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Gabriela Lena Frank: El Nascimento de Cifar

I started this weeks posts talking about the plight of women composers, especially non-white composers, as exemplified by Gabriela Lena Frank. But we haven’t heard her music yet. She is writing a lot for orchestras right now. Her Requiem will be premiered in Houston in a few months, the NY Philharmonic recently presented her new Viola Concerto, and there are more new pieces on the way.

She also knows how to write well for the voice. I’m confident that Gabriela’s example to other young women seeking to become composers, and her advocacy for women and composers of color will have an important influence on the folks who present new music and commission new composers. One of her not-yet-completed cycles already has a dozen or so songs that I am fond of.

Songs of Cifar and the Sweet Sea is the setting of an epic poem by Pablo Antonio Cuadra. The protagonist, a sailor named Cifar is destined to sail the greatest lake in Nicaragua. All his life lessons, challenges, and triumphs are a result of his life on the water. It all begins with Cifar’s birth. Here is “El Nascimento de Cifar” by Gabriela Lena Frank. Andrew Garland is the excellent baritone. Warren Jones is at the piano.

Luzmila Carpio: Arawi

We end this week’s look at the songs of the high Andes of Peru by going to the work of Luzmila Carpio, a Bolivian-born woman who sings her own native language of Aymara as well as Quechua, the indigenous language of Perú.  Making a point to sing in native languages over Spanish, Luzmila has been a major proponent of indigenous songs including achieving skill as an instrumentalist, traditionally the purview of men.

Yma Sumac: Virgen Del Sol

Some of the most popular exponents of the Peruvian vocal sound have been odd ones, indeed, and Yma Sumac (1922-2008) certainly fits that bill! The running joke is that she was secretly a Jewish woman (spell her name backwards), but she did have an exotic, uncanny tone to her voice (and an enormous range). Her mystique was perhaps abetted by costume work that hinted at a Hollywoodian take of Egyptian… This video makes me smile every time I watch/listen to it.


Nicomedes Santa Cruz: Que viva mi mama

Continuing our focus on Afro-Peruvian culture, for my third blog, we turn to the work of folklorist, poet, and musician Nicomedes Santa Cruz (1925-1992). In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the life of this amazing and multi-faceted advocate who did so much to advance recognition of black Peruvians. In this “festejo,” a classical black-Peruvian song meant to accompany lively footwork, we hear one of Nico’s most well-known works:

Eva Ayllón: Toro Mata

For my second featured blog, I’d like to continue the thread of female Peruvian composer-singers (begun with Chabuca Granda yesterday) and go to Eva Ayllón, another proponent of Afro-Peruvian culture. This video excerpt from one of Eva’s more glamorous and cosmopolitan live performances is a great example of fusion and modernity both.


Chabuca Granda: La Flor de la Canela

It is a real pleasure to be working with the marvelous musicians and staff of the New York Festival of Song! I’m happy to be a guest blogger this week, sharing my love of music and the human voice with readers, and will start off with a gentle yet quietly powerful bang: La Flor de la Canela (Cinnamon Flower) composed and performed by Chabuca Granda (1920-1983), a creator and proponent of criollo “valsos” (waltzes) infused with Afro-Peruvian rhythms.  This is one of her most famous numbers, the unofficial anthem of Perú’s capital, Lima, and recorded by countless artists.

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