Music from the New World is a subject of great interest to many early music performers and scholars. Viola da gamba virtuoso Jordi Savall performed some of this repertoire in Austin in October 2010 with members of Hesperion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, and soprano Montserrat Figueras.
The following excerpt is from an interview with Jordi Savall, conducted by KMFA’s Sara Hessel. This originally aired on KMFA’s Ancient Voices in October 2010.
SH: Does this music [from the concert El Nuevo Mundo: The Route of the New World] have a special resonance with Latin-American audiences?
JS: This music is so perfect for this type of audience because it is so close to them. This music is on the roots of the Spanish and Mexican culture. At our last concert, I have seen all the people who looked like Latin Americans smiling and dancing… it was so wonderful to see how all those people reacted to this type of music.
SH: Will Latin Americans recognize some aspects of this music from their own living traditions?
JS: These are living traditions. And even the ancient songs, they are based many times on typical rhythmical structures, that they feel very modern. The mix of this Caribbean culture was the mix of African people, coming with Conquistadores, and then the sailors and the soldiers and the priests and the noble people. And then there was an encounter between African music, Indian native music, and the Spanish music. And this was like a bomb! [laughs] Something fantastic! And what remains today is a living tradition maintained through oral tradition.
SH: What are your thoughts on why this music has such an immediate emotional impact on listeners?
JS: I think that characteristic of this music is the same characteristic that you have with Sephardic songs, that you have with Irish fiddle music, la musique Bretonne, music from Galicia: communities from cultures who have suffered. They have suffered in South America from the oppression, from the exploitation of the Spanish, the Conquistadores; in the same way, the Breton, they have suffered from the French, or the Irish people and Scottish people have suffered from the British power.
SH: And here we had the oppression of the African-Americans, and the tradition of spirituals arose out of that.
JS: Yes, it is the same. This is surviving music: helping people to survive. And this is why all this type of music has such a special emotional element. You feel immediately touched by- really something necessary for life. The music was really the only possibility to be really happy for one moment, and be in some harmony. And they sing and they play together. And this was what sustained people: the hope, and to remember their roots.
SH: What else can you tell us about this music?
JS: I think this music comes immediately to your heart and your soul. It is such a dynamic music; it has such an intensity, a melancholy, a happiness, it has everything. It’s a mix of what makes this music so surprising. It’s very exuberant, but it has a certain element of melancholy. It’s very old, but because it has so much improvisation, it’s always new. And this is fantastic- the most beautiful repertories are when you are working with something where you remember your roots, but you can improvise and you can improve every day this music. It becomes every day something new and something of our time, too.