Concert date: 17 November 2017
Reviewed by: JRC

Joglaresa after their NADSA concert at The Courtenay Centre with Ray Avis of sponsor Buyrite Tyres

Joglaresa was something different. Their instruments were basically medieval, their voices ranged from Moorish, through folk, to modern classical, and their clothes likewise defied categorisation. The unifying threads were superb musicianship and emotional intensity.

The first number was a great scene-setter. The Fidel led, soon joined by percussion and drums, then vocals by Belinda Sykes and Angela Hicks who also played bagpipes and harp respectively. The manuscript for this came from the Convent of Las Huelgas in C14th Spain, and is a cheeky mixing of the ‘Good Word’ [of God] and ‘Good Wine’.

Belinda introduced us to the 5 stringed Fidel, with a flatter arch [than the violin] for droning; the Dulcimer, a Graeco- Roman name for an instrument traditionally played across Asia and Europe; the Darbuka [Tablah], with origins in BCE Babylonia and now mostly associated with Arabic and south Asian music; and the simple Mediaeval harp having no pedals or levers, so re-tuning is required for a change of key. Of course the gutted Fidel also needed frequent re-tuning, which was occurring as Belinda described to us that her single reeded bagpipes were basically an inside-out sheep. We really were shaken out of our familiar comfort zones and transported to a multi-ethnic experience in both time and geography.

The programme was titled ‘The Enchantress of Seville’, but no majoring on Carmen here, more exploring how, post the fall of Rome, the Iberian Moorish civilisation had greatly influenced subsequent western cultures.The verse-form [strophic] song was invented in Moorish Andalusia and the text was Arabic. With the expulsion, by the Christians, of the Sephardic Jews from Spain in the late C15th the Andalusian musical folk-culture spread via the Ottoman Empire from Morocco to the Balkans.

A traditional Judeo-Spanish song from Morocco, ‘Al pasar por Sevilla’ found Belinda relating the poignant narrative of a man losing a potential wife and finding a sister. Belinda’s charisma which flowed through the eyes to her fingertips passed to May Robertson’s Fidel. May’s Fidel also gave us heart-rending emotion in the song, by Wallada bint al-Mustakfi of Cordoba [d.1091], of the plight of a maiden for whom no man is worthy.

Later, Louise Anna Duggan’s Dulcimer gave us exquisite moments of delicacy, whereas Louise on Riq interacting with Guy Schalom’s Darbuka was frisson-time. Guy, in an instrumental number, was scintillating and as part of the ensemble both supportive and effectively mesmeric. Given the sensual undertones of many of the songs, Angel Hicks, both with purity of voice and harp, gave a celestial balance that was entirely appropriate for songs in praise of the Virgin Mary. Versatility was abundant, and no more so than exhibited by Belinda who ranged from soothing softness in ‘Una matika de ruda’ to strident volume in ‘A kasar el rey salia’. Her seemingly natural ability to use yodel techniques and quarter tones through melismatic phrases and ethnic ornamentation was a privilege to experience.

A near capacity audience’s applause was rewarded with an encore. I am sure that Joglaresa will now have an even greater following.