La Noche Buena:
Christmas Music of
Colonial Latin America

(World Library, 2005)

La Noche Buena is a fine Christmas choice, particularly if you are looking for something different in the holiday music genre.

SAVAE, the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble, performs music written between 1570 and 1680 by composers to introduce Christianity to Latin America. These Spanish and Portuguese composers adapted native languages and instruments, producing combinations that included musical influences of the local Meso-Americans and imported West African slaves.

This is SAVAE's first Christmas CD, although they have explored this territory before with Native Angel, which had early Latin American music, and two CDs with works inspired by the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The seven members of SAVAE not only sing, they play all of the instruments. Most of the latter are percussion, but they also include organ, recorder, harp and guitar.

Those used to listening to early vocal music will find not find this CD particularly unusual, except for the occasional use of languages such as Nahuatl. The CD sleeve has the English translations for all 16 songs. The native percussion often parallels that used in early European music.

Of course, having the lyrics sung in non-English languages means that, for most listeners, La Noche Buena is not limited to Christmas, but can be played throughout the year.

SAVAE may have elaborated the arrangements somewhat, although some of the songs were written by Spanish chapelmasters with formal training. This is a decidedly classical CD, without much of a folk music sound. In any case, the blending of the voices and instruments works very well.

The group's website has a lengthly explanation of the history behind this music, not all of which is on the CD sleeve. Unfortunately, much of it is concerns the exploitation of the native population. It is saddening that pleas against slavery and discrimination had to be hidden in lyrics about Christ's birth.

This CD comes up to SAVAE's usual high standards, and will please the group's fans. Those that have not heard them before will find this a fine introduction to their work.

by Dave Howell
24 December 2005

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