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Interview with Spanish Stringed Instrument Master Juan José Robles

Juan José Robles

Spanish multi-instrumentalist Juan José Robles has a superb new album titled In-Quietud (Restlessness). Robles uses a wide range of stringed instruments from Spain and beyond. He discusses his career and new album with World Music Central.

How and when did you start working professionally in the music world?

I decided to make my own music after several years playing for others or being part of groups. Once I recorded my first album and saw that it had very good acceptance and reviews, that is when I decided to bet on this, even if it is a “spike and shovel” and the road is not easy.

What do you think are the fundamental elements of your musical style?

Throughout my musical career, I have gone through traditional, classical, folk, blues, flamenco music … and all this has stayed with me. Perhaps that is why, those who listen to my music, think that I have generated my own language from that hodgepodge; and that is recognizable to hear it.

How has your musical expression evolved over the years?

Well, over the years my level of self-demand has grown, all my songs pass several listening filters until they definitely arrive at the studio, I carefully and meticulously select what I like and what I don’t, I eliminate it right away.

Juan José Robles – In-Quietud

What does the title of your In-Quietud album mean?

I have lived situations and moments where I have been too restless, altered, uneasy…., And those situations have led me to a hangover that has generated a pleasant stillness; in those two states is where all the songs on this album have appeared.

Tell us a little about In-Quietud .

It is a continuity of my previous album “Tiempo de espera” (2016), where new structures and elements appear that, as I said before, I have carefully selected. It is also a claim of instrumental music as a form of expression, with as much force as that which bears a voice. On the other hand, traditional music is one of the sources from which I drink, hence I wink at two pieces of my land, Murcia, which I really wanted.

Juan José Robles – Photo by Gerardo C. Saura

In your In-Quietud album you play several types of stringed instruments from the guitar and lute family. Tell us about the following instruments and their differences: octavilla, Valencian guitar, tenor guitar.

The octavilla is a 12-string instrument, with 6 courses, which is located in the area that borders Castilla La Mancha with the Valencian Community; is a mainly melodic instrument and its loudness is of medium-acute timbres. The Valencian guitar has 5 strings, which are usually made of nylon, and is used to rip with chords in traditional music, being its acute sound range. The tenor guitar has 10 strings, with 5 courses, and is widely used to accompany with chords in the traditional formations of the [Spanish] peninsular southeast, such as Murcia and Almeria, and its sound range is medium.

In addition to the instruments mentioned above, you also play guitars, bouzouki, bandurria and lute. How do you decide which instrument you will use in each track? Which one do you like the most?

These four instruments are those with which I usually compose almost everything and the decision is easy, since I usually respect the instrument with which I compose the subject. And regarding tastes for an instrument, let’s say it goes through times, I currently give more attention to the bouzouki and the lute, although I never stop playing the guitar and the mandolin.

Juan José Robles

Who manufactures your string instruments?

The lute is by Diego Gallego (Murcia), the bouzouki is by Carlos do Viso (Vigo), the mandolin and octave guitar by Tomás Leal (Casasimarro, Albacete), the bandurria by Javier Rojo (Madrid) and the guitar by Juan Azorín (Molina de Segura, Murcia).

Do you keep or collect stringed instruments?

I used to collect them, but then I decided to be pragmatic and I only keep the ones I use, which add up to 12.

Would you like to play some other stringed instrument from some other region of Spain or other cultures?

Yes, my pending subject is the zanfona [hurdy gurdy], which I already had one and played it some time ago; although I got rid of it to buy a flamenco guitar. So it may be my next goal.

Do you give classes or workshops?

Yes, I teach guitar, lute, bandurria and guitar classes permanently in a popular music school; and also music workshops and traditional Murcian song with Carmen María Martínez Salazar.

Which musicians of the new generations in your area deserve the attention of root music lovers in general?

The world of traditional music around the peninsular southeast, lately is closely related to meetings of traditional formations (crews, rounds, pandas, …). These have always been formed by older people, but today there are many young people and children paying close attention to this sociocultural movement and some with great talent, where great vocals and string players stand out.

