Carola Ortiz’s Cantareras

cover, CantarerasOther than the Galician and Asturian piping music of Carlos Núñez, my first exposure to the non-Spanish language music of Spanish Iberia came with Eliseo Parra’s lively 2002 album Viva Quien Sabe Querer. Even though I have reviewed quite a few albums from Catalonia in the past few years (thanks to Microscopi!) Parra’s record was the first thing I thought of as I listened to Carola Ortiz’s Cantareras. And it turns out it was no coincidence, since Parra apparently has been something of a mentor to Ortiz, and in fact appears on this album as well, as a writer and arranger as well as a guest vocalist!

Cantareras is a stunning exploration of the women’s oral tradition of the Iberian Peninsula by the multi-talented Ortiz, who has taken the simple songs originally sung by the women who fetched water from the springs and rivers for their community’s cisterns and transformed them into rich vessels of modern, jazzy electro-folk.

A creative musician and music researcher, Ortiz is the daughter of a jazz musician and a mother connected to the theater world. An energetic composer, producer and performer, she has released three previous albums: Sirin in 2016; Spirala in 2018 and Pecata Beata in 2021. As a member of the Iberian percussion orchestra ‘Coetus’ she has shared the stage with the likes of Eliseo Parra, Rocío Márquez, Raül Refree, Raúl Rodriguez, Rosalía, Silvia Perez Cruz, and more, and has appeared on more than twenty albums by artists from all over the world.

Cantareras contains reworked traditional music from Valencia, Galicia, Asturia, Sevilla, and Mallorca, as well as from villages and towns throughout Spain like León, Tarragona and Peñaparda. It’s immediately arresting from the opening moments of the first track “La Doncella Guerrera (The Warrior Maiden)” which combines traditional lyrics and from León with a traditional melody from Sevilla, delivered by flamenca singer and bassist Rosario “La Tremendita” Guerrero via a dirty mic over a rich sonic pallette combining ancient and modern percussion from many cultures, double bass, synthesizers, woodwinds, plucked strings, and layered backing vocals.

Flamenco influence is all over the album, starting with the opening track and very strongly in the next, “Ahechao De Las Malas Lenguas,” a traditional song with a couple of verses added by Parra; there’s cajon-style percussion thumping out the 6/8 rhythm, a guitar, and what sounds like accordion but may be a synth. Ditto the Valencian “L’angelet del Vetlatori” with maracas standing out in an arrangement built on synth beats and ghostly backing vocals.

Even more alluring are the four numbers that soar on choral vocals from two different groups, El Coro Barcelona and Adufeiras de Salitre with Xabier Díaz. (The choral arrangements, particularly those of Adufeiras de Salitre, immediately reminded me of a couple of tracks on Y La Bamba’s 2016 album Ojos del Sol, one of my favorite records of that year.) My favorite tracks so far are the Asturian song “Muñeira de Turmaleo” with the lively choral singing of Adufeiras de Salitre and Ortiz on clarinets; the flamenco serrana “La Matadora” with soothing accompaniment from Coro Barcelona, burbling synths and stunning bass clarinet by Ortiz; and of course “Canción de Bodas,” a traditional song from the tiny village of Peñaparda, a duet between Ortiz and Parra with yet another stunning arrangement.

On the evidence of Cantareras, Carola Ortiz is a prodigious musical talent and collaborator. This project’s original idea, conceptualization, musical composition and lyric adaptations are all by her, and she arranged all the music along with Mario G. Cortizo, who is listed as producer. I’ve run out of superlatives for this music. Cheers all around to all involved and especially Carola Ortiz.

(Microscopi, 2024)

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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