Ancestros is a trilogy of albums recorded by the Cuban group Síntesis. The first album came out in 1987, it was groundbreaking, and one of the most honoured recordings of the modern era in Cuba. Later on, volumes II and III were released.
Síntesis is one of the most notable Cuban bands, pioneers in the fusion of Afro-Cuban ritual music with contemporary pop music (jazz, rock, electronic, folk, world music and Cuban popular genres).
Fast-forward 35 years after the first Ancestros recording came out, add the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic, X Alfonso being in Portugal during the lockdown, and his vision of returning to the monumental work that the group founded by his parents had released at the end of the 80s.
This recording by Síntesis– called Ancestros Sinfónico – is one of the most elaborate and eloquent projects to pay respect to the orishas in Lucumí cosmology in a very long time. It is a testament to the ingenuity of X Alfonso, principal creator, who has enabled the throbbing power of this music, which soars into the celestial realm of these Orishas. In his febrile imagination it pays homage to ancient Yoruba rituals, and is, at once, relocated in the world of the classical symphony.
The artistic conception of the music is truly unique. The volcanic mix that ensues thunders with the bàtá, soars with chorales to each deity and shimmers with ambient electronics ambience. The effect is mesmerizing and absolutely glorious.
To make a recording as fine as this one merely being a proficient musician simply isn’t enough. The stars in the sky need to be in alignment with you. And God and his communion of saints need to be well pleased. The musicians on this programme – X Alfonso, his sister Eme Alfonso and their parents, Carlos Alfonso and Ele Valdés, and the choir need to be primed. The bàtá drums need to make the appropriate joyful noise. It bears mention that the project received guidance from the great Leo Brouwer together with Isabelle Hernández, as well as Natalia Bolívar Aróstegui‘s advisory of Afro-Cuban religions.
And yet everything musical must be played with absorbing fluency of narrative expression and a profusion of pleasing melody, harmony and – especially – rhythm; the measure of time and the pyrotechnics and attitude the musicians must employ to maintain control of the narrative, all of this is crucial to bring joy and pleasure to the Orishas. And this is exactly what the artists on this disc do in the grand manner.
The guiding figure in all of this must surely have been the Moyugba chanting by Lázaro Ros [known as the akpwon elder for his contributions to the Lucumí cultural heritage in Cuba]. For he, it is, who helps pry open the door to the portal in order for the orishas to grace the mighty tambor. And they must be well pleased for the blessings to flow. Clearly this is the case with Elegguá, the owner of the roads and doors in this world. He stands at the crossroads of humanity and the divine, the intermediary between Olorun, the Supreme Being [and the Orisha] and humanity. All this is usually performed by powerful chants and under the rolling thunder of the bàtá drums.
The whole complement of Síntesis performs all the above with infinite wisdom. And a clearly inspired X Alfonso adds his own ingenuity mixing many colours and tone-textures, and the sumptuous gracefulness of the strings bring a new and wonderful dimension to it all. This lifts the absorbing tambor, taking it to a new and rarefied level, there to open that proverbial portal and let the Orishas descend to the human realm.
The musicians led by X Alfonso and his magnificent retinue – and quite obviously inspired by Lázaro Ros – make full use of the opportunity to go temperamentally wild. There is a rumbling rhythmic groove throughout from Ibaragó Moyugba through the healing vibes of Asoñaña Agó Maddó, through Awoyó Yemayá and the soaring finale of Iyamilé Oro, where Oshún is placated.
Throughout, the artists interpret X Alfonso’s compositions and arrangements idiomatically, given wing by the hypnotic chanting, all of which captures the rapt beauty of the music’s consolation and faith complete with an ending, which with the reverential rhythms of the bàtá, have more emotional impact than a myriad of fortissimos elsewhere in music.
Ancestros Sinfónico got nominated for a 2022 Latin Grammy Award in the Traditional category, Best Folkloric Album. It came out as the winner, and deservedly so.
Tracks – 1: Ibaragó Moyugba [Elegguá]; 2: Aguanileó Oggún [Oggún]; 3: Yakuma Kareré [Oshosi]; 4: Asoñaña Agó Maddó [Babalú Ayé]; 5: Rezo Changó [Changó]; 6: Changó La Meta [Changó]; 7: Orichaó Babá [Obatalá]; 8: Oyá Wimiloro [Oyá]; 9: Awoyó Yemayá [Yemayá]; 10: Iyamilé Oro [Oshún]
Musicians – X Alfonso: musical director, compositions, arrangements and producer; Carlos Alfonso: voice [3, 4, 6, 7] and choir; Ele Valdés: voice [1, 2, 8, 9, 10] and choir; Eme Alfonso: voice [5, 8, 9] and choir; Lázaro Ros [El Apkwon Mejor]: Mogugbación chant [1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]; María del Carmen Avila: choir; Degnis N. Bofill: bàtá drums and choir; Orchestral arrangements inspired by works by the following authors: Carlos Alfonso [1, 4, 6, 8]; X Alfonso [3, 9, 10]; Esteban Puebla ; Lucia Huergo ; and Eme Alfonso 
Released – 2022
Label – FacMusic/El Cerrito Records
Runtime – 53:45
YouTube Playlist – Síntesis, X Alfonso, Eme Alfonso: Ancestros Sinfónico
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