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Les Routes de l'Esclavage / The Routes of Slavery 1444-1888 - Savall

Les Routes de l'Esclavage / The Routes of Slavery 1444-1888 - Savall

Alia Vox  AVSA9920 (3 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Music from Africa, Europe and Latin America

K. M. Diabaté, I. García, M. J. Linhares, B. Sangaré, B. Sissoko, V. Diallo
Hesperion XXI
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Tembembe Ensamble Continuo
Jordi Savall (direction)


A homage to the memory of victims of the slave trade.

This new multicultural project from Jordi Savall and his musicians on The Routes of Slavery (1444-1888) marks a world first in the history of music and of the three continents involved in the trade in African slaves and their exploitation in the New World, which are brought together through the early music of the colonial period, the musical traditions of Mali and the oral traditions of the descendants of slaves in Madagascar, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. This 'Musical Memoir' is accompanied with historical texts on slavery, beginning with the early chronicles of 1444 and concluding with texts written by the Nobel Peace Prize-winner Martin Luther King shortly before his assassination in 1968.

Sponsored by UNESCO, this musical reconciliation is founded on equality, harmony and reciprocal inspiration, constituting the commemoration of a tragic and shameful chapter in the history of mankind. A vast historical and musical fresco, which throws light on the West’s attitude towards Africans in Latin America, the United States and Europe, as well as its indifference towards that 'forgotten' continent of Africa. But it is also a joyful celebration of hearts and spirits united through music and dance, offering us all a vital source of survival, a refuge of peace, consolation and hope.

"Despite the fact that for more than four centuries, from 1444 to 1888, over 25 million Africans were shipped by European countries to be bound in slavery, this period of history is still largely unknown by the general public. The women, men and children who were brutally deported from their villages in Africa to the European colonies in the New World had only their culture of origin to accompany them on the voyage: religious beliefs, traditional medicine, and music.

With this work, we shall try to evoke those shameful moments in the history of humanity through a series of eloquent texts and accounts, accompanied by the emotion and vitality of the music to which the slaves sang and danced." - Jordi Savall

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Review by John Broggio - February 20, 2017

This is perhaps the most far-reaching musical compilation that Savall has yet bequeathed us, covering texts and music from 3 continents.

The readings, always spoken in French with clarity and passion by Bakary Sangaré, begin with a fateful quote from Aristotle ("humanity is divided into two: masters & slaves") before an account of the discovery and conquest of Guinea. This makes a stark juxtaposition with Kassé Mady Diabeté's improvisation on an African's view of slavery. Yet another stark contradiction is immediately offered up in the Christian song by Mateo Flecha the Elder and the view of the Mexicans with the African slave song from Brazil.

It should be noted that the musicians, apart from Savall's long-time contributors of La Capella Reial de Catalunya & Hespèrion XXI, hail from Mali, Madagascar, Morocco, Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, Argentina & Venezuela. The sense of the nuanced intonation and rhythmic subtlety they imbue the songs of their respective countries uplifts the soul as much as the subject matter of the texts makes one squirm with discomfort. The extract from the Slave Code of Barbados is particularly chilling with "crimes of lesser nature" being punished with "cropping off half of the foot with an axe". The contrast between this shameful aspect of ancestors of the "civilised world" and the music is really quite extraordinary.

Perhaps what Savall et al most successfully convey to the listener is how similar the different musical cultures are - this is a (very transparent) subtext to many of Savall's exploration of non-Western music and it has never so vividly been made explicit before now on disc. The stunning blend of classically trained and "unrefined" voices (a misnomer as anyone listening will quickly realise) together with an intoxicating mix of instruments playing Latin music as if all native to that fabulously diverse continent is a highlight of the final song "oh, I burn" where all the musicians combine to glorious effect.

There are the customary sumptuous notes, with essays on the music, ancient Greek & Roman slavery, the slave trade in Africa, Christian slavery in the Mediterranean in the Modern Age, the Atlantic slave trade, key dates & texts on slavery through the ages and, perhaps most sobering of all, a portrait of slavery in the world today. All of this is provided in French, English, Spanish, Catalan, German & Italian.

The sound is well up to the customary standards of the label and this, as well as the musicianship. is even more impressive considering that it emanates from a single concert performance in July 2015. The audience is completely silent until the richly deserved applause greets the end of proceedings. As if all of this were not enough, Alia Vox provide a DVD of the performance so that we can enjoy watching - well worth it - as well as listening to this incredible concert; it is a shame that it is issued as a DVD (with compressed stereo only sound) instead of a Blu-ray with the potential to marry hi-res (surround) sound and video - this can be the only possible gripe about the set.

Very strongly recommended & hugely enjoyable (at least musically).

Copyright © 2017 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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