Interview with Ana Alcaide, performer of Rising Sephardic and world music

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Ana Alcaïde
Photo by Lucía Herrero

Spanish musician Ana Alcaide has become a household name in Europe thanks to her new album La Cantiga del Fuego which reached number three on the world music charts in Europe. The album will be available in Europe and North America in November 2012.

Angel Romero of World Music Central interviewed Ana Alcaide to learn more about her journey and La Cantiga del Fuego.

When did you start to learn music?

At six o’clock. My parents detected that I had a gift for music and signed me up for after-school programs at my school.

What was your first musical instrument?

The violin.

How many instruments do you play now?

Mainly the nyckelharpa, the violin and the song. I have an ability to play instruments, especially bowed strings (rabel, kamanche, other violins). There are many others that appeal to me as well and that I use in studio recordings, such as the Celtic harp and the santur. The problem is finding the time to study everything!

Your main instrument is the nyckelharpa, a Swedish instrument little known in Spain. How did you find out?

Ana Alcaide with her nyckelharpa
Photo by Lucía Herrero

When I finished my studies in biology, I received an Erasmus scholarship to study in Sweden and I lived in Lund for a year. Attracted by the great Swedish musical tradition, in my free time I tried to attend all possible musical events and in one of them I saw a nyckelharpa for the first time. I fell in love with its sophistication and the depth of sound.

Where did you learn to play it?

Two years later, in Toledo. Until then, I didn’t have the economic means to get one. Then I started playing in the streets of Toledo on weekends, because during the week I studied the violin at the conservatory. A few years later, I returned to Sweden to complete training in mu music and deepen my knowledge of nyckelharpa.

Your latest album is called La Cantiga del Fuego. What does it mean?

Ana Alcaide – La Cantiga del Fuego

The name comes from a traditional Sephardic song from Thessaloniki in Greece, which describes a fire that took place in this city. This title seemed very symbolic and suggestive to me, and I used it as a common thread throughout the entire work: “La cantiga del fuego is the voice that has always been inside and that leads us to be what we are, that ancient powerful voice that has resonated with us since ancient times. ‘

The songs of Las canciones de La Cantiga del Fuego have a Sephardic character but they are original. What sources did you use to write the lyrics and compose the music?

I like to compose new melodies in the old language. The composition process is a very special phase: I let myself be carried away by my instincts and I leave the rational behind. When an idea arises, I try to mold it and find the song. I am passionate and have fun arranging and producing my musical ideas. This is what I appreciate the most!

When I compose a song I always start with the melody, the lyrics come later. Maybe because I feel more instrumental than a singer, and it’s in the world of melodies that I feel it’s easier to create. For this album I had the collaboration of my great friend and poet Beatriz Moreno-Cervera, who wrote two of the lyrics to my melodies. It was a really fun and rewarding collaboration, which I am sure will continue in the future!

Which musicians did you use to carry out this Project?

Guitarist Josete Ordoñez, one of the participants in the Cantiga del Fuego

It was my first big production experience and I learned a lot. I used great musicians and friends who provided special and enriching tones, expanding and coloring my musical ideas. The list of collaborators is very long and begins with the musicians with whom I work regularly. On ‘La Cantiga del Fuego’ you can listen to the psaltery, the santur and the oud of Bill cooley, winds by Jaime Muñoz, bass by Renzo ruggiero, guitars Josete Ordoñez and Rafa del Teso, percussion by Diego lopez and Sergey Sapryshev. In addition, there are very specific special collaborations like the voice of the Iranian artist. Reza Sheyesteh, the Greek lyre of Dimitri Psonis and the hansa veena of Ido Segal.

Are you planning to take the La Cantiga del Fuego stage?

The album was released in May in Spain, but I’ve been performing live since January. I have given over 40 concerts this year, most of them in Spain and a few in France, Italy and Portugal. It has been a very intense and productive year. In the future, I plan to do international tours.

La Cantiga del Fuego, which is an independent production, reached number 3 in the European world music charts. What does this mean to you and have you increased your sales?

Ana Alcaide with the nyckelharpa
Photo by Lucía Herrero

Without a doubt, it is a great recognition that fills me with hope and motivation to continue! I honestly did not expect this, and I am very grateful to everyone who has supported me and I feel determined to continue giving the best of myself. These types of recognitions do not have an immediate direct effect on record sales, but rather positive long-term consequences, such as increased publicity and international recognition.

