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Sweet voices rescue ancient traditions.

Beele Cruu

Susana Harp

Opcion Sonica


Claudia Martinez


Let me begin by saying how lucky I am to have discovered Claudia Martinez and Susana Harp's sweet voices singing beautiful songs in ancient languages.

Among the stacks of ephemeral commercial fluff in record stores these days, it's hard to find music that can keep you interested for more than three listening sessions. In that respect, these two innovative recordings are exceptional.

If that's not surprising enough, prepare for the queen of coincidences: This pair of talented singers who chose to use their voices to honor pre-Colombian traditions debuted with albums bearing exactly the same title: Xquenda, which, in the Zapoteco language, means the animal spirit found in every human soul.

Although their careers have gone in different directions, as these two albums show, the seeds of their styles were planted in Xquenda.

Beele Cruu

An array of Mazateco and Zapoteco songs are blended with a few Spanish-language boleros, sones and trovas in Harp's project Beele Cruu (Heaven's Cross). She focused on culturally rich Oaxaca and was able to extract the juices of the past while also illustrating the area's colorful mestizo culture.

Harp pays tribute to world-famous composer Alvaro Carrillo with "El Ultimo Amor"--a song written only weeks before his death in 1969--and the well-known "La Hierbabuena." She also made a careful selection of poems by Andres Henestrosa, Genaro Vasquez and Gustavo Lopez, plus a few public domain traditional tunes, such as the album's most impressive track, "Turtle Son." In this particular song, Harp achieves a perfect blend of her sweet voice and the characteristically melodious marimba.

Harp's album is a joyous, yet deeply spiritual approach to Oaxaca. She spiced up the album with a highly danceable "Sabrocito Son" by Chuy Rasgado and the renown "Nereidas," a donzon by Oaxacan author Amador Perez.


Meanwhile, in Tonana (Mother Nature), Martinez explores Mayan spiritual chants, traditionally sung both in everyday life as well as in a ritual context. She also includes popular songs from Guerrero and Oaxaca, as well as a collection of ancient lullabies that have helped kids fall asleep for generations.

Most numbers are inspired or adapted by Tzotzil poet Alberto Gomez but the vanguard production is also partly credited to jazz and experimental music wizard Sr. Gonzalez.

Particularly impressive are "Despedimiento de Angelito," a traditional song to be sung at children's funerals, the festive lullaby "Arriba del Cielo," the shaman-like "Espectro del Viento" and the hypnotic "Vayan Olol, Vayan" ("Sleep Child, Sleep").

This is an ambitious album. The songs' lyrics are printed in the original language, plus in English and Spanish, although the translation is not always very accurate.

Despite their similarities, the more you listen to these two jewels, the more diversity you will discover in them.

Both projects have involved a remarkable amount of time and research on indigenous cultures to find these popular songs that could otherwise be lost as pre-Hispanic languages gradually die out.
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Article Details
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Author:Fernandez R., Jose
Publication:Business Mexico
Article Type:Concert Review
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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