Loyal readers of this blog have probably noticed various winks and nods to a project that I've been pursuing. Finally, after nearly two years of work, I can finally divulge all the details in this space.
The name Gitanjali Jain has made frequent appearances here over the past year or so: we both perform together in the live salsa/hip-hop band Mantecoso (who also backed up Latin soul legend Joe Bataan), and we both had the privilege to record with Matana Roberts on Coin Coin: Gens de couleur libres. A strong vocalist with a background in theatre, we initially met randomly at a bar in New York. I realized that having your drinking neighbour speak French is common on Boulevard St-Laurent but not on Avenue C.
Gitanjali knew that I was very inspired by Latin American poetry in the past - two pieces from the Indigone album, Cycles, are based on Neruda and Borges, respectively - and had intentions to work with more of it in the future. While I was in Banff in 2010, she e-mailed me an anonymous, pre-Hispanic Mexican poem she had found. I wrote music to it in two days. Upon my return to Montreal, she showed me the poetry of her uncle, Francisco Serrano. A couple of his poems immediately lit the same spark that Neruda and Borges touched, as well. At some point in this process, we said, "Why don't we turn this into a full-on song cycle?" Months of writing, rehearsal, demo-ing, revising, and support from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec later, the song cycle is here: ALICUANTA.
Alicuanta (aliquant): "A number or expression which is not an exact divisor of a given number or expression" (Oxford Dictionary of Mathematics)
It's an apt title, for what we've created is not really any one thing in particular: musically, we've drawn from Mexican folkloric traditions, modern jazz, and contemporary classical. Looking down the road at future presentations, we plan on utilizing Gitanjali's strong background in theatre, but this isn't a play, nor an opera, nor a musical. It's somewhere in between.
The texts are mostly drawn from Serrano's anthology, Aquí es ninguna parte, though there are some poems drawn from other books of his, as well as that pre-Hispanic poem that started it all. Mr. Serrano describes the poems we've selected for the song cycle as "songs of love and lost love, pain and hope, rhythms that evoke surprise, joy, gratitude, and loneliness and longing and nostalgia. In short, a passionate record of the forgotten wonder of being alive."
The songs are bridged by improvised interludes set to a poem entitled "Elegía trágica," written in homage to General Francisco Roque Serrano (1889-1927). Investigating the history of the General has been as much a part of this project as the other poetry and composition; a leading figure of the Mexican Revolution, General Serrano was brutally assassinated by his opponent while running for presidency in 1927. (Yes, that's a gross oversimplification of the events that occurred.) It's a tangled web of betrayal, political corruption and historiography that to this day is still not really clear.
This marks the first time I've collaborated in composition with someone to this degree, on this scale. I'm incredibly grateful to Gitanjali for her co-piloting this project and to the musicians who have played a part in developing this work. I'm proud to announce the premiere of ALICUANTA is Wednesday, December 14 at a beautiful loft called La Cenne. All the details are below:
GITANJALI JAIN & DAVID RYSHPAN PRESENT: ALICUANTA
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2011
LA CENNE (7755 St-Laurent, #300)
8 pm sharp! - $10 (tickets available through email@example.com)
Gitanjali Jain - voice; David Ryshpan - piano/electronics; Sébastien Pellerin - bass; Claudio Palomares - cajón; Mark Nelson - drums; Marjolaine Lambert & Stephanie Park - violins; Lilian Belknap - viola; Bryan Holt - cello.