

If you could gather musicians or musical groups to collaborate, who would you call?

Well, we have been lucky enough to call them and they have come, because in Agua nine excellent musicians collaborate, starting with the great singer and percussionist Eliseo Parra, or the best timple player in the world, Benito Cabrera, or the accordionist Miguel Afonso, in addition to the three members of the prestigious group La Porteña Tango: Alejandro Picciano, Matías Picciano and Federico Peuvrel. Jamal el Auraoui, Josemi García and Juan Manuel Sayans have also helped us with the Arabic and Spanish percussion.

Are you preparing any new project?

At Aljibe we are always thinking about new topics for new projects, but before we expect this “Water” to flow for a long time.

Discography:

Temas Infantiles Tradicionales de la Comunidad de Madrid (Saga, 1987)
Surco arriba, surco abajo (Saga, 1987)
Felices Nusotros (Tecnosaga, 1989)
Gañanes, gancheros y otras faenas (Several Records, 1991)
La Marca del Oricuerno (Several Records, 1997)
El Motín de Aranjuez (Several Records, 1998)
Penas y Alegrías (Sonifolk, 2002)
Al lado del Mediodía (Galileo, 2002)
Enea (self-released, 2011)
Agua. Músicas Tradicionales de la cuenca del Tajo (Doce Calles. 2018)

More about Aljibe: www.aljibefolk.org

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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