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American Record Guide: (07/2017) 
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Alia Vox

Code-barres / Barcode : 9788494631108(ID613)


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Reviewer: John W. Barker


This is the latest of Savall’s “CD-books” devoted to historical themes, with idealistic preachment implied or explicit on moral issues. Slavery is as old as human civilization. As a function of military might and conquest, it has had many implications as a source of economically indispensable forced labor, at various social levels, over the millennia. It has provoked reactions ranging from hesitant criticism to moral outrage, but has had its defenders, from Aristotle to its self-serving exploiters. Beginning in the 15th Century, the practices of enslavement were given new identity in the European trans-Atlantic traffic in African slaves for servitude in the colonies of the Western hemisphere. That new identity introduced the element of racism, pairing servitude with racial vulnerability and supposed inferiority. Despite a spate of 19th Century Western prohibitions against such slavery, it still flourishes in certain cultures to the present. And, of course, its toxic heritage in our own culture continues to plague us.


In a bound volume extensively illustrated (with 21 pages promoting the AliaVox catalog), are nine essays by various authors, reproduced in six languages (French, English, Castilian Spanish, Catalan, German, Italian). The tone is set by the first, written by Savall himself. He introduces the venture’s scope as extending from the Portuguese establishment of of the African slave trade in 1444 down to the Brazilian abolition of slavery in 1888. But Savall also ranges over a much wider span, regularly foaming with moral fury. The remaining essays cover disparate topics ranging through historical periods, offering textual testimonies, and culminating in surveys of slavery in the world today.

Then we turn from all that to the recordings. It is from a public concert in France on July 17, 2015, and has been presented or scheduled for other performances. The performers combine 4 singers and 13 instrument-alists from Savall’s regular ensemble with singers and instrumentalists from Mali, Madagascar, Morocco, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, and Argentina.The DVD documents that first concert visually as well as sonically. Running through the 33 tracks (on the CDs), we find a mix of things. A loose structure is supplied by 11 tracks that present, at intervals and in chronological order, contemporaneous texts that reflect on the Atlantic slave traffic. Those are read in French by Bakary Sangare. The remaining 22 tracks are musical selections, most of them representing songs and dances of the blacks themselves. Many of them use words either partly or fully in Spanish (or Portuguese). Six of them, in fact, are negritos or parallel pieces by European musicians (Mateo Flecha, Juan Gutierrez de Padilla, Fray Filipe da Madre Deus, Roque Jacinto de Chavarria, Juan de Araujo, and Juan Garcia de Zespedes) who tried to evoke negro musical idioms in written compositions of their own. A number of those are by now well known from recordings.

Many of the remaining selections are traditional survivals drawn from serious musicological explorations into folk sources in Mali, in Africa, and in Mexico, Columbia, and Brazil. To these are added a subcategory of improvisations by the players based on folk traditions and played on folk instruments. Like so much in these Savall explorations, the bulk of the material has been shaped by the master’s arrangements. Savall himself presides patriarchally over the performance, regularly joining in on his viol.

The book itself includes sectionally (language by language) the original texts with translations, usable as one watches or listens. The video gives subtitles only for the spoken texts, and not for the sung pieces. The purely audio version is perhaps more usable with the printed texts. On the other hand, in the video one it is possible to enjoy the vitality of singing and the spontaneous dancing.


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