Album: Revel & Ritual: Holiday Music for the World
Artists: Greg Herriges and StellaRoma
Alright, so I got this last year, too late to tell you about it for Christmas 2017, but better late than never. Besides, right now is the perfect time to listen, stream, order, gift, or what-have-you the best world music holiday album ever, which I can recommend the more heartily for having listened to it for almost a whole year now.
Because it’s not strictly a Christmas album (although Christmas songs are included) but rather celebrates a number of feast-worthy events both spiritual and historical, you can easily listen to it the year round without being unpleasantly reminded of the stress and strain of December shopping.
When it comes to Christmas music, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. The carols that make me melt are the ones I grew up with in a small country church in Nova Scotia, sung loudly and a little off-key, and accompanied by piano (out of tune), organ, guitar, and perhaps a small wind ensemble.
But that little church of my childhood has since admitted djembes, thumb pianos, and African carols. I’ve also changed since then, exploring and embracing a multitude of ethnicities in my continual quest for new sounds. I’m still in love with tradition, but it’s no longer just my tradition that draws me in.
Finding true smiles
I’ve been stalking Herriges for years, ever since first hearing Telluric Currents, and he’s been kind enough to stay in touch. His is no namby-pamby about inclusiveness; in an interview I did with him back in 2009 he shared the following:
The song “True Smile” is about finding true human connections between cultures, and that was something that I always kind of struggled with. For most of my life I’ve been kind of an isolated person, very solitary, and the true human connection that I finally started finding came from immigrants and people from other places . . . This tune came to me during a trip home from Buenos Aires where I had attended a guitar seminar. I found there was such a difference in the smiles between the people I had met down there and the people in the northwestern hemisphere. The smiles of the people down there were much more sincere.
The movements and meetings of rare minds
Greg Herriges grasps better than most how the world has become more aware of our global interconnectedness than it was 50 years ago. He sees the movements and convergences of telluric currents (the random electrical waves circulating around the earth ) as a real source of creative inspiration as well as a metaphor for what happens when music develops in response to contact with different genres and creative talents.
Herriges taught himself guitar, but passion and curiousity brought him to the ethnomusicology department at the University of Minnesota, where he began playing with musicians from all over. Many performances, collaborations, and awards later he brings us Revel & Ritual, performed by the masterful trio StellaRoma: Herriges himself on guitar, bouzouki, and vocals, Rundio Sinclair on electronics and Chapman stick (most simply described as an electric guitar with a neck and extra strings but no body), and Michael Bissonette on a variety of percussion instruments.
The songs have been culled from as far away as India, Japan, and the Basque Country, and celebrate a treasury of events including Hanukkah, the Hindu Holi Festival of Colours, the Japanese Spring Cherry Blossom Festival, the Muslim holy day of Ashura, the Winter Solstice, and the Chinese New Year, as well as the birth of the Christ Child.
The whole album is so delightful I’m hard-pressed to pick my favourites, but for now the songs I’m particularly enjoying are the Basque annunciation carol “Birjina Gaztetto Bat Zegoen,” “Ashura,” the song commemorating, among other events in the Abrahamic tradition, the cruel slaying of the Prophet Mohamed’s grandson in battle, and the Ukrainian “Schedryk” (in which you may recognise sounds from the Americanised “Carol of the Bells”).
In a deep affirmation of the blessedness of international traditions Herriges gladly opens his arms to all the love the world of music has to offer, and it shows. An oasis in the west’s growing xenophobia, this album is one you’ll want to rest in for a long time.