LA MUSGAÑA: THE RAT IS BACK
Until now, most FolkWorld articles on Spanish folk have talked about the traditional/folk music from the northern (Atlantic) regions of the Iberian peninsula: Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Basque Country, coming from bands with some 'Celtic' music flavour. Let's introduce now a band from central Spain: Castilla, the vast region that becomes the cultural bridge between the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts and their ancient traditions.
Madrid, December 14th 2003, 7:30 p.m.. The auditorium of the 'Colegio Mayor San Juan Evangelista' (college students residence well recognised for its jazz concerts since 1970) is packed. Folk fans, journalists and musicians mainly from the capital city of Spain (and middle point between the two Castillean regions) are excited and expectant to see and listen again, after five years of silence, to the folk band that in the late 80'S and 90's started a renovation of the way to perform the traditional songs of the central Spain regions: Castilla-León (north), Castilla-La Mancha (south), Extremadura (south-west),…
LA MUSGAÑA (meaning 'the water rat') is presenting tonight their latest (sixth) CD named "Temas Profanos" ( Profane Themes ). Their previous one was recorded in a brilliant concert back in 1997, produced by the late Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham, where he also played with La Musgaña together with top Spanish folk music guests such as: Kepa Junquera, the band Radio Tarifa, Amancio Prada, Manuel Luna, Javier Paxariño, Luis Delgado and others.
Maybe that notorious event for the folk community in 1997 did not bring the music of La Musgaña to such high levels of commercial success as was happening at that time to the Celtic sounds of northern bagpipers, such as Carlos Nuñez or Hevia (quite often invited to popular shows in the Spanish TV channels). Whatever the reason was, difficulties with the record company that published that CD (and re-edited their initial ones), prevented us from enjoying more music from La Musgaña, … until today.
La Musgaña is mainly integrated by two musicians from Madrid: Enrique "Quique" Almendros (bagpipes, three holed flute and tabor,…) and Jaime Muñoz (diatonic button accordion, clarinets, gaida, kaval,…), and one from El Ferrol (Galicia), Carlos Beceiro (hurdy-gurdy and all kinds of string instruments). They have now edited this new CD, with a record company founded by themselves (Lubican Records), where other folk musicians participate with: their voices (Joaquín Diaz, Carmen Paris, Maite Dono, Celia Bergara), and their instruments: violin played by Diego Galaz, and traditional percussion instruments from all over the world, played by Sebastian Rubio, David Mayoral and Pablo Martín.
The 36 pages booklet in the CD includes the corresponding English translation of all the Spanish texts which describe the subject and history of the songs. The text, cover design and illustrations is very unique and was done by Enrique Almendros himself. The title 'Temas Profanos / Profane Themes' makes reference to topics of human life that in the past inspired the writing of popular songs like the 16 ones included in the CD: "love, death, work, creation, hate, happiness, sex, faith, …" . The tunes are mainly traditional dances from the Castilla-León provinces, from the Madrid region, and from the province of Caceres (Extremadura region, having borders with Castilla, Andalusia and Portugal).
La Musgaña performs the traditional music of central Spain in a modern style, and they also incorporate influences from all other kinds of traditional musics, from the north-African beats (probably a main contributor to the Spanish folklore even before the middle ages), to jazz music (Carlos Beceiro also played double bass and bass guitar in jazz bands, as well as other styles of "new age/folk" music with Xavier Paxariño).
Some time ago I talked to an ex-member of the initial formation of La Musgaña, who compared their music with that from the English band Blowzabella. Maybe what La Musgaña is doing with the Castillean folk music, could truly be compared with Blowzabella's interpretation of the traditional and medieval sounds from the British islands.
But what La Musgaña has really meant for the Castilean folk, is to lead a new generation of bands that showed new possibilities from what the first generation of Castilean bands started in the 70's and 80's (Nuevo Mester de Juglaría, Joaquín Diaz, Habas Verdes, La Bazanca, Candeal,…). Among such new groups are for example: Aljibe, Barahunda, La Bruja Gata or Balbarda. One of the differences between both generations could be that the new one makes more use of many different musical instruments in the interpretation of a wide variety of traditional dance rhythms, although the singing does not take such a relevant role as on the older generation. This is probably a common trend in most folk musics of Europe and America, since during the 70's the social and political messages transmitted in the lyrics were more dominant than the music itself, or the virtuosity on playing ancient traditional or contemporary instruments.
No matter the way you want look at it, here in the center of the Iberian peninsula we are just hopeful that maybe soon we will reach such a high level of public interest in our regional trad & folk music, such as happened for instance in Galicia, after the band Milladoiro and the fruitful following generation of instrument players and bands (Carlos Núñez, Berrogüetto, X.M. Budiño, Mercedes Peón, …).
To know more about the origins of La Musgaña you can read the article from Steve Winick in the magazine Dirty Linen: "The Rat That Roared" ( www.dirtynelson.com/linen/feature/45lm.html ). You can also visit their web page at: www.lamusgana.com .
Photo Credit: Press photo; drawings from the CD booklet.
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