If you could bring together the musicians or groups that fascinate you most to record a record or collaborate live, who would you call?

Of course I would stay with the band that accompanies me live: Enrique González and Óscar Esteban on percussion, Pablo Orenes on double bass, Tóbal Rentero on the laúd, guitarro and dulzaina, and José Antonio Aarnoutse and Constantino López on guitars; the latter also producer of the album. And I would call singers Carles Dènia and Rocío Márquez; cavaquinho player Luis Peixoto; Diego Galaz and Jorge Arribas (Fetén Fetén) to play violin and accordion and Efrén López on zanfona.

What other projects are you working on?

I am part of Mujeres con Raíz, a group of traditional Murcian music and I am still working on an upcoming job, which we must start from now.

More about Juan José Robles and his discography.

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Artist Profiles: Juan José Robles

Juan José Robles

Juan José Robles Mayol started his musical career as a child in rondallas (ensemble of stringed instruments) and folk bands in his his hometown, Alhama de Murcia, in southeastern Spain, playing the Spanish guitar, the lute and the bandurria.

At fifteen, he and his colleagues they founded the folk-rock group Malvariche, with whom he recorded three albums: “La Leyenda” (1992), “Que llueva, que llueva” (1995) and “En concierto” (1997).

From 2002 to 2008, he was part of the Camerata Aguilar orchestra, an ensemble with which he ventured into classical music. He participated in two of their recordings: “Scaramouche” (2003) and “Los Aguilar” (2008).

In 2007 he received the Professional Music Degree, in the specialty of plectrum instruments, at the Professional Conservatory of Music of Murcia.

In 2008, he became part of Manuel Luna’s Cuadrilla Maquilera. He participated in the band’s “Por Parrandas” (2010) and “Viajes Sonoros” (2016) recordings; and also performed with La Banda del Pepo, where he experimented with instruments such as saz, cümbüs and zanfona, among others.

In 2015, he founded with other colleagues, the traditional Murcian music group Mujeres con Raíz, with whom he recorded “Las edades de la vida” (2017).

Juan José Robles

His solo career began in 2016, with the self-release “Tiempo de espera”, focused on the instruments that always accompanied him in his long career. This first work was well received by the public and the media specialized in traditional and folk music. The lineup included Juan José Robles on various string instruments; Enrique González on percussion; Óscar Esteban on tambourine; Pablo Orenes on acoustic and electric bass; Constantino López on acoustic guitar and mandola; Jero Galián on Spanish guitar; Pepe Ludeña on violin; José Antonio Aarnoutse on flamenco guitar; Dani Valera on palmas; Carlos Beceiro on zanfona; Roberto Cubero on mandolin; and Carmen María Martínez Salazar and Jaime Lafuente on vocals.

“Tiempo de espera” was presented at the inaugural gala of the EXIB 2016 (Ibero-American Music Expo), in Évora (Portugal), sharing the stage with Portuguese artists Luís Peixoto, João Afonso and Celina Da Piedade, among others.

Juan José Robles at EXIB – Photo by Angel Romero

Between 2017 and 2018, he participated in the farewell tour of Paco Muñoz and in 2018 in Simfonic by Pep Botifarra & Pau Chafer.

In 2019, Juan José Robles released the album In-Quietud.

Discography:

La Leyenda, with Malvariche (1992)
Que llueva, que llueva, with Malvariche (1995)
En concierto, with Malvariche (1997)
Scaramouche, with Camerata Aguilar (2003)
Los Aguilar, with Camerata Aguilar (2008)
Por Parrandas, with Manuel Luna y la Cuadrilla Maquilera (2010)
Viajes Sonoros, with Manuel Luna y la Cuadrilla Maquilera (2016)
Tiempo de espera (Juan José Robles, 2016)
Las edades de la vida, with Mujeres con Raíz (2017)
In-Quietud (Juan José Robles, 2019)

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The Beautiful Strings of Murcia

Juan José Robles – “Tiempo de espera” (self-release, 2016)

Juan José Robles is a Spanish composer and multi-instrumentalist who specializes in Spanish string instruments. He hails from Alhama de Murcia, a town in southeastern Spain, in a region called Murcia. While other Spanish regions export a considerable amount of music, there’s relatively little production coming out of Murcia and specifically the Alhama area.

