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