Simply, phenomenal, a landmark release of Spanish music. The more I hear Eliseo Parra y MOSAICO’s Homenaje A Agapito Marazuela, the more I am convinced of my declaration. This album, a musical homage to the massively influential and important Castilian folklorist, musician, and dulzaina master Agapito Marazuela, does so many things right. Released a year after Agapito’s death, Homenaje A Agapito Marazuela was a younger generation’s attempt to honor his 92 years of work the best way they could: by introducing his spirit to their own interpretation of his songs. Rather than stick with traditionalist arrangements and pastiche, under the leadership of percussionist/electronics Eliseo Parra, they bring these age old songs into our modern time by sussing out of them all that makes them timeless through the same sheer experimental irreverence that originally brought them into fruition.
Born to a family of muleteers in Valverde de Majano, Segovia, in 1891, Agapito Marazuela was the last person you would expect to play such a massive role in the development of contemporary Spanish music. It was from a very young age, traveling with his parents selling mules, that Agapito would first hear the early folk music of Spain played by itinerant musicians. This music, played on dulzaina and tamboril fascinated him. So, instantly a love for this tradition was born. This wasn’t enough to push his life into the music world, though. At the age of seven, Agapito would encounter something that would change his whole life. Contracting meningitis, Agapito lost his vision completely in one eye, and nearly lost all visibility in the remaining one, rendering him nearly blind. His father, understanding the profoundness of his condition, encouraged him to make up this deficiency by strengthening another: his hearing. At the age of 13, he offered to send Agapito to study dulzaina under the tutelage of Angel Velasco from Valladolid.
Agapito would follow his dad’s advice and master the dulzaina, but something else was competing for his attention. Regardless of his lack of sight, Agapito always loved hearing the guitar and wanted to be able to play this instrument. Unbeknownst to his parents, he travelled to Madrid to study, perform, and make his living as a guitar player. Finding his calling in the cabarets and clubs of the capital, Agapito (the guitar player) enjoyed a period of success throughout Spain and France that came crashing to a halt during the rise of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. In the beginning, Agapito rejoined his study of the dulzaina and gained another purpose. He felt compelled to record and save the rapidly disappearing Castilian Folk song. Raising money to compete in the National Folk Prize, he won the contest with Cancionero de Castilla. Afterward, he was commissioned by the Centro de Estudios Históricos to start a new phase in his life: collecting Castilian folk and romantic songs.
Agapito the archiver then had to deal with another set back in his life. Agapito, a devoted anti-fascist, and communist, was captured twice by the Franco regime and sentenced to serve nearly six years of jail time. In jail, Agapito would pass his time trying to teach guitar and dulzaina to his inmates, and perform (when possible) to supplement his meager rations. Once he left prison, he would no longer be able resume the life of a performer. Agapito instead turned towards a life teaching the music he had heard and collected for so long, starting a dulzaina school that became the foundation where Segovianos could come and study, learn, and play their increasingly forgotten folk music.
As an archiver, cataloguing songs by memory – remember, this was still the time before cheap portable recorders existed – Agapito would travel as a teacher through the smallest villages of Segovia, Valladolid, and Avila, entrusting a collaborator to transcribe the music he would make a point to never forget. How would he stumble on this songs? Simply by asking those villagers who were frowned upon as backwards, illiterate, and not worth bringing into a modern Spain, to sing them the songs of love, pain, and remembrance that they held in their tradition. You see, at a time, when the Francoist regime was stressing a repressive homogenic Spain, with a retreat from the rural into the urban, here was Agapito giving life to the music of the countryside that many thought was too worthless, backward, and pointless to conserve. Over 300 songs that could have been lost to time, would owe their continued existence thanks to Agapito’s tireless work. A patrimony for a whole nation saved by a man who was nearly stamped out trying to save it. It wouldn’t be until the mid 1960s, when his Cancionera Segoviano would be published after finally escaping the censorship of the Francoist regime.
All of that, is why we’re here. Eliseo Parra, a much younger musician, might not have traveled the same road as Agapito to get there – born and raised in Valladolid, then, as a teenager, a Barcelona resident – but he had the same lingering passion that moved Agapito. It was in Valladolid, that Eliseo would listen to nearly all those songs Agapito had worked tirelessly to record on paper and to memory. When he became a professional musician in Barcelona, and then in turn joined Rock, Jazz, and salsa bands (notably the psych rock outfit Sardineta), there was something, some nagging feeling always pointing him back to his roots. Working with folk musician Maria del Mar Bonet, he encountered all that music, music from the fields, from his grandparent’s land, that just felt natural – things that had to be in his musical DNA. When he joined MOSAICO in the early 80s it was explicitly for the purpose of treating new generations to that same music, he did it with the same spirit Agapito had.
Agapito, when he turned back to a life of performing on the dulzaina, he refused to play it as it had been done for countless eras. No, he knew the limitations of the instrument. Rather than accept them, he modified his dulzaina (with metal reeds) to be able to play these new, forgotten songs that required this larger range. In MOSAICO, Eliseo still gives you glimpses of the unmistakable dulzaina melodies and music of Agapito, but in their homage they do something far more important. Together, as a group, they add a whole lot of new things brilliantly, defiantly to these songs – Agapito’s and theirs – that keeps them new and renewable. I just gotta say, you’re in for a treat…
Agapito Marazuela, teacher. Today I remember your work in renovating the work of the Mosaico band. Roots entangled in the land, of a village that we are. The sincere fury of a gentle wind that recovers the old sense of what we continue to feel, loving, fighting. The dulzaina and the Castilian box are paired with the drum and electronic sounds. The usual thing comes alive with tomorrow’s perspective. Voices announcing a new color, guitar, winds. The melody of a saxophone. One jot. Followers. The emotion of learning letters without the capacity to be forgotten. It’s the party, let’s dance. It is the light, let us dream.
– Victor Claudin (Dedication from Homenaje A Agapito Marazuela.)