“Tiempo de espera” is Roble’s first solo album and features a mix of original contemporary folk music pieces composed by Juan José Robles and traditional tunes re-arranged by Robles. His main inspiration is the folk music of his region, although he also incorporates elements from flamenco and other traditions.

For guitar and string players interested in less common Spanish string instruments, “Tiempo de espera” will be a great opportunity to “discover” some of them. On “Tiempo de espera”, Robles uses the familiar mandolin and Spanish guitar, but he also uses the less frequent bandurria, a 12-string lute that’s normally used to accompany other instruments although Robles uses it as a solo instrument. Another instrument used by Robles is the guitarro, a small guitar that is normally used to accompany Murcian cuadrillas (traditional folk groups). Robles also elevates this instrument to soloist status. And then there’s also the octavilla, another small guitar with 12 strings that has a great potential as a solo instrument.

Juan José Robles enriches his instrumentals and songs with instruments from other regions and traditions, such as the pandero cuadrado (square frame drum from western Spain), flamenco palmas (handclap percussion), flamenco guitar, flamenco cajón, zanfona (hurdy gurdy), kalimba and electric bass.

The álbum lineup includes Juan José Robles on mandolin, Spanish guitar, laúd (Spanish lute), octavilla, bandurria and guitarro; Óscar Esteban on panderetas (tambourines); Pablo Orenes on acoustic and electric bass; Constantino López on acoustic guitar and mandola; Jero Galián on Spanish guitar; Pepe Ludeña on fiddle; José Antonio Aarnoutse on flamenco guitar; Dani Valera on palmas; Carlos Beceiro on zanfona; Roberto Cubero on mandolin; Carmen María Martínez Salazar and Jaime Lafuente vocals.

Juan José Robles has played with a wide range of traditional groups, contemporary folk music bands and singer-songwriters, including Malvariche, Mujeres con Raíz, Villa de Alhama, Orquesta Camerata Aguilar, Manuel Luna’s cuadrilla Maquilera, La banda del Pepo, and la Ronda de Motilleja.

“Tiempo de espera” was worth the wait. It’s a beautifully-crafted album rooted in Murcian tradition by the talented Juan José Robles.

Buy the digital version of Tiempo de espera. There is also a CD version available directly from the artist.

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The Passionate Music of Alentejo, the Focus of EXIB 2016 Opening Concert

The 2016 edition of the Iberoamerican Music Expo (EXIB) opened May 4th in Evora, Portugal. Evora is a beautiful walled city, a UNESCO world heritage site that includes numerous monuments spanning centuries. Evora is located in the Alentejo region of Portugal. It’s part of Portugal’s heartland and is defined by its rural nature. For the EXIB opening, organizers treated the audience to a mix of southern Portuguese traditional and contemporary folk music.

 

Grupo Coral e Etnográfico Cantares de Évora - Photo by Angel Romero
Grupo Coral e Etnográfico Cantares de Évora – Photo by Angel Romero

 

The concert at the Teatro Garcia de Resende started with the Grupo Coral e Etnográfico Cantares de Évora, marching through the center aisle towards the stage. This group of talented male and female singers, perform dressed in various costumes reflecting various social strata and professions from the mid-20th century, including traditional farmer, cowboy, and shepherd attire.

They perform traditional cante alentejano, an a cappella style that celebrates rural life. Grupo Coral e Etnográfico Cantares de Évora perform “old style”, without any modern arrangements to the traditional music poems.

A series of short videos were screened, in between performances, highlighting Evora, farm life, the enthralling sheep bell makers and other aspects of the local culture.

 

Celina Da Piedade - Photo by Angel Romero
Celina Da Piedade – Photo by Angel Romero

 

One of the great artists from the region, accordionist and vocalist Celina Da Piedade appeared next, accompanying herself on accordion. She was later joined by Há Lobos sem ser na Serra musicians, who accompanied Celina on guitar, drums and vocals.

