Guitarras en Haria Festival Internacional; review
There were no signs at 4.00 pm that this was yet the case, and with the gala concert not scheduled to start until 7.00 pm we had time to dip into Arietta for omelette and chips and a coffee.
Later, queuing outside El Aljibe de Haria, we realised that once again we had fallen foul of Haria´s seeming inability to make transparent their ticket allocation policy. None of the posters or fliers we had seen had mentioned the need for a ticket. Instead they carried only a flash advert saying in Spanish that admission would be ´free until full.´ Talking to other ticketless souls we now learned that tickets had been allocated (as with the circus a few weeks ago, so we should have known better) from the town hall and that admission without a ticket, albeit a free ticket, was simply not going to happen as they had all been given out. Eventually, with only minutes to kick off time, a lady turned up to return four tickets that couldn´t be used and gave them to Dee and I and another British couple, without whom we might not have stayed the course. I am sure, given what we witnessed, that we shall, all four of us, be eternally grateful.
We saw two female guitarists give wonderful, solo acoustic shows, each playing in quite distinctive styles. There was also a departure from traditional guitar festival practice, with the introduction of an accordion player, delivering tango interpretations and a female vocalist and player of a bhodran-like instrument then being accompanied by the accordionist in a unique style of accordion playing of seemingly random, single notes.
There were only four or five seats left unclaimed out of the allocated eighty, but having only acquired our tickets late in the day we were right on the back row. The acoustics picked up the unplugged instruments quite exquisitely but every slight scrape of a chair, a shuffle in a handbag or a muffled whisper about the brilliance of an artist became part of the soundtrack, too.
Nevertheless, nothing could detract from the wonderful delivery by each of tonight´s artists.,
The first of these, Ebru Bas, took to the stage at the front of the long, narrow half of what is a strangely shaped basement room. She said Ola in about twenty different languages, just to make sure she touched all bases, before gently finger picking the opening to her performance.
In her second number her trait of working a constant slide down the neck of the guitar had created sounds that were at once romantic and playful, but her third piece also showed her ability to create rise and fall, with some of her finger-picking creating almost harp-like sounds. Ebru´s closing work brought all the abilities shown on the previous three to blend together, with her hand, higher up the neck, creating a string of beautiful motifs.
Argentinian guitarist, Victoria Pagola, was our next performer and it was immediately obvious from the seated position she adopted that we should expect a different mood and sound from this part of the concert. Virginia cuddled her guitar into her shoulder, so that it was almost in an upright position, and throughout her performance I admired the way she slapped the strings over the body of the guitar whilst simultaneously picking at strings as she did so. This created a unique sound as she caressed her instrument, invoking whispers and confidantes and secrets. Her second piece was instantly recognisable as an Argentine Tango with its demonstrable strength.
Virginia´s guitar seemed to speak clearly identifiable vocabulary in her third offering, to which she then added an unusual slapping technique to create drama, softened by a subtle use of harmonics.
This further use of ´slap and tickle´ (my own invented description for the way she banged the strings with the palm of her hand and simultaneously plucked out notes, too) lent a unique element to her playing.
A generation of American songwriters, in the eighties, like Guy Clark were amazed by the performances by the previous generation of guitar players, and Guy always voiced his amazement in a line of his own songs when he said ´I have heard Doc Watson play The Columbus Stockade Blues´ as if to imply he would never hear anything like that again. Well, I have heard Victorian Pagola ´slap and tickle´ her guitar.
It would have been a tough call for any guitarist to follow the two musicians we had just heard, so I wasn´t too surprised when the next act was introduced as Gerardo Agnese, a male exponent of the bandonean. His delivery of two separate tangoes included a huge swelling sound and an added hand-crafted reverb. It was powerful, foot stomping stuff but it would be when the next guest was brought to the stage that Gerardo would excel.
Mara Szachniuk is also a singer and musician from Argentina. She joined Gerardo and, accompanying herself on a bhodran-type instrument, she sang work she said was from North Argentina. To me, though, that whole sound, at once soulful, mournful and plaintive echoed what I consider to be Native American Indian music. Her voice even reminded me of artists like Buffy St. Marie and Rattlesnake Annie who brought such music to global awareness in the nineteen seventies. Mara and Gerardo were then joined by another Argentinian guitarist, Luis Alberto Saria. The music the three of them then created was like nothing I have ever heard, as the bhodran created that sound of ´distant drums´ to accompany Mara´s keening vocals, and the guitar played motifs below them,… and then filling every nook and cranny that might be left in his already full sound, Gerardo poked and prodded and pulled and pushed his instrument to moan and sigh around them.
We bought one of Mara´s CD albums, in a beautifully hand-crafted and bound sleeve, on our way out after the concert
That might, too, be the perfect description of the concert we had just seen: ´hand crafted music all beautifully bound together.´