World in Stereo: Josephine Foster & The Victor Herrero Band’s Anda Jaleo

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Josephine Foster & The Victor Herrero Band: Anda Jaleo (Fire Records, 11/2/10)

Josephine Foster & The Victor Herrero Band: “Los Cuarto Muleros”

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“Anda Jaleo” has a long history as a Spanish folk standard; its melody repeatedly transforms and reemerges anew. First recorded in 1931 by poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca and flamenco singer/dancer La Argentinita, it was a popular dance before it was adopted by the Republican Army as a resistance song during the Spanish Civil War.  But under head of state Franciso Franco’s repressive military regime, Lorca’s leftist art was outlawed, including the folk-song collection Las Canciones Populares Españolas, which features “Anda Jaleo” and many others.

The song’s name appears again in avant-folk artist Josephine Foster and husband Victor Herrero’s recent reworking of Lorca’s Las Canciones, a simple and skilled record that shows the songbook’s ability to connect with audiences 80 years later. Along with Herrero’s acoustic band, Anda Jaleo was recorded live in the Grenadine Sierra, capturing a rich, lively mood that stays within the traditional framework of the 1931 original.

Foster is no stranger to drawing inspiration from literary figures; her last release, Graphic as a Star, is a musical adaptation of Emily Dickinson‘s poetry. Claiming a patchwork track record for the avant garde, Foster’s style ranges from broken ballads and psychedelic rock to American folk and roots, with a voice often compared to Patti Smith and Grace Slick. For Anda Jaleo, Foster’s vocals sound timeless, a perfect fit for the storied recording.

The Victor Herrero Band performs well-executed, gypsy-flavored arrangements, reminding the listener that simple instruments can achieve complex results. Humble in delivery and refreshing in its reservation, the album only presents accompaniments of acoustic guitars, castanets, hand claps, and sweeping feet. But most rewarding is the band’s backup vocals. On tracks like “Los Cuatro Muleros,” they offer an excellent contrast to Foster, giving the songs emotive texture and resonance.

The collective seems to reach perfect harmony on “Los Mozos De Monlean,” a beautiful half-spoken, half-sung tune that transports listeners to a place distinctly Spanish. The guitar parts, strummed with just the right amount of vigor, have a tone that completely bypass the auditory system and go straight for bone.

The musicians have achieved an endearing sound, keeping classic Spanish songs alive — songs from which, upon reinterpretation, modern audiences can glean new meanings. But more importantly, these songs keep one of Spain’s most beloved artists in close memory. As a testament to Lorca and the significance that music has on culture, Anda Jaleo is best heard with its rich history in mind.

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