Aegri Somnia (A Sick Man's Dreams): “Ad Augusta per Angusta” (Through Difficulties to Honors).
Besides writing CD reviews and some articles for FolkWorld, around 2012—2014 I made a debatable attempt to play bagpipes, flutes & some percussion instruments in a Spanish folk band named ‘La Bojiganga’. I must admit that in the beginning it was a totally thrilling and fun experience, and most of all it was enrichening about knowing different places and music traditions from all over Spain. But it also soon proved to me how for all the band members, this project was an ambitious journey into a deeper learning and practicing to became an accomplished musician. Meanwhile, for me it was an easy compromise between having fun rehearsing and drinking some beers on Friday nights, and then (frequently) suffering on stage on weekend concerts, trying to get melodies out of my woodwinds in acceptable harmony with the rest of the band. I was smart enough to make a friendly departure from ‘La Bojiganga’ some months after we published our only CD. That way I recovered my internal balance (and also a slightly less exciting life), but on the good side I skipped the last roiled days of the band, where some egos & intrigues thrusted the project into a matted epilogue.
On the most positive side of this experience, I still remember all the many people I met thanks to ‘La Bojiganga’. One of the most committed and sensible musicians I played with in those days, was the singer Cristina R. Galván. The other day, just by pure chance I found a CD from her new project in old town Madrid: “Ad Augusta per Angusta”, which in Latin means: “Through difficulties to honors” (thanks Google). At first glance, the CD booklet resembles some medieval/gothic aesthetics, and even the band’s name “Aegri Somnia” (“A sick man's dreams”), might evocate some dark connection with the years of, let’s say, the bubonic pest.
Then you read the titles and realize that the eleven tunes in the album are quite popular and traditional from central & north Spain (probably some centuries old). And finally when you listen to the record, since the first song (the Galician trad tune, ‘Seran’) you recognize Cristina’s pristine voice and her skills playing tambourines and frame drums, but you also discover a compelling powerful blend with electric guitar, fretless bass, keyboards,... All that is done in a manner which wisely drives this conventional repertoire from the latest generations of Iberian trad musicians, into the fields of hard, heavy, doom, metal, dark,… (sorry, no expert in any of these) rock&roll. The complementary half of Cristina’s (a.k.a. ‘Lady Carrot’) project is her husband Oscar (‘Nightmarer’), playing: electric & acoustic guitar, fretless bass, keyboards/synths, accordion,….
The album continues with ‘Señor Platero’, traditional from Cantabria, the small northern region between Asturias (at the west) and the Basque country. It is followed by ‘La Culebra’ (from Aliste, Zamora province), and again you realize that regardless of how familiar all these melodies might sound, Aegri Somnia have chosen to perform them quite far from their traditional style. Nevertheless, the end result is stunning and innovative, and you have to confront this album as a kind of spin-off from Spanish folk music, keeping some essences from the old style singing and percussion, but combining them with some hard rock in a way that works very effectively, mostly when looking into the details of this selection of old songs. You listen for example to the last one ‘Veneno’ (‘Poison’), whose lyrics start saying: “You gave me water and poison with the intention to kill me,…”, and although you may think it is inspired by the shadows of gothic tales and the obscurities of death metal, you soon realize that both words and melody are a fandango still popular in Andalusia, although being part of a two or three centuries old tradition.
A very interesting album that recovers Spanish traditional music for younger audiences, making use of contemporary musical languages.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Aegri Somnia (unknown/website); (3) Pío Fernández (by Walkin' Tom).