Spanish folk quintet Vigüela have a new album to celebrate, A la manera artesana, ‘In the artisan way’. A bold blend of Spanish songs and dances from the pueblos (villages), farms and rural ciudad (cities) in Castilla-La Mancha. Preserving time-honoured rhythms and vocal melodies of the traditional songs and dances that were first sung there, A la manera artesana is a definitive folk dance and songbook of Castilla-La Mancha, a well-crafted journey through the music of the terrain featuring live a cappella recordings also.
In their artisan way, Vigüela work their craft using the raw power of their voices with acoustic guitars, the friction zambomba drum, the one-stringed rebeq, clapping, castanets, some wild percussive instruments and a whole lot of respect for traditional rhythms and vocal melodies. Vigüela are the guardians and keepers of the old ways, preserving traditional songs and dances with their performances, videos and recordings over the last thirty years. Their music is characterised with instinctive pride and power, they need no reliance on special effects or showy spectacles to create an impact.
A la manera artesana unfolds like a well-planned journey from the Toledo mountains to the western branches of the Cuenca hills, opening with a powerful fandango to celebrate nature and love on ‘Estrellitas matutinas’ (Morning Stars). This song was inspired by a piece from the Magna Antología del Folklore Español Volume IV, by the folklorist Don Manuel García Matos. Along the way we meet the stories of hill-dwellers, dressmakers, conscriptees and married couples until we arrive at the ‘encierro’. This is the traditional practice of running of the bulls in ‘Tonadas por toreras (Añover de Tajo’) (Song from Añover De Tajo), while some daring people run in front of them. The album closes with Camina, where the flute of Jorge Pardo dialogues with tonadas a capella and a malagueña. Jorge Pardo was named "Best European Jazz Musician" in 2013 by the French Jazz Academy, is a leading flamenco and jazz artist and performed for many years in Paco de Lucía's band.
A la manera artesana has been carefully crafted from start to finish with liner notes researched and written by Simon Broughton who highlights its different aspects,
“The album is structured to show the various styles of the region. The first four songs highlight repertoire from La Mancha Alta and La Mancha de Vejezate, areas not much explored by musicologists and rarely recorded. There are four dances, a fandango, rondeña, seguidilla and jota. Then there are several a cappella tonadas, and finally some lively sones.”
Four ‘tonadas’ are sung a cappella creating an impressive vocal escarpment in the middle section of A la manera artesana. Their relaxing style easily transports the listener through Añover de Tajo, Olías del Rey and El Carpio de Tajo. In these tonadas, the vocal melody and lyrics guide the songs, which all start with a soloist who is then joined by other singers. As Juan Antonio Torres says,
“We work with old songs that have been part of our days, our duties, our life. They talk about what we are, because we are inside them and everything around us. We perform them in our style, our way that we have inherited for been from our village, El Carpio de Tajo, where people sing very gracefully”.
The Toledo town of Lagartera is famous for its decorative artisan embroideries and vivid traditional costume-making, which made the cover of Vogue. It is here that Juan Antonio chose the cover emblem for A la manera artesana which includes the embroidery of the band’s name. Created at Arte del Bordado by local needleworker Maria José, this is a traditional emblem from Lagartera made with a craft that was passed down to Maria by her mother and grandmother.
The challenging lifestyle of working on farms and agricultural communities is described in the song ‘Finiquito de un gañán’ (Severance Pay of a Farmhand), a traditional song from El Carpio de Tajo and the región of Torrijos. After working hard for years, the farm worker ends up with only two reales (the currency before pesetas) from a ruthless farmer. While ‘Ay, Vivito del alma’ (Ay, Vivito of My Soul) lays bare the instabilities and hardships of living from the land, “Another year at this time/ God knows where we'll be/ the land that I will have run/ and the wine we'll drink.”
Migration also impacts Castilla-La Mancha. ‘El cantar de Andrés José’ (The Song of Andrés José) tells of the misfortunes of a Colombian migrant arriving in Spain, trying to make his way after fleeing his homeland. The lyrics come from a contemporary poem written by Antoni Guzmán Madrigal that won a poetry contest organised by Vigüela. Vigüela were so taken with the poem that they decided to arrange, sing and record this for A la manera artesana, while still working the music within a traditional frame.
Vigüela includes family members and friends who perform their songs with an unmistakable quantity of sincerity and passion. They continue to garner local respect and international acclaim, not only in Castilla La-Mancha but nationally in Spain and more widely across Europe. From a village festival to an international stage, Vigüela perform their music with equal commitment for their craft. As Simon Broughton writes the band has a “rugged, earthy power”,
“Vigüela is quite special in this sense. They have found an audience in both rural and urban Spain. For the latter, they are like a window on a world… ”
Listening to A la manera artesana is like a meeting with Vigüela and the traditions they represent and what a joyous meeting this is. A la manera artesana releases internationally through ARC Music/NAXOS on the 28th January, 2022 and is their third album through ARC Music and ninth in total.
Photo Credits: Vigüela (by Jaime Massieu).