The word “ethereal” is often used to describe poetry and/or music that is particularly otherworldly. But rarely does one come across a volume of work that is so quintessentially spectral that it stops the breath and suspends the heartbeat. Sofía Rei’s album, El Gavilán is one such volume. The album takes its name from one of Violeta Parra’s most famous poems and it makes of itself a sublime homage to Miss Parra, perhaps the most iconic figure in Chilean culture, along with Pablo Neruda and Miss Parra’s own brother, Nicanor.
The very thought of attempting to pay homage to someone of Violeta Parra’s stature itself is daunting. The pioneer of Chilean nueva canción the work that Miss Parra’s accumulated during her lifetime – and her legend in death – is virtually impossible to contemplate paying tribute to her substantial body of work in print and song. However, Sofía Rei is herself an artist of considerable talent and is not only up to the challenge but has also created a work of enduring beauty using just eight of Violeta Parra’s songs to bring not only the work of Miss Parra to life but to seemingly resurrect, perpetuate and grow the legend herself in the process.
El Gavilán is a work of great imagination. While continuing to treat the music of Violeta Parra as an essential part of Latin American tradition Miss Rei’s genius here appears to be that she has elevated that very music and, indeed the conception of (Miss Parra’s) nueva canción to the realm of “the legendary”, where the life of Violetta Parra resides in present memory. Succeeding in doing this is a titanic gesture on the part of Miss Rei as she seems to have re-imagined the poetry and music of Violeta Parra’s creations in a sort of rarefied incarnation of their original concreteness. Sofía Rei exhibits a gleamingly blended tonal quality, and an articulate engagement with the lyrical texts by Violeta Parra.
Using the studio as a kind of vast and open canvas Miss Rei creates a feeling of the great expanse of Violeta Parra’s world. But Miss Rei also takes this to a whole new level with her spare arrangements, lonesome charango, and the weaving in of the mystical lines of Marc Ribot’s guitar (and Violeta Parra’s son, Angel’s guitar on “Run Run Se Fue Pa’l Norte”). Working with four sound engineers – Eli Crews, Daniel Sanint, Marc Urselli and Philip Weinrobe – could not have been an easy task. Still a consistently dry acoustic has been maintained throughout the exquisite recording, which peaks during “El Gavilán” making this an album to absolutely die for.
Track List: 1: Casamiento de Negros; 2: Arriba Quemando el Sol; 3: Una Copla Me Ha Cantado; 4: Maldigo del Alto Cielo; 5: La Lavandera; 6: Corazón Maldito; 7: El Gavilán; 8: Run Run Se Fue Pa’l Norte.
Personnel: Sofía Rei: all vocals, charango (4), caja vidalera (2, 6), body percussion and wine glass (8); Marc Ribot: all guitars (1 – 3, 5 – 7); Angel Parra: guitar (8).