For this week’s post, I’ve decided to continue exploring the folk music of Spain’s many autonomous communities, each with its own particular type of traditional music – often multiple types. Previously, I’ve posted tracks from Galicia, Asturias, Andalucia, and Basque Country – and now we’ll move in a southeast direction to what is officially called Comunitat Valenciana, or the autonomous community of Valencia, which roughly reflects the borders of the medieval Kingdom of Valencia (1010-1238).
Several regions in Spain feature music with powerful unaccompanied vocals – Asturias and mountainous Cantabria being two examples. I do not know the origin of this often jaw-dropping trait in Valencia, but I have to think it may be related either to rural, peasant life (as it apparently was in Asturias and Cantabria), or at the very least related to performance outdoors. This piece, by Antonio Soriano and company, is a mix. The vocals are accompanied by a muted drum only and handled by multiple performers in succession, but are bracketed and bridged by duets on the dulzaina (also dulçaina), the extremely loud double-reed shawm of Spain, and the aforementioned tabalet drum (called tambor on the label). The piece is an “albaes” which, according to my research, is the Valencian version of the aubades, or alboradas – the “dawn song.” Traditionally known as a song sung by lovers before they part in the morning, the albaes is also sung after Midnight Mass at Christmas. It is also commonly known as a song type which features biting social commentary – the singer is accompanied by the “versaor,” who spontaneously invents the lyrics on the spot. This is a wonderfully unusual song type for public performance: a blistering outdoor screech of an instrument accompanied by a tiny little drum, singers who bellow amazing vocal runs, and a silent person who whispers lyrics into the singer’s ears. For a visual idea of what this may look like, please check out this video here.
This albaes was recorded in Valencia by engineer H.E. Davidson on September 30th, 1928. He must have known talent as this take is a keeper, made even more real by the coughing and throat-clearing throughout. Davidson spent much of his career with the Gramophone company recording in Spain. In 1928 alone, he was in Spain for virtually the entire year, recording upwards of 600 sides in Madrid, Valencia, Bilbao, and Barcelona. According to Paul Vernon’s article The Engineers (Vintage Jazz Mart 94, 1994), Davidson led an expat’s life, spending the better part of eight years traipsing around Spain recording artists, rarely returning to England, and frequently disappearing for months at a time with no explanation, much to the chagrin of the home office. As for the artists themselves, little is known (a typical refrain around here, alas), although Evaristo Payá, who accompanies Antonio Soriano, has been documented on 78s since ca. 1905.
Coupling Number: AE 2333
Face Number: 2-264180
Matrix Number: BJ1436