Thursday, June 13, 2013

Axivil Aljamía from Spain ~ Tripping Back to the Middle Ages at Fes Festival

Axivil Aljamía - Spain

Felipe Sánchez Mascuñano - lute, arrangements and artistic direction
Israel Paz - flamenco cantor
Javier Aguirre - viola
Wafir S. Gibril - percussion and oud
Javier Paxariño - wind instruments
Jota Martinez - zanfona (hurdy-gurdy)
David Mayoral – percussion

There’s never a bad Moor/good Christian nor a bad Christian/good Moor ~ Moorish saying

Perfume Mudéjar is an evocation of the music of the Muslim Moorish communities who stayed in Andalusia until the 17th century. Until the conquest of Granada in 1492, Islamic culture had been present in the Iberian peninsula for eight centuries, in the kingdoms and the caliphates known as Al Andalus.

Felipe Mascuñano's remarkable approach is to interweave the cultures of one territory but of different times, and to play the music of the 15th century with the sensitivity of a gypsy cante jondo. In the prodigious voice of the flamenco cantaor Pedro Sanz, he has found the essence of the Moorish culture.

This ensemble is named after the composer Jucejj Axivil who accompanied the infanta Juan de Aragon on a journey in August 1352 between Huesca and Zaragoza, and entertained him with his vihuela de péñola (playing his lute).

The Concert

There’s nothing like a wheezing, buzzing hurdy gurdy to transport you aurally to the Middle Ages. Although this was but one instrument of many played by the six musicians that make up Axivil Aljamia, it was this distinctive sound that told us most what the group was setting out to achieve.

Jota Martinez - zanfona
Felipe Sánchez Mascuñano

Artistic director, Felipe Sánchez Mascuñano, who also plays a mean lute, aims to interweave the cultures of one territory but of different times. The result is music from the 15th century played with the sensitivity of a gypsy cante jondo.

 Israel Paz lets it all out

Sitting centre stage with three musicians either side was flamenco cantor Israel Paz in a shiny grey suit and patent leather shoes. This was flamenco predating the guitar but the lack of whatever drama that instrument might have brought to the music was made up for by Paz’s massive dose of passion. He exerted himself to produce a powerful sound, his face reddening alarmingly at times, contorted as though in pain. He’d stretch his fingers out then grip his chest, a display that in any other context would be accompanied by floods of tears. There were many such emotional displays in this performance , every one followed by cheers from the audience and the musicians either side of him patting him gently on the back, partly in congratulation, partly as though checking he was okay.

Javier Paxariño 

The band was a multi-talented bunch. Javier Paxariño played seven wind instruments which also lent a medieval tone to the performance. In fact everyone played more than their principal instrument, the percussionist, Wafir S. Gibril, turning his hand to the lute with bells strapped to his ankle, the cellist singing harmonies with Paz and even delighting the audience with a deep, rich solo.

Wafir S. Gibril

Gibril got the most out of his frame drum from a metallic sound near the rim to a deep thud in centre, muting it when necessary by swiftly gliding his fingers across it.

Paz - agony or ecstasy?

Paz clapped though many instrumental moments, keeping time with a syncopated beat and the point at which they all looked happiest was when they were all using their hands that way together.

This concert was not to everyone's liking with one audience member saying about Paz ..."his voice and delivery came across like a toddler who's screamed himself hoarse having a tantrum in the supermarket over sweets he can't have!" A more general criticism was that there was little verbal engagement in any language with the audience and although the ensemble  knew their music they seemed unsure of the program. There was an awkward moment nearly two hours in when Mascuñano just said ‘Merci’ and got ready to leave the stage.

The group stood until cheers convinced them to do an encore. Festival artistic director Alain Weber who appeared concerned the venue might not be cleared in time for the next performance popped up to the microphone and approved ‘un petit encore’ which was duly performed to everyone’s delight.

Text: Stephanie Clifford-Smith
Photographs: Vanessa Bonnin

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