Castora Herz – Diosas, Heroinas y Difuntas (Goddesses, Heroines and the Dead)

An homage to flamenco through electronic music makes for an exciting, pulsating, club-ready concept record.

I was sold on this fascinating EP simply by the description: Flamenco + Electronica.

Done.

I won’t pretend to know much about the tradition and art form of flamenco (its history; its cultural trappings; its famous artists, past and present), but I love the music. The distinct combination of voice and melody and rhythm is just…visceral.

Bass-forward electronica would seem like a perfect genre-blend. And, so it is here, on this five-track EP produced and remixed by Castora Herz under his label Samain Music.

Let’s handle the music first, which is utterly hypnotic. A mix of woozy, spacey electronica and EDM/club music. Pounding, pulsating beats form the backdrop for the tracks over which Herz has dubbed and remixed versions of songs by five gypsy women flamenco artists, three of them active (Maria José Llergo, Maria Terremoto, and Inés Bacán) and two already dead (Paquera de Jerez and Carmen Amaya). Herz’s beat selection and production on each track enable the listener to hear and appreciate the different vocal tones and musical styles of each of the women artists. Traditionalists will likely be alarmed. But, to my layperson ears (and also as one who is all for experimentation and respectful adaptation of musical traditions), these are exciting, inventive treatments.

The backstory for this EP — which is, ultimately, a concept record — is nearly as interesting as the music. Out of my ignorance, I asked some questions of the label to learn more:

What is Samain Music? Why did you establish the label and how do you identify projects?

Samain Music is a new label based in Berlin, dedicated to researching, promoting and bringing together the wide range of musical traditions from the Iberian Peninsula, adapting them to the new instruments and aesthetic trends of today.

How do you approach honoring/appreciating musical traditions without appropriating them?

We try to make an honest and respectful review of the different traditions, trying to have artists belonging to each of the cultures we want to promote (Andalusia, Galicia, Castilla, Portugal…) and then promote precisely those artists beyond their regions/culture [to gain broader appreciation and new audiences]. 

“Diosas, Heroínas y Difuntas (Goddesses, Heroines and the Dead)” is meant to honor “gypsy women of the Iberian peninsula who fought and struggled to defend their culture.” Who are classified as “gypsy women?” Is that a broad term for itinerant peoples or a specific group? And, what is the focus of their struggle?

The Gypsy people are/were a nomadic tribe coming from the lowest caste in India, who probably left the Punjab around the year 500 and arrived into the Iberian Peninsula about the year 1450 through the Way of Saint James. The Romany culture, like other minority cultures in danger of being swallowed up by the majority culture and disappearing, exercises an iron grip on women, who have always been relegated to the private life of the home.

What is the women’s relationship with flamenco?

Flamenco has always been a mechanism of empowerment, through which Romany women could go out and succeed in public life. Flamenco music was born around the gypsy people who were in southern Spain, taking elements that were found on their long journey as the complex rhythms of India, Arabic melodies, Greek metric songs … as well as elements that were in the Iberian Peninsula such as as Iberian percussion, the lyre, or the clapping.

And why remix work by these five artists in particular? What was your motivation to feature them?

Castora Herz chose these artists because they were representatives of the new and the old flamenco, and because he loves their songs!

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