Galicia, in north-west Spain, is honoured with skilled musicians strongly rooted in its living tradition, and they’re making ever-diversifying music, embracing ideas and approaches from present-day musics and bending them to the Galician way.
A prime example is the band Os d’Abaixo, formed in 2010 to play for dances and fiestas in Santiago de Compostela. Its name translates from Galego to English as ‘those from below,’ or – given that its members are often to be found in the excellent gigs and sessions downstairs in Compostela’s roots-music hub Casa Das Crechas - those from downstairs.
The six-piece now comprises Quim Farinha (fiddle), Gom Goás (guitar), Santi Cribeiro (accordion - he and Farinha were both members of well-known Galician band Berrogüetto), Richi Marín (percussion), and Roberto Rama (who was in another influential band, Fía na Roca) and Xacobe Varela on Galician gaitas, bouzouki, sax, and pandereta. Varela takes lead vocals, and on this third album there are other vocal leads from guests Eliseo Parra and Portuguese singer María João.
It’s guest João’s voice, at first soft and seductive, that opens the album, before Varela’s vigorous vocal joins her and they duet in a song based on a theme from an early 20th-century zarzuela, a form of musical-drama theatre that could be described as a kind of Spanish light opera. There’s nothing operatic about this gutsy treatment though; the band builds up the energy and tempo, with Farinha’s wild improvising fiddling matched by João’s wide-ranging scatting.
Reflecting the album title Somos a Pedra (we are the stone), in the CD booklet each track is depicted as a stone with appropriate additions: a ladder of twigs leans against one for that opening track “Desde o Alto” (From above), a belt unites two stones evoking a dancing couple for “Valxe,” a gaita-led waltz featuring Rama in a solo break on saxes. “Passei Pola Tua Porta,” an urgent pulse of bass drum and udu over which floats the joyful melody of a song of love and the sea, is symbolised by a pair of oars laid across a horizontal stone. The musicians are represented as stones to, their with instruments as metal objects in front of them. (The many other ingenious multimedia and architectural works of the Galician design studio responsible, Cenlitrosmetrocadrado, are well worth a look on its website).
There’s a light, winding spring to “Muinheira do Verdelhinho” by Farinha, in the 6/8 muinheira rhythm that has been compared to the jigs of Scotland and Ireland but muinheira melodies have a different, flowing outline. Cribeiro’s “A Croa” is also in 6/8, but is a fast, hefty, intricate big-band piece.
Shouts and tense bowing open the title track, which is actually two tracks that combine Goás’s lyrics with a melody of his own and one recorded from singers in Ourense province by Alan Lomax during his 1952 Galician excursion. Another fruit of that field trip provides the traditional lyrics and melodic core of “Carvalheirinha Escura.”
“Valszurca Para Duir” by Varela is an elegantly swinging blend of waltz and mazurka, so its symbolic stone is a composite of two distinct minerals. Cribeiro’s “Ghotas de Tabasco em Herbom” (represented by a pair of peppers on a flat stone) is in the rhythm of jota, the compulsive turning dance widespread in Spanish music, and in the middle it takes a turn into a lilting Mexican feel reflecting its peppery title. The closer, “Dos Vilares,” sung by the whole band, takes its melody from the repertoire of Florencio ‘o cego dos Vilares’ (1914-1986, the last of Galicia’s line of blind fiddlers), with a second part composed by well-known Galician hurdy-gurdyist Germán Díaz, with lyrics by Farinha and Varela.
Interesting, memorable material, beautifully arranged and played by a bunch of very experienced musicians; a fine album in a pleasing package.
Find the ensemble online.
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