Gallery owner Fred Mann has started his own record label, to
complement the works in his gallery. The first release on his
new Fred Label are typically eclectic, crossing the boundaries
between popular and serious cultures. So it is perhaps appropriate
that one of these discs, Catherine Bott’s Convivencia,
is itself about crossing boundaries between cultures.
a Hispanophile, Bott’s latest recital explores the way that
Spanish Moors, Christians and Jews managed to live together
harmoniously. This is the meaning of the word Convivencia.
Though we tend to associate Spain with the later intolerance
of the Inquisition, this disc is about that other, more tolerant
Spain where different faiths managed to jog along together and
influence each other.
order to convey the way the Moorish patterns of music are interwoven
into the music of medieval Spain, Bott has gathered together
a group of musicians which includes those of both Western and
Arabic training. Bott herself provides her usual expressively
mellifluous soprano, David Miller plays a variety of fretted
instruments (Vihuela, Lute and Guitar), Stephen Henderson plays
percussion (Tar Tablah Tbilat and Douf) and Abdul Salam Kheir
plays oud and contributes his own distinctively Middle-Eastern
CD booklet does not identify exactly who is playing on what,
though we can make an educated guess. Most of the tracks on
the disc use a restrained selection from the available singers
and players and only towards the end do all four come together
in a wonderfully infectious knees-up – a mouwashah called
Zaranil mahboub on which Bott sings backing vocals in
Arabic to Kheir’s lead vocals.
disc opens with Kheir performing one of his own compositions,
where he has written the words and the music. Bott follows this
with a 16th century song, a courtly version of a
folk-song which makes its appearance towards the end of the
recital. In this song, Bott is accompanied by David Miller.
These lute accompanied songs are the back-bone of the disc,
but Bott even dares some unaccompanied singing to great effect.
The songs may be Spanish, but the subject matter is often Moorish.
also simply reads some of the poems to instrumental accompaniment,
including a haunting poem by Ibn-Zuhr, a poet from Seville who
died in 1200. For this poem, Bott uses a lovely translation
by Jason Webster.
I have already
mentioned Zaranil mahboub, the tradition Moorish mouwashah.
There are two of these on the disc, the first performed just
by Zheir. Both are wonderfully infectious.
does not end on the lively high note of Zaranil mahboub.
She follows it with two final songs to lute accompaniment,
first the original folk-song on which the second track is based
and then finally an alva, or dawn song. The song is in
Spanish, but alva is an arabic word, surely an apt example
of the sort of mix and match which this disc is exploring.
As ever Catherine
Bott is a wonderfully communicative performer. Her Spanish sounds,
to these ears at least, very idiomatic and, more importantly,
she allows herself to tell a story. The results are infectious
The other performers
all sound relaxed and accompany Bott well. I suspect that they
had an enjoyable time making this disc. At least the performances
have the feel of musicians relaxing and enjoying themselves,
allowing this to communicate their enthusiasm to us.
A couple of minor
quibbles. At 60 minutes running time, I would rather have liked
a couple of extra items on the disc. And the text in the CD
booklet is so stylishly small, that it sends you running for
your reading glasses.
Do buy this disc
– it wears its scholarship lightly. Whilst many of the pieces
have probably cropped up elsewhere on disc, here Bott and her
merry band shine new light and make new connections.