I understand that the British label Arc Music will release the album in November

Yes, I am very excited !! ARC Music is going to release the album all over the world and it’s a really good opportunity to get international exposure for my music, as well as to reach places that I can’t reach. I am very happy to work with the ARC team.

You live in the ancient city of Toledo, a city where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together. Paco de Lucia lived in Toledo recently. What does it mean to live in Toledo? And why do you think it attracts musicians and other artists?

Ana Alcaide in the streets of Toledo
Photo by Lucía Herrero

Toledo is a beautiful city which attracts many artists due to its extremely rich historical past, no wonder it is known as the “city of three cultures”. It is a city that lets itself be rediscovered again and again. For me that means an inspiring daily environment, and I love being carried away by its influence. I have lived there for 10 years and this environment has provided me with the necessary ingredients to develop my musical and artistic career: spirituality, inspiration, history. I love living in Toledo, I carry it with me.

Lately, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in Sephardic music in Israel, Spain, the United States, Europe and several Mediterranean countries. Why do you think there is such interest?

In Spain, the interest is linked to tourist reasons, because we have a Jewish heritage that has not been sufficiently valued. I don’t know the reasons in other countries. In any case, the history of the Sephardic peoples is really interesting: it is a fine example of coexistence, exchange and cultural enrichment.

If you could put together your ideal musicians or groups, who would you call?

Ana Alcaïde
Photo by Lucía Herrero

What a difficult question! Above all, I admire great producers and songwriters, such as Gustavo Santaolalla, Nycky Ryan (Enya), Mike Oldfield, Karl Jenkins (Adiemus), Alan Parsons and Quincy Jones. I love songs from bands like Abba and Roxette. I understand 360º music.

Spain is suffering from a great economic crisis. How does this affect musicians?

Being a musician in Spain is not considered serious or honorable work. It is not well recognized academically or socially valued. There is no support for musical creation, nor for projects, nor for tours. The few media available are practically designated, because Spain is a very corrupt country. In general, people do not understand that we musicians are professionals who play a role in society, like other professionals. We do not have a professional association that represents or supports us, and we are very disunited among ourselves. The fundamental problem is a great lack of culture, a huge lack of vision that feeds the great cultural crisis that is plaguing Spain. The sweeping cuts to education and the arts show great ignorance on the part of officials and predict a very bleak future. It’s very disheartening to live in such an environment with so little motivation. As a Spaniard I am not at all proud of this situation and sometimes I want to run away.

What music are you listening to now?

Ana Alcaïde
Photo by Lucía Herrero

Lately I’ve been listening to soundtracks. I find the work of combining music and cinema very interesting. The last album I bought was the Harry Gregson-Williams “Kingdom of Heaven” soundtrack.

What do you like to do in your spare time ?

I travel a lot. I always like to have a trip in mind so that I can dream about it and plan it. I am very drawn to other cultures and I am learning more about them. I like to go out in the countryside, especially the mountains. I really enjoy reading and cooking. I am interested in natural sciences, herbal medicine and natural remedies.

Which country (ies) would you like to visit?

In general everything! Would love to see India, Korea, Thailand and South Asia. I would also like to see Albania. I would also like to know more about Latin America, where people seem happy and cheerful. I would like to go to Chile and Costa Rica. My next trip is to Mexico, a country that I know and love. I like to discover the places in depth. I would rather stay in one place for a long time and get to know it well than travel superficially.

If someone were to travel to Toledo, what places would you recommend for sightseeing, eating and listening to music?

Círculo de Arte Toledo (Spain). Photo courtesy of the Círculo de Arte Toledo

Above all, my recommendation is that they forget the maps and get lost in its streets. Aside from the main monuments, I recommend them to visit historical spaces which only open on certain days and which are quite charming (organized by the consorcio de Toledo). Also the thematic routes, there are some which are really varied and interesting.

For food: La Abadía. To have a coffee or attend a concert, the Círculo de Arte de Toledo.

What other projects do you have?

My family. I have a beautiful son and a wonderful partner! I like to be with them. If I had more time I would study some natural medicine, philosophy and art history.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music for many years. He founded the worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com websites. Angel is also a co-founder of the Transglobal World Music Chart.

Angel has also produced and remastered world music studio albums and compilations for labels such as Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts and Music of the World.

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