Sunday saw the second ever performance of Las Rutas de los Esclavos (Slave Routes), commissioned from Jordi Savall by UNESCO (following the première last year in Geneva). In clumsy words, it could perhaps be described as an attempt to make musical reparation for the horrors of centuries of slavery. When it came to the music, however, there was nothing clumsy about the glorious melding of ensembles from around the world. Tembembe Ensamble Continuo joined Savall, Hesperion XXI and La Capella Reial de Catalunya on stage once more, while at the front Ballake Sissoko, Rajery and Driss el Maloumi represented Mali, Madagascar and Morocco respectively. Embedded in the Capella were Maria Juliana Linhares of Brazil and Iván García from Venezuela. We also had returning history professor, Manuel Forcano, once more adopting a casual look to provide the readings that punctuated the performance.

© Wilfredo Amaya
© Wilfredo Amaya

This time no translations were provided, however it did not matter, as the music was enough to carry the evening all on its own. The newness of the work showed; not from any lack of cohesion, but more that it felt utterly fresh, and surprisingly joyful considering its subject matter. Savall had taken advice from his fellow performers regarding the selection of repertoire for the evening, and had clearly followed it before carefully assembling all the morsels into the most wonderful nourishment.

After a slight hiccup with Forcano's microphone, there were no flaws to be found in any quarter. We began in 1444, with a reading chronicling the discovery of Guinea. An African lament from Kassé Mady Diabaté heralded the start of our musical journey, segueing neatly into Mateo Flecha el Viejo's villancico La Negrina. Then we were in Brazil for Vida ao Jongo, a joyous song and dance from Linhares and García. Iván García was one of the particular highlights of the evening, bringing an infectious joy to his rich bass voice and energetic dancing – one suspects he would make an unmissable performance out of singing the phonebook!

Jordi Savall and Kassé Mady Diabaté © Joaquin Sarmiento
Jordi Savall and Kassé Mady Diabaté
© Joaquin Sarmiento

The tone being set for a heady mixture of cultures, we continued through history, stopping in 1505, 1620, 1657, ending the first half in 1661. Tambalagumbá was especially good, and it would be remiss not to praise Andrew Lawrence-King on the harp, as well as the seamless blend between the different styles of voices in this Renaissance piece. However, the biggest cheers of the half (and indeed the entire concert) were deservedly for the music of Mali, with Mamani Keita, Nana Kayouté and Tanti Kayouté joining Kassé Mady Diabaté. Diabaté managed to be gentle and imposing at the same time, and accessorising his robes and headdress with sunglasses gave him an air both modern and traditional – the perfect encapsulation of the griot. Theirs was an entirely communal experience; each refrain saw a powerful urge to join in, and in a less serious environment this probably would have been welcomed.

© Andrés Londoño
© Andrés Londoño

The second half had more wonderful surprises. During Vero, described as an instrumental, valiha player Rajery (who I did not realise until after the concert had had his right hand amputated), opened his mouth to reveal the most beautiful voice. It was an absolutely stunning moment. Following this, Gulumbe's Baroque style was a shock, but a good one. We were also treated to La Iguana, of which those of us at the previous night's Folías concert had had a sneak preview; however, it was still entirely fresh and great fun.

We had travelled from 1685 to 1748, 1782, the abolition of slavery in Spain in 1848, ending with a reading of Martin Luther King. As Forcano recited the details of Martin Luther King's assassination, the music accompanying his reading died away to nothing, before we were once again in Mali for Touramakan, the lights fading to nothing as the singers processed away, the music dissolving into silence. It was an awe-inspiring end to an awe-inspiring evening.