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The Role of Early Music Today

The Role of Early Music Today

This article was written and provided by Queensland Performing Arts Centre.

In the lead up to his performance with early music superstar Jordi Savall, Tembembe Ensamble member Leopoldo Novoa talks about playing with the ‘master’ and why there will always be a place for the past.

How far back does the music you play date? 
We play instruments that go as far back as 200BC, and we play music that goes from 1300AC to today (2018) from Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Europe.

What instruments does your ensemble utilise? 
The list is very large but to name some, in Tembembe Ensamble we play jarocho charanas, huapanguera guitar, marimbula, son guitar, violin, llanera harp, vihuela, baroque guitar, tiorba, maracas, guacharaca, jaw of horse, Andene bass drum and more. Hespèrion XXI plays viola de gamba, baroque guitar, Spanish harp, cornetto baroque flute, chalumeau and sackbut, as well as our voices and [on occasion] those from La Capella Reial de Cataluña.

Why revive this early music when there is so much contemporary music available?
Music, like literature and other forms of art finds ways to say “we are here and this is the way we are”. Reading past literature, admiring paintings from the past and playing music from a different time allows us to understand where we come from and where we are going, with the advantage that when you play old music you revive that music with the knowledge and experience of current music.

Old music and traditional music are very popular today, particularly among younger generations, because it has identity; it is a pleasure to hear and it reunites people.

What is it like performing with Jordi Savall? Is he the master?
It is a wonderful experience. Firstly, because we can share anything from musical concepts and productions to making jokes and having a good time. On the other hand, Jordi has a very clear idea of what he wants to tell through his music, and about the present moment. His concerts always include current social issues in depth, for example the case of world migration. Two of the programs Tembembe Ensamble collaborated with Jordi on were manifests of world migration as a present conflict.

Do you both learn along the way? 
Yes, definitely. Jordi told us that when he became aware of our work as Tembembe Ensamble, he was captivated by our ongoing research into the relationship between traditional Latin American music and baroque music that came to the Americas from the “Old Continent”. Jordi was also interested in this.

When Jordi was invited to play Festival Internacional Cervantino in Mexico in 2008, he asked to play with us. We received a phone call saying “Maestro Jordi Savall would like you to play with him at the Cervantino Festival” and we were left speechless. That’s how we met him and we have played together for the past 10 years with three different programs:

• Folías Antiguas & Criollas (from the Ancient World to the New World) [which will be presented at QPAC] is about baroque music and how it is related to traditional Latin American music. The program shows the similarities between the music, as well as demonstrates the huge musical concepts that the Americas - the New World - shared with Europe.

 La Ruta de la Esclavitud (The Route of Slavery), where the story of slavery throughout humanity is told through music that talks and sings throughout times and different geographical latitudes. Musicians from Mali, Senega, Madagascar, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, France, Spain, Catalonia and other places get together to sing and play baroque, traditional and modern music - all containing historical texts from Aristotle to Martin Luther King.

• Peru 1780 is a program where we play music from The Codex Martínez Compañón (c.1782–1785), which is a manuscript edited by the bishop of Trujillo, Peru, Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón. It contains watercolours and 20 musical scores documenting life in his municipality and we found huge intercultural and regional coincidences amongst these Latin American communities.

Are you constantly researching and discovering new early music?
Indeed. We keep researching early music and it is our particular interest to find old music styles that come through current popular and traditional music that is played at festivals and in communities in Mexico and Colombia.

Do you travel and meet traditional ethnic groups to discover music from the past?
Yes, we use our tours for this purpose, as well as to give workshops around our research. We would love to establish contact with [Australian] Aboriginal musicians and communities; we’ve found very scarce information, and this culture and their musicians astonish us.

Is early music increasing in popularity and if so, why do you think that is?
Yes, we have noticed a growth, as the younger generations are more and more interested in learning how to play and sing this kind of music. I believe that new commercial music doesn’t have much to offer in regards of creativity and identity and this might be the reason for young people looking for alternatives in music.

Is it an antidote to the age of technology?
No. It is a new concept for this technological era with a more human, inclusive and organic approach, which allows people to come together to enjoy this music.

What do you want to impart to audiences?
Music, gatherings, confrontation, the history of Mexico, Europe and the rest of the world, “fiesta” and enjoyment.

Jordi Savall, Hespèrion XXI and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo perform two shows in Elisabeth Murdoch Hall this February. Click here for more information. 

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