Back in 2013 we learned there was an Irish folk music band based in Seville named STOLEN NOTES, and we enjoyed their second CD: ‘The Loot’. Now in they came back with their recent album: ‘The Ocean Road’, and thus we had the chance to know a few other things about STOLEN NOTES, talking with the flutist Juan Jiménez Almaraz.
STOLEN NOTES line up in 2018
Besides Juan Jiménez, who plays traverse flute and tin whistles, the other band members are : José Moreno (bodhran, mandola), Alejo Parra (Uilleann pipes), Rafa Álvarez (accordion, piano, bass guitar) and John Conde (acoustic guitar).
Dismantling the stereotypes
No matter how international or universal ‘Celtic’ music we think is, the fact is that you hear about a band of musicians born in the city of Seville (Andalusia, south Spain) professionally playing Irish folk, and the idea that easily comes to your mind is another quite well known kind of traditional music : Flamenco. Why aren’t they playing that!? I guess in the past it also took a while to finally understand that there could be superb: English bluesmen, Norwegian jazz ensembles or Japanese opera singers, although they were born thousands of miles away from Memphis, New Orleans or Milan. And that is precisely how things have been for STOLEN NOTES. Juan and Rafa had a background in classical music, John was a rock guitarist, and the rest just learned ‘Celtic’ music because they loved it. Of course, all of them had strengthened their knowledge by listening lots of records and frequently travelling to Ireland, Scotland and Asturias (N-Spain). And today they are just playing folk music the way they enjoy it the most, and in their own style, no matter if the songs are inspired by the traditional music from Ireland, French Britany, Galicia (NW-Spain), etc … Some people may find influences from Lunasa, Buille, Guidewires, or even Michael McGoldrick style in Alejo’s bagpipe playing.
Playing and writing folk music
Most of STOLEN NOTES songs were composed by themselves. Thus you will find tunes such as ‘The Seven Pilgrims’, a medley with two parts ‘The Newyorkers’ and ‘The Ruinous Happy House’. This is an irregular odd meter 5/8 beat inspired by the music from film scores, with a two minute long prelude depicting an ‘in crescendo’ thrilling pilgrimage. The on foot journey arrives to a joyful homecoming in a crowded party in an old cottage. Both tunes are composed by the piper Alejo Parra. There is a lament, ‘Air for Liam’, one of the few really traditional tunes in ‘The Ocean Road’. It is an old song (‘Greenfields of Canada’) on the union pipes, humbly and regretfully dedicated to their admired piping master Liam O’Flynn, who left us in March 2018. The set ‘Swing Five’, takes a start on the accordion with an improvisation that turns into a sequence of three melodies, also in 5/8 beat written by Rafa and Juan. The album comes to an end with ‘Green before nightfall’, an evocative song composed by the guitarist, John Conde, after coming back from his first trip to Sligo (West Ireland).
Audiences for ‘Celtic’ music in Spain
Stolen Notes’ love for folk music is mostly based on the Irish tradition, but they also get inspired by the music from all the other ‘Celtic’ territories: Scotland, French Britany, Galicia, Asturias, …. And the fact is that although their biggest ‘fan club’ is in Seville, the other part of Spain where they have been most welcomed is (logically) in the folk music festivals which take place in those northern peninsular regions. They got the first prize in the Proyecto Runas contest, in the 2011 Ortigueira folk festival, in Galicia. Stolen Notes has also achieved a great success in places such as the city of Zaragoza (Aragón region), and in the Irish Fleadh that takes place in the city of Cáceres (Extremadura region). Nevertheless, they recognize that finding stages to play Irish music in Spain is not an easy job, mostly when they cannot claim any kind of ‘genetic heritage’ when they talentedly perform their traditional repertoire. Maybe their chances to play this style of music are getting better at this moment, but it is still hard for them to avoid getting labelled as: “Those Andalusian guys who play Irish music…”. They suspect that their opportunities to get more gigs in Spain would flourish without that “stigma”.
But they cannot complain, besides their domestic career Stolen Notes’ instrumental folk has been also welcomed in countries such as Portugal and Holland. So they are now getting ready for a small tour in Ireland in 2019.
Just one final (curious) piece of information; the musical instruments played by Stolen Notes are:
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Stolen Notes (unknown/website).