Monday, September 7, 2015

Mexico: Fiestas of Chiapas and Oaxaca

Recorded for the amazing Nonesuch Explorer series in 1976 by David Lewiston, who traveled the world to capture the music of indigenous peoples and musical traditions, Mexico: Fiestas of Chiapas and Oaxaca is a great document of those mestizos of the southern part of the country who have been clinging to historic musical styles and performance techniques blending native Indian practices with those emanating from the Spanish conquest and afterward.

Flutes, marimbas, harps, guitars, violins, brass instruments and a variety of percussion instruments are featured on the fourteen brief selections, which provide an overview of the types of musics to be heard in local fiestas in villages and hamlets throughout the two states.  The music tends to be somewhat medium waltz-like tempo, often with a martial beat, and the performances on marimba and flute, in particular, are striking and beautiful.

The remarkable "K'in Sventa Ch'ul Me'Tik Kwadulupe," a ritual in Chamula, a village in the mountains of Chiapas, features chanted and sung prayers, a flowing harp and rhythm guitars, with a concluding set of prayers to the instruments and an invitation for the musicians to rest after the ritual.

A highlight of the disc is the lengthier (five and a half minutes) "Christmas in Oaxaca," in which brass instruments, caroling and percussion capture the festiveness of the holiday season, complete with the joyous shouts of spectators.  As recorded in the streets, the piece can almost transport you to a plaza, or zocalo, and place you in the middle of the celebrations.

Chanta Vielma's guitar and beautiful vocals on "Nuoco" constitute another peak of this fine recording from Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca, in which Vielma sings the praises of his hometown.  He is followed by an upbeat rendition of a son alegre in which brass instruments are accompanied by an electric guitar and martial percussion, courtesy of musicians from Pinotepa Nacional.

Another gorgeous guitar-based tune is "Cantares de mi Tierra," from Ismael Salud Gonzalez from Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, as he, too, sings, with great skill, about the beauties of his isthmus land near the Pacific.   On a spit of land along the coast not far from Tehuantepec is the fishing village of San Mateo del Mar and the closing piece is a dance featuring martial drums and violin that represents the indigenous Indians on one hand and the conquistadores on the other, with La Malincha, the native consort of Hernán Cortéz as the titular figure.

Sometimes it's the most simple of musics that are the most affecting, honest and authentic and the closer the pieces are to the activities of daily life, the more that rustic performances can bring out the emotional core of what music is.  Mexico: Fiestas of Chiapas and Oaxaca is a fantastic document of rural music from parts of Mexico that are unknown to most outsiders--this blogger included.

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