I found a nice surprise in my inbox: the debut album of
a Spanish pagan folk band whose existence I totally didn’t know about. When I got the files from band member Daniel Iturriaga, he told me he was very much interested in reading how I would describe their music, and in which context I would place it. So I took on the challenge: I listened to Kairós many, many times, had loads of fun doing so, and now I can come to a final conclusion: Vael sounds like…, …Well, …they sound like…, ….ahm, .actually…, like Vael! And with that conclusion, we can end this review 🙂 Next up: Eregia by
No, no, I won’t make it that easy for myself. Not with a cheesy joke like that. But it’s true that Vael has a unique place within the pagan folk community. Yes, they do take on the main pagan folk themes: love of nature, traveling back to their cultural roots, their myths and legends, but the motivation for doing so is special. According to the band themselves in their biography:
Introducing Vael; a short interview“For many centuries, cultural barriers made it impossible to understand that all peoples come from similar roots. We share a good number of traditions, beliefs, and in general, everything that makes us human. Due to globalization, some of these barriers are falling while others are rising, fueled by prejudice, hatred, or fear, without understanding that beauty is found in diversity.
With this project we aim to send out a social and cultural message, mixing the multiple musical traditions of around the world with the richness of ours, making it clear that even though the people of different cultures see each other very differently, we have so much in common. Also, with our songs, we deal with issues such as the rural exodus and the loss of traditions or myths and legends shared between peoples.“
This concept also comes back in their band name Vael, as Daniel (left) told me:
“About our name: as you can see in our logo, it has something to do with wolves. Here in the Iberian peninsula we had many Celtic tribes – not only in Galicia (the best-known, internationally) but in almost all the territories that make up Spain and Portugal today. Some of these tribes had a wolf god in common, and his name was ‘Vaelico’, We just kept the name’s root ‘Vael’. Why the wolves? Because it’s a very international animal, present in most cultures, myths, and legends. We have notable wolves not only in our own fairy tales but also in the well-known Nordic myths, in Japan, Native America, the pre-Columbus regions, Africa and many more. So, our band symbol became a wolf, because it represents our wish to mix musical traditions of all the cultures, and an Iberian wolf, because we are from Iberia.
It has a second even more symbolic meaning to us and our music: the wolves have been co-living with us from the very start of our kind and know our species well. As a band we want our music to reflect the gaze of the wolves over our nations. We humans traditionally see ourselves as very different, especially culturally, and due to that we had – and still have – a lot of prejudices, but this is nonsense and only brings us fear and misunderstanding. The wolf (like all animals) sees us like we really are, what unites us instead of what divides us, and that’s the message we want to communicate. We are against racism and violence. So we have a wolf howling in our logo, representing all of this. The logo was made by
Is that the same Diego that made the equally beautiful sleeve art?:
-“No, the album’s artwork was created by
Diego Rodríguez Robredo.
You also asked about the meaning of the word Kairós. Kairós is the ancient Greek word for ‘the right moment’. We like Greek because it’s one of the classical cultures and philosophies that have greatly influenced most Euro-cultures.”. The Greeks divided time into ‘Cronos’, the actual time that passes, and ‘Kairós’, the time as we perceive it inwardly – for instance the moment we daydream and time seems to disappear, or that moment we are fully concentrated and time seems to flash by. It’s in those ‘gaps’ of time that creativity is born, and the Greeks connected this to Kairós, the youngest son of Zeus.
We named the album Kairós for less philosophical reasons. To all of us, Vael arrived at ‘the right moment’. Kairós is the result of everything that has happened from that exact moment in time in which we met. Kairós is not a concept album, but a compilation of our path so far. In the future we want to create conceptual works, but with this one, as it is our first CD, we wanted to commemorate our coming together.
About the album’s art! You can see the wolf I have described to you on the cover, that wolf of knowledge and understanding of the human nature, but you can also see a lot of archaeological finds, representing the history of humankind over time. And in the hands of the figure we find two things: an olive branch – representing our land, full of olive trees – and the astral figures of the Nebra sky disc.
Our CD cover is also based on it. The
Nebra sky disk
is a bronze disc found near Nebra in Saxony Anhalt, Germany. The Disc is a very ancient astral chart or astral representation. That also has a symbolic meaning for us, because all humans share the same sky, the same sun, and the same moon.”2016; Vael is starting to form
The band spent the last couple of years working out the basic ideas of what would become Vael. During the autumn of 2016 the outlines became clearly shaped and from that moment on things went fast. Songs were written and band members found until Vael came to the following line-up:
– Macarena Pingarrón – Nyckelharpa, vocals.
– Violeta Moreno – Violin, chorus.
– Daniel Iturriaga – Whistle, hulusi, Galician bagpipe, zither, guzheng, throat singing.
– Guillermo García – Davul, bodhran, darbuka, tabla, udu, chorus.
– Camilo García – Classic guitar, bağlama saz, chorus.
– José M. Vicente – Spanish guitar, chorus.
– Teresa Peciña – Hurdy-gurdy, flute, whistle, daf, vocals, chorus.
In September 2017 their demo Mure came out as a free download, which you can still find here
on their bandcamp page. They played on several Spanish festivals while working on more material, and just before Castlefest 2018 Kairós came out. This was followed by their first performance outside of Spain. And where else than on the wonderful stages of Castlefest, where so many bands have been introduced to a large audience?
