The Routes of Slavery 1444-1888: Works from Africa, Portugal, Spain and Latin America

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COMPOSERS: Various composers
LABELS: Alia Vox
ALBUM TITLE: The Routes of Slavery 1444-1888
WORKS: Works from Africa, Portugal, Spain and Latin America
PERFORMER: La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hespèrion XXI, Tembembe Ensamble Continuo/Jordi Savall
CATALOGUE NO: AVSA9920

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Jordi Savall’s usual recipe of releasing a book to go with his CDs is here expanded by the addition of a DVD of the entire concert on which the CDs are based. And that book, in which everything is translated into eight languages, is hefty. The music spans four and a half centuries, but the book’s panorama presents the history of global slavery through five millennia, as described by academic essays plus panoramic surveys of this perennial and ubiquitous abuse. 

It’s interesting to read of the European travellers enslaved in Arab countries in the 16th century, and also to learn of the five-year enslavement into which Miguel de Cervantes accidentally stumbled. But Savall’s musical business is with slavery in sub-Saharan Africa, Portugal, Spain and Latin America, and this concert is an expertly-woven tissue of words and music drawn from those places, the songs and dances being laced with eye-witness accounts (delivered in French). It’s refreshing to hear music from Mali outside its usual African context: here it sits very comfortably beside its deracinated counterparts from the New World.

Savall’s brew is so rich that singling out individual performances is almost invidious, but tracks I love include songs from Brazil and Mexico sung by Maria Juliana Linhares and Ada Coronel, choral numbers by singers from the Capella Reial, and instrumental improvisations from Mali; everything performed by the Tembembe Ensamble Continuo has a genuineness which goes straight to the heart, and their lyrics have a disarming simplicity and directness.  

But, as always with Savall’s albums, the supplementary material says nothing about the music. Rather than bombarding us with statistical and political information irrelevant to this exercise, Savall should have included an essay on these musical forms, some of which are unlike anything most listeners will have encountered. Does Savall think musicology would frighten his listeners? 

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Michael Church