Al Sol de la Hierba
(AAR, 2002)

There have been two great tendencies in the cultural life of the Iberian peninsula. One has been the celebration of diversity, strong regions and a rich history. The other tendency is to create a monocultural Spain (the tradition of the Inquisition, the Caudillos and others who would eliminate all differences of language and culture to create "one Spain").

Happily, the Madrid folk group Barahunda belongs to the former category and sees the peninsula as a true cultural crossroads with a multitude of voices. In truth, there are many "Spains" though the outside world tends to see it as one. Happily indeed, because the infusion of so many influences makes the peninsula a more interesting place, and that incredible richness is reflected on this admirable CD.

Barahunda calls its sound "music for a multicultural Iberia." The dry breath of the desert informs this music that harkens back to an earlier time when the peninsula prominently featured three religions: Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Helena de Alfonso's haunting voice is just the vehicle to deliver this sound. Influences on this disc also include the Galician -- Portuguese of the West Coast of the peninsula -- and the Roma or gypsy sound, flamenco.

The rhythm section -- Paco Benitez on bass and Jose Escribano on percussion (darbouka, zarb, tabla) -- adds some very funky layers to the music. Though at times it strays towards a contemporary sound, with a ringing, driving acoustic guitar, it retains the evocativeness of the original folk material.

The first song, "Maldito sei al Mare," sets the tone as the group brings to life a 13th-century Portuguese prince's poem. Another song, "La Matica," starts as an Arabic-sounding number that turns jazzy. "Nani," the final piece, has echoes of the Portuguese group Madredeus, but with additional exotic and hard-to-identify influences. Throughout, there's a lot of energy and movement, de Alfonso's soaring vocals and plenty of creativity in both percussion and melody. Rounding out the membership of the group are Jota Martinez, (hurdy gurdy and rik), Dario Palomo (clarinet) and Antonio Toledo (guitar).

This CD fits in the high-energy contemporary folk idiom so popular in many parts of Europe today. Because its roots are in this multicultural Iberia, it features a diversity of rhythms, energies and sounds that provoke strong emotional reactions. The group does a good job in blending these into a harmonious whole.

They do walk a fine line between what they call "excessively traditionalist" and "too forced progressive proposals," meaning, I suppose, that they don't want to be relegated to the ethnic music bins at the store, but still want to be able to play folk festivals. My first impression is that they succeed in both ambitions.

This is a very impressive CD from this group.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 26 July 2003