Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fiestas: Music of the High Andes

There is still a strong connection of the mixed peoples of the upper Andes Mountains of Peru to their pre-European heritage, though there is obviously a major admixture of the native culture with that of the Spanish who suddenly and violently conquered the Inca Empire in the early 16th-century.

The album Fiestas: Music of the High Andes is another in the admirable series of indigenous world music recordings issued by the Nonesuch Explorer Series in 1972, but recorded in June and July 1968 by David Lewiston, who gathered so much great music from around the world for the series.  It features a variety of festive public music in the major city of Ayacucho and the smaller villages of Vilcas Plazapi and Chuschi.

Several of the pieces have vocals in the native Quechua language and performances include such instrumentation as mandolins, guitars, quenas (notched flutes), harps, charangos (stringed lutes), and ensembles using brass pieces, drums, among others--some of these native and others from the Spanish.  There are Catholic religious events, such as the Feast of Corpus Christi, featured as well as community celebrations like the Paucartambo that provide the settings for much of the music on the album.

The playing is often spirited and joyous, sometimes very reflective and beautiful and always inspiring, especially from a people living in somewhat remote circumstances, removed from the urban areas of Lima and other Peruvian cities.  One wonders how much the music has changed in the nearly half-century since the recording and whether vestiges of the pre-European heritage are as strong now.

In any case, this is a great disc to listen to for the appreciation of a society and a people who live in one of the most amazing places in the world. It gives an opportunity to vicariously remove oneself from the environment in which they've become accustomed and have some sense of how differently others live, through their very particularized music--music which entertains and educates.

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