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Routes of Slavery
standout show of year

Jordi Savall pays moving homage to the millions brought to the New World as slaves

By Byron Toben

While Slavery has always been with us since recorded history, it reached an apogee between 1444 and 1888. In that period, 25 million Africans were uprooted from that continent and forcibly shipped to the New World as slaves with repercussions that haunt us to this day.

Not exactly a subject for a fine musical presentation, one would think.

And yet, Catalan musician Jordi Savall has accomplished just that with his “North American” but effectively world premiere of Les routes de l’esclavage, which appeared last November 14 for a packed but only one night stand at the Maison Symphonique. This was arranged by Montréal’s Traquen’Art (founded 1982 by executive director Patrick Darby). Current president is Westmounter Gabriel Safdie.

The format of the piece is a series of recitations interspersed by music and dance preserved or inspired by tribal rhythms of the parts of Africa from which various slaves were plucked. Here, Montreal actor Fayotte Jean provided that thread.

Performers featured included talents from Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Mexico and Venezuela as well as Morocco, Mali and Madagascar.

Routes of Slavery - WestmountMag.ca

Image: Claire Xavier

Performers featured included talents from Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Mexico and Venezuela as well as Morocco, Mali and Madagascar. As interesting as these were, I particularly enjoyed, probably because of familiarity, the gospel/jazzy tunes of The Fairfield Four from the United States. The bulk of the instrumental music was performed by Mr Savall’s own Hesperion XXI, augmented by voices from La Capella Reial de Catalunya.

Besides conceiving and directing the show, Mr. Savell, an expert on early Western music, played the viola de gamba. Since completing his musical studies in Switzerland, he has made over 100 recordings. Among his 15 honours and awards was, together with his late wife, Monserrat Figueras, being named Artists for Peace by UNESCO in 2008.

The Fairfield Four - WestmountMag.ca

The Fairfield Four – Image: courtesy of the artists

The 26-page program and its 23-page supplement (both bilingual French-English) are definitely ‘keepers’ as they detail many historical comments by scribes and participants in the historic population transfers.

First off is none other than Aristotle, some 300 years before Christ, with Humanity divided into Masters and Slaves. Eyewitness comments by Portuguese (1444) and Spanish (1505) precede English (1620) and French (Louis XIV’s ‘Black Code’ of 1685).

Fast forward to 1781, with Thomas Jefferson’s “All men are created equal” omitting inclusion of women and blacks, thence to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and to young Abraham Lincoln in 1855 declaring considering moving to czarist Russia where at least they do not have hypocrisy about the plight of the suppressed serfs.

The 1865 13th amendment to the US constitution abolishes slavery in the USA. (Note Louis XIV’s Black Code abolished it only in 1888.) The recitations end with Martin Luther King’s 1963 declaration “Why We Can’t Wait” calling for reparations for centuries of involuntary servitude.

Heads up

Traquen’Art will present another one night wonder at Maison Symphonique, flamenco artist Diego El Cigala on March 28, 2018 at 8 pm.

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Feature image: Jordi Savall by H. Pouyfourcat

Read also: A Century Songbook 100 years of Jewish Montreal


Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.
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