Celina is a conservatory-trained musician and specializes in music from the Alentejo region. In addition to her talent as a passionate singer, she is also a virtuoso accordionist, playing beautiful melodies inspired by the Alentejo region. She participates and leads numerous workshops and has performed abroad. She leads weekly gatherings of Cante Alentejano in Casa do Alentejo, Lisbon. Celina has participated in over 50 recordings as well as soundtracks for film, theater and dance. She is currently part of the celebrated collective TaisQuais that includes some of the biggest names in Portuguese music: Vitorino, Tim, Sebastião, Serafim, Jorge Palma, Paulo Ribeiro and João Gil. They released a critically acclaimed album titled “Os fabulosos Tais Quais”.

 

Há Lobos sem ser na Serra - Photo by Angel Romero
Há Lobos sem ser na Serra – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Há Lobos sem ser na Serra played next. They represent a new generation of cante alentejano musicians. Their sound is rooted in tradition although the arrangements take the music into exciting new directions. While the band plays, a graphic artists paints desings on a video screen.

Há Lobos sem ser na Serra use the 8-shaped guitar called viola campaniça. It’s a rare guitar from Alentejo with a peculiar mouth that nearly disappeared in the 1960s. It has unusual tunings and the band extracts unexpected sounds and some jazz elements. Band members include António Bexiga on viola campaniça; Bernardo ‘Buba’ Espinho on vocals and drum; and David Pereira on viola campaniça and vocals.

 

João Afonso -- Photo by Angel Romero
João Afonso – Photo by Angel Romero

 

One of Portugal’s most cherished singer-songwriters, João Afonso, performed accompanied by various guitars. João Afonso plays contemporary folk music and pop inspired by various Portuguese traditions. We have a João Afonso artist profile that you can read for additional information.

 

Luis Peixoto - Photo by Angel Romero
Luis Peixoto – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Two string masters participated in the event, accompanying João Afonso, playing solos and mesmerizing interplay. Luis Peixoto is a multi-instrumentalist who plays various string instruments and also mixes folk music with electronics. For this occasion he used the tiny cavaquinho, which is one of the ancestors of the ukulele.

 

Juan José Robles - Photo by Angel Romero
Juan José Robles – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Juan José Robles, from southeastern Spain, was one of the two international guests. He’s also multi-instrumentalist specialized in string instruments and the folk music from the Murcia region. He used the mandolina (mandolin), octavilla (a guitar from La Mancha) and a guitarro valenciano.

 

Carlos Malta - Photo courtesy of EXIB
Carlos Malta – Photo courtesy of EXIB

 

Carlos Malta’s flute sounds entered the theater down the center aisle. The Brazilian wind instrument master brought the sounds of South America and joined the rest of the musicians for several beautiful songs that were very familiar to the Portuguese members of the audience, who sang along.

 

Ovation at EXIB 2016 - Photo by Angel Romero
Ovation at EXIB 2016 – Photo by Angel Romero

The EXIB 2016 opening concert was a superb introduction to the music of Alentejo.

Videos:

 

 

 

 

 

Related links:

Iberoamerican Music Expo (EXIB)
Celina Da Piedade
João Afonso
Luis Peixoto
Carlos Malta

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Ibero-American Music Expo EXIB 2016 opens May 4 in Portugal

João Afonso
João Afonso

The 2016 edition of EXIB Música, the Ibero-American Music Expo, will open May 4 with an inaugural concert at Teatro García de Resende in Evora (Portugal).

The artists scheduled to perform include renowned Portuguese artists João Afonso, Celina Da Piedade, Há Lobos sem ser na Serra and Luis Peixoto. They will be joined by special guests Carlos Malta from Brazil and Juan José Robles from Spain.

EXIB 2016 takes place May 4-7 in Evora. The music expo and conference will feature showcases by Latin American and Iberian artists as well as conferences and trade fair.

For more details go to http://exibmusica.com/en

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