The Castlefest programmers have a good eye for spotting talent. We all probably remember another talented Spanish band making their debut on Castlefest not that long ago,
and keen observers might have spotted a former Cuélebre member among the line-up of Vael, Teresa Peciña (right), but Vael makes a totally different style of music – where Cuélebre is a bit dark and almost gothic in their approach to folk, Vael is just the opposite.
Diving into the new CD
Cheerful, extremely cheerful, that’s the first thing you’ll think when Caravanserai, the opening track of Kairós, starts. The female vocals make for a welcoming intro into Vael’s music, the enchanting sound of the hurdy-gurdy says ‘pagan folk’ straight away, while the rhythmical strumming of two guitars and the fast, cheerful and varied percussion are so typical Spanish to my ears. This is just the music I was expecting from a Spanish pagan folk band – Mediterranean energy with some exotic Moorish flavor. You find yourself in a Bedouin camp, deep in the desert, where the mood is good and the dancing is plenty after a long day of travel. Tomorrow the caravan will travel on, deeper into the ocean of sand, but tonight it’s time to celebrate!
However, all those Spanish preconceptions fly out the window with the second song, Harsha. The first shouted ‘Hoppa!’ briefly makes you think of Greece, but then the music takes you deep into the Russian taiga to another group of nomads, the people that traveled the vast Asian steppe for hundreds of years. The ships of the desert make way for noble horses, and the music, especially the percussion, is fast as hooves galloping towards the horizon. A wonderful musical celebration of a traveler’s life, and it’s astonishing how well the fast Russian music blends in with Vael’s Spanish roots – seamless, actually.
Harsha stands out for another reason: the stunning vocals of Macarena Pingarrón (left). The pagan folk scene has introduced me to some stunning female vocalists:
Monique van Deursen and
Robin Lammertink, to name just two, and Macarena’s voice is right up there with theirs. She has such a strong, classically trained soprano that she gives Vael’s folk music a unique touch of opera. As if
wrote a hint of folk into his opera Carmen. A joy to listen to.
Her voice is featured again in Prometeo, a three-part homage to the Titan who, according to Greek folklore, created mankind and gave them fire, for which he was severely punished by Zeus.
He was chained to a rock, where his liver was eaten by a giant eagle every day, only to have it regrow during the night so that the eagle could return again and again. This song really showcases Vael as talented musicians and songwriters. It starts with a delicate violin solo, while the underlying gentle sound of the acoustic guitars leads you into the song. Simply beautiful. Daniel’s spoken word part then leads us into the second part of the song: the guitars pick up the pace and the vocalists join together in a lovely choral part – a flute solo flows out of these vocals. Then follow a spoken word section, a violin solo, an enchanting soprano line, rhythmic guitar chords – all woven together into a wonderful blanket of sound, making Prometeo one of my favorite songs on this CD.
With Montañas de Jade things get really interesting. Vael is the first folk band I know to incorporate Chinese influences into their music. And it works. It begins with solid drums, another strong point of Vael – the varied percussion. I imagine it to be the sound of a wolf tribe on the hunt. They start high up in the hills where the Mongolian tribesmen shout to bring in their cattle, safe for the night, as the wolves move in fast under the cover of darkness. Then the pack reaches the bottom of the valley, and in the distance the lights of a city shine. They can see the junks sail over the yellow river and hear the song of the workers as they rest after a long day of work. Ok, I admit this story exists only in my imagination – as the song is actually about tribal warriors being far away from home – but that’s the beauty of instrumental music: if done well, you can drift off into any dream you want. And Montanas De Jade is done very well. Mongolian upbeat chants flow effortlessly into the delicate beauty of Chinese music – one of the highlights of this album.
To my joy, Vael does it once more on Czarne Czary. Better yet: they blend an entire world of cultural influences into one up-tempo folk song. Starting with an eastern European upbeat chant, followed by Nordic nyckelharpa mixed with a native American cry, and drums that could’ve come straight from a pow wow. Then we’re back to the eastern European chant mixed with Mongolian throat singing, Russian dance music, and an
-style overtone flute. It all blends together as if it was always meant to be. And that is the whole point of Vael’s music: to show that it ís meant to be. That all those styles, all those cultures, indeed mix together harmoniously to become one of the best songs on this CD.
There is one more song I want to single out. That song is Nimue. This song brings together everything I love about Kairós and Vael: The lovely delicate double guitar lines, the beautiful melodies of Vael’s two main solo instruments (the violin and flute), the rolling percussion of Guillermo García. and, of course, those stunning vocals by Macarena Pingarrón.
The song Nimue is a crossover between the melodic folk of Emian, the medieval music of Imbue, and the epicness of Cesair, including that fierce, characteristic staccato violin that Sophie Zaaijer is so well-known for. All of this combined makes Nimue probably the most exquisite song on Kairós. Pure beauty!
All in all Kairós was a big surprise for me and a really pleasant one at that. With all those influences flowing together into one single style, I would call the band’s music pagan ‘world’ folk. Beautiful pagan world folk, I want to add. Beautiful, not only because of the soloists or the breathtaking vocals, but also because of the songwriting skills of the band – the way they managed to combine all those influences and ideas into harmonious and coherent songs, and to get the balance between the instrumental solo parts and the vocals just right – and because of the whole concept behind the CD.
All of this makes Kairós a special album. Fans of Emian, Imbue, and the ballads of Cesair shouldn’t hesitate to buy this wonderful CD!
-Editor: Sara Weeda
-pictures: Andre Willemse