It’s Monday morning, October, 08:17 in the morning. Outside it is cold, dark and pouring with rain. Literally pouring! I find myself on the train, on my way to work, with a newspaper that tells me a cold front will pass over Holland and it will bring lots of rain during the whole day. Well, looking out of the window I can confirm that. Walking out of the station it gets even worse. Every single bucket of water that every single god of the pagan pantheon could find is thrown down right here, right now. So without any hesitation, I walk past my trusty bike and step right into the city bus, out of that waterfall of rain into the warmth of the bus cabin.
As I get comfortable on the bus seat I put the Emian’s new album in my Discman. And their music takes me deep into the magic of the Arabian desert. I can feel the hot wind rub my face as the sand dunes open up in my imagination. The contrast could not be bigger with the world outside my window. So I crawl even deeper into the corner of my seat and drift away in the warmth of Emian’s ever-expanding musical world.
From the first album, Aquaterra up to, their third album Egeria, Emian has been on quite an interesting musical journey. You only have to look at the list of instruments they play on every CD to see it. On Aquaterra it is the ‘common’ Celtic folk instruments; Irish harp, fiddle, flutes, tin whistle, Irish bouzouki, and acoustic bass. On the Mediterranean pagan folk album Khymeia the band added castanets, hurdy-gurdy, and Persian santur. On Egeria we suddenly see a whole range of ‘exotic’ instruments. Medieval bagpipe, bombarda, a Greek Aulos, the ciaramella, a marranzano, the Tibetan horn, an Indian harmonium, the Algerian mondol and a bandola, all new instruments to the Emain sound.
You can also see this journey back in the booklet as Anna Cefalo told me. In many ancient cultures the dragonfly, depicted on the sleeve art, stands for rebirth and transition. for Emian the dragonfly represents the transformation the band made from its birth to where the band is now. To my question, if the album title is also connected to that idea of transition Anna answered yes. Egeria is not only an ancient nymph, a Camena of the Roman pantheon, she was also an ancient traveler and as such her name is a worthy title for this CD. On this album the band decided to travel back to their cultural roots, all the way back to Roman times, the Etruscans and even the Middle East.
It’s only while listening to the new cd’s of Emian and Vael, and talking to Anna Cefalo about it, that I realized that there is more to pagan folk than the Celtic and Nordic folk that I started to associate the genre with through Omnia, SeeD, and LEAF. Looking at the roots of the Mediterranean bands there is ancient Greece, the Romans or Etruscans, the Carthaginians, the Spanish Celtic tribes, the ancient cultures in the middle east, even the Egyptians are all part of the roots of Mediterranean people nowadays. Just as much as the Celtic and Viking culture is part of our western European pagan legacy.
So on Egeria, Emian explores their own pagan folk roots and with it new musical possibilities and you can clearly hear it on the new album. Where, on Khymeia, the focus was still on the open sound of the harp, bouzouki, and fiddle -with the hurdy-gurdy mixed more in the background- on Egeria the focus shifted towards the reed instruments, the medieval bagpipe, and the hurdy-gurdy. Another thing that changed is the production. Khymeia had a very rich sound, The music had many layers woven into it. Egeria is soberer, more focused on the melody and the lyrics. You could say Khymeia was a pop-folk album where Egeria has more of a singer-songwriter feel to it.
The best example of that ‘new’ sound is the fifth song on Egeria, La Casa Dell’Orco. It’s only the bouzouki, harp, and flute that start this beautiful song. The single sound of Martino’s drum then leads us into this ballad about the shepherd Silpa, that manages to slay a giant orc, but loses the one closest to his heart nevertheless. Anna Cefalo really shines in this song. With every verse, her voice gets more intense. You can really feel the hurt and sadness coming through with every note she sings, the medieval bagpipe and bombarda solo at the end only helps to tell this tragic story based on a legend from the area of Irpinia in the Italian Alps. (for those interested, Anna kindly translated the text into English, you can find the translation at the bottom of this review.) La Casa Dell’Orco is easily my most favorite song on Egeria. And although at certain moments I do miss the rich sound of Khymeia, the singer-songwriter approach brings out a new side to Emian that is equally nice, because La Casa Dell’ Orco isn’t the only lovely song on this album, Anna, as always, shines on more songs.
