In almost all musical systems sacred music is held separate from its secular variant. In the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, for instance, we have two distinct lists featuring both his sacred and secular cantatas – for example the sacred cantata Jesu, der du meine Seele (BWV 78) and the sacred one Geschwinde, geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde (BMV201). The form is the same, but the courtship of each is dramatically different. It is almost a given that the two could never meet – least of all in the senses where hedonism was to be kept separate from spirituality. But in societies where ecstasy could be infused with a sense of purity there could be a meeting of the spirits in a kind of rarefied realm.
This is true in much of Afri-centric music where often worship and the communing of the spirits takes on a corporeal form of dance, accompanied by sometimes ferocious – often frenzied- drumming. But Western colonial societies fought hard to suppress this form of worship/celebration especially after African slaves were brought across the oceans to the Americas. Of course, this was never successful because the ban on African worship and celebration drove everything underground – at least until the African population had syncretized the house gods with their “new-found” religion – Catholicism, into which they had been converted.
All of this is necessary background to truly appreciate this music by Yasser Tejeda, a young Dominican composer and guitarist who, with a group that includes the virtuoso (traditional) drummer Jonathan Troncoso, has created a musical flash-point where the sacred and the secular meet. That place (or gathering), we are told is quijombo. “It is”, he says “a place where palos drums are played… where the mystical and the musical intersect. Where family and friends come to drink rum and dance and sing in cultural resistance. It’s a place that is little discussed in the Dominican Republic, but always there.”
Mr Tejeda’s album takes its name from that place. Kijombo is a three-quarter-of-an-hour-long ecstatic journey that, nevertheless, evokes the spirit of Africanised worship melded in with a volcanic mix of the profane. This begins with his own loud twangy guitar, the throb of Kyle Miles’ bass, and thunderous percussion – traditional drums played by Mr Troncoso and the drum set played by Victor Otoniel Vargas; all of which is supplemented by chants and harmonised vocals, brass, woodwinds and more vocals. Together these musicians have raised the bar of how Afro-Caribbean culture is particularly expressed by the musicians of the Dominican Republic.
Merengue and bachata collide with vodou, calypso and reggae, and the broad improvisational music inspired by the great Afro-American roots music of jazz. Mr Tejeda is a true virtuoso. His playing – especially on “De Palo Echao” has a wonderfully high and lonesome wail which echoes with historic sorrow and joy. On that song – as on songs such as “Swing Ripiao” and “La Salve Electrica” – we find ourselves in another world. It is a world full of African Hi-Life, of glittering lights, mysterious depths, of frustrations, hopes and unfettered joy.
It is music that features a considerable degree of balance and integration of melody, harmony and rhythm, of composition and improvisation, of exploration and individuality, of tradition and modernity all masterfully conceived and directed by Mr Tejeda and a group of musicians fully attuned to his wonderful artistry.
Track list – 01: Nuestras Raíces; 02: La Culebra; 03: Mambodega; 04: Swing Ripiao; 05: De Palo Echao; 06: Pa’ Villa Mella; 07: Amor Arrayano; 08: A La Dolorita; 09: La Salve Eléctrica; 10: Del Otro Lado; 11: Papa Boco
Personnel – Yasser Tejeda: guitar, compositions and vocals; Kyle Miles: bass; Victor Otoniel Vargas: drums and vocals; Jonathan Troncoso: percussion and vocals; and featuring – Linda Briceño: trumpet (01); Mario Castro: tenor and baritone saxophones (01) ; Krency García “El Prodijio”: accordion (04); Vicente García: lyrics and vocals (07); Otoniel Nicolás: tambora, congas and güira (04, 11) – güira (10); Jill Peacock: background vocals (01, 06); Kaila Paulino: background vocals (02, 08, 09)
Released – 2019
Label – Independent
Runtime – 44:07
Featured photo – Yasser Tejeda & Palotré: Kyle Miles, bass; Yasser Tejeda, guitar & vocals; Víctor Otoniel Vargas, drums & vocals; Jonathan Troncoso, percussion & vocals.