Album Review of
Hixa Mia

Written by Joe Ross
May 6, 2022 - 11:35am EDT
Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star

Just back from Ireland where she played concerts and attended the "Connecting Arts" and “Hello, Viola Da Gamba" Conferences, Spanish viola da gambist and vocalist Pilar Almalé is now busy performing in Zaragoza and Huesca.  Building on her classical conservatory education, she has also studied fine arts, theater, improvisation and esraj, a type of Indian stringed instrument. Involved with several projects besides those with early music, Pilar Almalé adventures into world, jazz and even pop territory.  Her first album, Caja de Música, was released in 2016 with her music project Caranzalem, a collaboration with recorder player Elena Escartín that presents world music sung and played on early instruments.

Now, on her second release, Hixa Mía merges early music with jazz and folk styles in a quartet setting. Spanning 32 minutes, the eight tracks are arranged with Almalé’s voice and viola da gamba out front and center, embellished by Thomas Kretzschmar (violin), Alex Comín (guitar) and Fran Gazol (percussion). Lucas Delgado layers in some piano on “Flow My Tears.”

The set begins, revisits and ends with beautiful traditional songs of the Sephardi Jewish community of the Iberian Peninsula, “Hixa Mía,” “A la Una yo Nací” and “Los Guisados de la Berenjena.”  The title track translates as “My Daughter,” and I believe that Almalé may be singing in Judaeo-Spanish (aka Ladino), a Romance language derived from Old Spanish spoken by the eastern Sephardim who settled in the Eastern Mediterranean after their expulsion from Spain in 1492.

“Hixa Mía” is a poignant tale, a plea for redemption and rescue from love or heartbreak. “My daughter, my dear, Aman, aman, aman. Don’t throw yourself into the sea, For the sea is stormy, It is going to carry you away. May it take me, may it pull me down. Aman, aman, aman. Seven fathoms deep, May a black fish swallow me up, To save me from love.” Similarly, “A la una yo nasi” (I was Born at One) summarizes life in four stages -- birth, growth, falling in love, and wedding. 

Almalé features two of her own compositions, “Blue Lamento” and “La Patetica” with their evocative melodic conversations between the viola da gamba, guitar and jazzy violin. Jack Dowland’s “Flow My Tears” is sung in English. “Folias Gallegas” (Galician Follies) by Santiago de Murcia (1682-1739) is a fairly well-known piece for classical guitar, originally written in Baroque style, but arranged here also with a breezy, flowing, and folksy perspective and Latin rhythm. “Passacaille” is a slow, melancholic, instrumental that comes from the pen of versatile, prolific French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643 - 1704) of the Baroque era.

Closing with “Los Guisados De La Berenjena” (Seven Ways to Cook an Eggplant), I couldn’t but smile a bit. I’m not sure if the song is meant to be educational, humorous, an analogy for life in general, or perhaps all of the above. We can cut it into small pieces and serve it raw. Eggplant might be hollowed, then filled with rice, herbs and meat. A third way is to fill it with rice, then top it with a sauce of oil, garlic, grated cheese and herbs. Perhaps you’d rather have your eggplant fried in tomato sauce. Sephardic traditional maljasana salad is thick, delicious and prepared with olive oil. At feasts, the jandrajo are little pastries made from the vegetable. And finally, the secret is revealed! The best and most delicious “meyina” is baked in the oven in an open dish with oil and peppers.

Whatever these eight tasty tracks or bite-sized pieces (bokaditos) of Mediterranean music signify on Almalé’s Hixa Mía album, it certainly was enjoyable and an epicurean delight that left me hungry for more. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)