There is the lovely folk-pop ballad Rasabella, a traditional song from Calabria. The mouth harp intro puts an instant smile on my face, and then Anna’s soothing voice just lets me drift into this beautiful song, Emian at their very best.
Fronni D’Allia is the first surprise on Egeria. The intro makes me think of Valravn Or Lys, the last record of Kati Ran. It is as if Christopher Juul was asked to do the mix on this song. I like it, the eerie, slightly shaded tone of this work song from Basilicata works wonders with Anna’s crystal clear, soothing voice.
Spirit Trail is another surprise. This song honoring the native American tribes, as depicted by Martino D’amico in the booklet -although it is honoring every free-spirited person out there if you read the lyrics well- is also written and sung by Martino. And I hope it won’t be the last time he does so. His voice is just as open, friendly and pleasant to listen to as Anna’s. The song itself is again singer-songwriter folk material. A guitar and a voice, that’s all Emian needs to tell this story. Yes, they do work towards a grand climax but in the end, the essence of spirit trail is found in the magic between those two ‘humble’ instruments, voice and bouzouki.
As always Emian also recorded some instrumental songs that are well worth mentioning. The first one is Ay Yildiz that flows into Le Navi Di Istanbul. And as to be expected from the titles it has this lovely middle-eastern feel to it that actually blends in really well with Emian’s ‘normal’ Mediterranean pagan folk style. In a way, Ay Yildiz starts just as Spirit Trail, small, with just two instruments. In this case its the harp and a Middle Eastern string instrument that I don’t even dare to guess at what it might be. It’s not important anyway. What is important is the beauty of the theme they play together. How the variations on that theme build and build to make a lovely dance song. (Anna did tell me what the mystery instrument is after she read the review. It’s a Turkish oud and it is played by guest musician Peppe Frana)
Another lovely instrumental dance medley is Evoe Evoe that gracefully flows over in Vesuvius.
Again the melody starts small, this time it builds up faster, growing into a song that easily could have been on Khymeia too. Again Emian at their best. in Evoe Evoe / Vesuvius they are mixing delicate sections with lovely dance tunes, upbeat vocals with delicate solo harp moments, and the new middle eastern influences with the ‘old’ Mediterranean folk style we found on Khymeia; the best of both worlds.
Fans of Faun, Waldkauz and of course Emian themselves, will fully enjoy this new album of theirs.
– editor: Gwendolyn Snowdon
– sleeve art: Martino D’Amico
– photography in studio (1)
– photography on location (2,3,4)
Giulian PisapiaThe translation of the lyrics of La Casa Dell’Orco by Anna Cefalo
Shepherd Silpa walks among the mountains
the beasts (sheeps) follow the master safely.
Winter is near, a shelter is worthwhile
that takes away the bitter cold.
He plays to his flute sweet music,
tenacious it creeps among noble oaks,
with Matulpa his bride going down to the valley
and the dogs watching his back.
But a distant song reaches the procession,
a lugubrious chorus carried by the wind.
Curious Silpa, trembling Matulpa
– Stop your step, wayfarer! –
They entered the orc’s house:
Cronopa the giant before his altar,
in his hand an ax ready to vibrate
on a man his mortal blow …
Fee Fi Fo Fum … Fee Fi Fo Fum …
Escape Silpa, don’t turn away go away!
Escape Silpa, you know the way!
Fee fi fo fum … Blood your wine will be!
Fee fi fo fum … Meat its bread will be!
On the edge of the ditch, Silpa shows itself,
the song stops, the giant turns.
The victim flees and Silpa runs fast
the hand to his bow leads.
The arrow shot at the heart strikes,
Furious Cronopa staggers and roars.
The mountains tremble, a chilling scream,
two steps and the giant perishes.
The saved men are on him,
armed with stones they die to death the monster,
then they moved towards shepherd Silpa
proclaiming him liberator.
But in the heart of Silpa there is no victory,
Matulpa has disappeared, this is not the glory!
He throws himself to look for her, but finally he finds
his beloved eaten by wolves…
Silpa sat on the stone, leaving his head on his chest.
A great silence grew around him…
The last corpse remains of Matulpa were buried and night fell.
Silpa lay down on the ground, closed his eyes and let himself die.
Sleep Silpa, go to her again.
Sleep Silpa, still playing for her.
Fee fi fo fum… This is the grave for me …
Fee fi fo fum… I still play for you …