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The former frontman of Son de Frontera launches an Andalusian tour this week to promote the CD he describes as "danceable anthropology"
06.02.15 - 12:06 -
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A journey to the roots of Afro-Andalusian music
Raúl Rodríguez begins an Andalusian tour this weekend to promote Razón de Son. :: SUR
Two musical genres, flamenco and Cuban son, come together in the new CD and book released by flamenco guitarist and cultural anthropologist Raúl Rodríguez (Seville, 1974). Rodríguez examines the roots of both genres, and explains his approach and experiences in a Spanish-English bilingual hardback book.
“If we look at the 500-year relationship between Iberian and American shores with African influence we realise that there has been a lot of creativity and the genres have been formed from the same Caribbean Afro-Andalusian songbook. It is a cultural region that is much wider than one may think: from Buenos Aires to Cartagena, Vera Cruz, Havana and New Orleans; Louisiana, with the blues, to the ports of Seville and Cadiz,” he explains.
The former frontman of the flamenco band Son de Frontera has been championed by critics internationally. The band toured Norway and England in 2008, performed in US and were nominated for the honor of Best European World Music Group at the annual BBC Music Awards.
After several trips to Latin America, Raúl went to Cuba in 2010 to search for the missing link between a rhythmic dynamic of a ‘bulería flamenca’ and the melodies and verses of Cuban peasant music (‘punto guajiro’). He started to rebuild the lost story of first genres born during the round trips between African, Andalusian and American ports more than 500 years ago.
Travelling music
The term round-trip songs - ‘cantes de ida y vuelta’ - refers to a group of flamenco musical forms or ‘palos’ with diverse musical features.
These “travelled back” from Latin America, mainly from Cuba and Argentina, as styles that, having originated in the interplay between Spanish musical traditions and those of the African slaves, developed into renewed forms that were reintroduced in Spain.
They have a mellower character than more traditional flamenco songs. These styles, Guajira, Rumba, Milonga and Vidalita, were popularised in Spain during the first half of the 20th century.
Raúl Rodríguez has gone much deeper than just creating another round trip-style of existing traditions. He has investigated the intercultural origin of early flamenco music with his Razón de Son project, expanding the story-frame from the Moorish and Indian origins to the African influence, assimilated since the 17th century through the Andalusian ports of Seville and Cadiz and on to the Latin American colonies.
In Son de la Frontera, Raúl introduced the Cuban tres guitar to flamenco - it was a gift from his mother, the renowned singer Martirio, who had been working with Compay Segundo in Havana - and he developed a unique style.
This is now named ‘tres flamenco’, combining elements of ‘son cubano’ with ‘toque’ (flamenco guitar playing styles).
The lost roots of Afro-Andalusian music were ignored and unknown for centuries.
“I’m creating new instruments and genres, new lyrics and a new attitude. I invented an instrument which led to this project. It’s a mixture of traditional Cuban tres guitar and flamenco guitar. The rhythmic pattern of Cuban tres is close to the nature of the flamenco ‘falseta’ guitar phrases and rock riffs. This free tool allows me to make hybrid styles between various locations,” says the musician.
Rodríguez has explored migrations of tiny rhythmic cells and ‘falsetas’, components that formed the foundations of Andalusian musical culture and its derivatives in the New World centuries ago.
New types of flamenco
Accompanied by accomplished guitar, bass and percussion, his virtuosic tres-playing and impassioned singing, he has constructed exciting new types of flamenco styles: Punto Flamenco, Flamenco Indiano, Sonería and Blueslería.
“There are 20 years of research and many experiences behind this record-book. I wanted to put on the table what I’ve been finding. In every song I explain everything I have studied and learned from the history and my round trips,” he says.
The result is a unique synthesis, a true original treasure of creative experimentation that will please even the most demanding expert. The sources of the CD-book range from historical annals, anthropological and music literature to wonderful illustrations, old photos, posters and paintings. Razón de Son - reason of son - is a programmatic definition of the musician on tour.
“It’s a bit about joining two different logics, two parts of my personality: the logic of reason, the rigorous studies of anthropology, and on the other hand the logic of enjoyment, the bohemian side and joy of life. This record is not academic - it’s more of a danceable anthropology,” he adds.
No one agrees on the exact origins of the son and precise definitions are difficult to find. The concept encapsulates both a certain kind of musical structure and a particular rhythm and dance. Written references to ‘sones’ date from the late 16th century.
The Diccionario of the Real Academia de la Lengua (1726-1739) gives the following definition: “Concerted noise which we receive with sense of hearing especially that which is executed with music.”
For centuries son was an insignificant rural folk genre, based on the Spanish and African roots of local folklore in Spanish America. The early son music was based on simple European-derived harmonic patterns, alternation between verse and chorus sections and short instrumental segments performed on folk guitar.
Influential
Creative mixing started by Afro-Caribbean lower classes were generally rejected by Eurocentric elites. These syncretic forms gradually percolated upward, acquired more musical sophistication, eventually coming to be enjoyed and celebrated as nationalistic symbols by upper classes.
Cuban son in its urban form became the most influential Latin American music in the 20th century. Its derivatives and fusions, especially salsa, have spread across the world.
Cuban son sextets and septets brought the style for the first time to Europe and United States in the late 1920s and 1930s through radio, records and foreign tour performances.
The Buena Vista Social Club album and film sparked a revival of international interest in traditional Cuban son music and its golden age. Today son is a central part of music-making in Hispanic Caribbean.
Afro-Hispanic son was born in Andalucía. It was first brought to Santiago de Cuba with black slaves from Seville who were already ‘latinos’ and spoke Spanish.
The first song Raúl Rodríguez wrote for his ‘anthropomusical’ story of travelling Spanish sones comes from the perspective of “imaginary folklore”.
It depicts before our eyes a character from Cuban costumbrista theatre based on local customs and manners: El Negro Curro.
The ‘curros’ were arrogant and flamboyant men from Seville who came to Havana in the 16th century when almost ten per cent of the people from Seville were black, not only slaves, but also free men. The ‘curros’ took with them to Cuba new rhythms and accents of the Andalusian handclapping. This may well have been the focal starting point in the development of Afro-Cuban son into an internationally successful music genre.
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