To say that until recently I have known next to nothing of Spanish music is an understatement. Thankfully there are enlightening resources at the disposal of newbies such as myself, and one of the finest (and most affordable) is Putumayo’s Espana. By combining their extensive liner notes describing themes and styles in Spanish music with repeated listening of the eleven track CD, one can even begin to sound somewhat knowledgeable in world-music oriented conversations. I won’t fake it – 90% of what you’ll read in this review I learned from Putumayo Presents: España.
Putumayo is the premier label for overviews and introductions to specific aspects of the world music scene. In an age of ever shrinking liner notes, the digipack for Espana includes a 35-page, trilingual guide to the music of Spain, notable contemporary artists, song themes, and musical influences. This English, French, and Spanish musical companion guide also includes a recipe for Spanish Bread Pudding. In the face of such generosity it feels like nit picking to point out that full translations of the lyrics are not included. Another downside is that it is anchored firmly to the inside of the digipack as a stapled booklet, and any rough handling will result in its partial, but not clean detachment.
Spain’s music offers a rich diversity of regional music styles, and the blending of many cultural influences, ever evolving, and multi-faceted. While it may be fairly undiscovered here in North America, the mestitzo (mixed) style of music pulsing outwards from Spain has gained great heights of popularity in South and Central America particularly. This combination of traditional Spanish styles such as flamenco with notable reggae, pop, ska, and electronica influences that can be clearly heard on “Cumbia Caimanera” and “Te Estas Equivocando”.
“Pasapeanas” is a fascinating instrumental piece from an equally intriguing musical collective. Biella Nuei is devoted to performing traditional music from the Aragon region. With this devotion comes a passion for playing and making local instruments such as a string drum, and Spanish bagpipe! The Celtic influences that have worked their way into Aragonese folk music are clearly heard on this track.
Xabier Lete’s “San Martin, Azken Larrosa” is performed in his native language Euskera (the language of the Spanish region of Basque), the only track on the CD that isn’t performed in the Spanish language. This somewhat melancholy ballad features the piano and sounds somewhat akin to subdued jazzy blues work with clearly Spanish guitar work.
Espana is somewhat heavily slanted towards the work of male artists, but we can hear female voices on three tracks. “Remedios” from the band Gertrudis is an upbeat poppy rumba with a strong female lead vocalist on the topic of a sorceress who’s burned at the stake (of all topics). “Lunita” is another rumba from the larger, jazz-influenced group Calima that features both male and female singers. “Danza Ritual” is a lovely piece from a Galician artist, Uxia. Her floating vocals are under girded by the ethereal harmonies of her female backup singers, marking this track as the most feminine on the disc.
Many of the performers are relative newcomers, tracing their group’s roots back to the early 2000s. There are a few from the ‘90s, fewer still from the ‘80s, and one which can properly be categorized as an old-timer. Peret’s work has inspired many modern Spanish groups through his pioneering blending of flamenco with Latin rhythms and rock music resulting in the rumba flamenco style (think the Gipsy Kings). His “Para Poder Olvidarla” opens the CD and will sound somewhat familiar and accessible even to those who haven’t a clue about Spanish music. His sound is what comes to mind when most of us think contemporary Spanish compositions.
The diversity of this disc is its strength. If you’re interested in getting a start with Spanish music, jump in and get your feet wet. You’ll get a sampling of a bit of everything in today’s music scene in Spain and be able to hone in on some favorite musical genres or even specific groups from there.
Putumayo is donating 1% of it’s proceeds from the sale of this title to Intermon Oxfam, supporting fair trade artisans and farmers worldwide.
1. Peret – “Para Poder Olvidarla”
2. Gertrudis – “Remedios”e
3. Depedro – “Como El Viento”
4. Burguitos – “Por Los Besos Que Me Das”
5. Calima – “Lunita”
6. Gossos featuring Dani Macaco – “Corren”
7. El Combolinga – “Cumbia Caimanera”
8. Uxia – “Danza Ritual”
9. Xabier Lete – “San Martin, Azken Larrosa”
10. Geck Turner – “Te Estas Equivocando”
11. Biella Nuei – “Pasapeanas”