Jose Gonzalez, El Presi

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Biography

This week, instead of tiresome, phony holiday cheer, I offer this
instead: one of my favorite records in my collection. Something which,
when I first spun it on the player, made me red in the face with the
excitement of hearing something new, at least new to me. Although from
Spain, it is not raw (or rhythmic) like flamenco, nor stately like the cobla, nor is it dance music such as the kind you’d find nearby in Basque Country.
The Asturian tonada, also known as the asturianada,
has been ignored in English-based world music texts. Neither the
Garland Encyclopedia of World Music or the Grove Dictionary of Music
and Musicians, both well-known, massive, essential works which at the
very least give a passing glance to the most obscure of regional
musics, leave the asturianada, the popular vocal song of the
mountainous Spanish province of Asturias, out of the picture entirely.
Is it because tonada simply means “song”? Is it eclipsed by music featuring the Asturian bagpipe, the gaita
(similar to Galician bagpipes, though tuned differently)? I have no
idea - the gaita can often be played in an asturianada, in fact.
Anyhow, discovering information about the tonada in English has led me
to Asturian newsgroups, and detailed articles about Asturian music, such as this - written in Asturian.
What I do know is this: Jose Gonzalez, nicknamed “El Presi”
(1908-1983), was one of the most renowned early tonada singers and
began his career in the late-20s/early-30s, making several hundred
recordings. As with most good regional music on 78, good luck finding
those! Gonzalez, in this piece, is accompanied by a subdued guitar, and
the song appears to be a lament for the death of another great tonada
singer, Xuacu’l de Sama, who died in 1935 (note the northern Spanish
pronunciation of the letter ‘x’ as ‘zh’).

Finding early Asturian song on CD is not easy. Heritage’s Voices of Spain CD
contains one beautiful piece by Obdulia Alvarez, “La Busdonga.” There
is also what looks to be an excellent CD with performances by two
singers, from 1948 and 1955, offered by a company dedicated to
Asturian-related products, found here. There are also some recordings of Asturian works by a Galician gaita player, Manuel Dopazo, available from this (really wonderful) company.
Technical Notes
Label: Columbia
Issue Number: A5138
Matrix Number: C 7866-2