Last week at Terraza 7 Train Cafe I saw POR EL AGUA DE GRANADA … CANCIONERO LORQUIANO, a collaboration of the Spanish singer Lara Bello and the guitarist Eric Kurimski to present renderings of Federico García Lorca’s poems and lyrics. As it happens, Bello is the very first person I would turn to for such an endeavor. It is not just that she is from Granada, near which Lorca was born and in which he was murdered. It has as much to do with the particular insight Bello has into musical and cultural roots and in the especial style of her song-making.
Bello’s work tends to be filed under “world music” or “fusion”, but I would call it music as self-discovery; there is nothing promiscuous in the genres she explores; she decidedly does not “appropriate” them, as the jargon goes, but finds them within herself and the Andalusian traditions of her birth, be they Arabic, or North African, or that confluence of cultural forms, including flamenco, that we call Gypsy. She explores, as did Lorca, that which was already sown in the soil of her culture, aspects of the landscape rather than impositions upon it, an attitude toward the material that meshes perfectly with the type of vocalist she is.
Some singers internalize songs like naturalistic actors, inhabiting characters that express themselves through the lyrics; others treat the voice as a musical instrument, as part of a sound texture, with less attention to literal content. Bello, for her part, externalizes the lyric in symbolic imagery, with gesture, costume, stage property, and vocally, with tonal inflection. She is, in short, a teller of songs. She peels off layers of costume, and turns the pieces into props, cradling them in her arms, or pulling a blood-red streamer from her chest as though from the sinews of her heart. The nimble significations of her hands leave figures in the air, and her spine undulates with lyrical imagery like a willow over the waters.
It is hard to think of more suitable subject matter for Bello than Lorca’s verse, which is imagistic and largely non-characterological, centered on objects and things of the earth, simile and metaphor. Kurimski’s guitar work becomes a piece with Bello’s externalizations and the two have some very well-calibrated moments of call-and-response style recitation, in both Spanish and English. I should like to see Bello – and perhaps Kurimski as well – involved one day with Lorca’s dramatic work, which is also imagistic and has a tragic musicality.