Mara Aranda: the undisputed voice of the Mediterranean
Rising to fame after the group L’Ham de Foc’s success, she has become one of the most highly acclaimed names on the 21st Century Spanish music scene. Since 1995 she has toured many parts of the world, performing across Europe, in Morocco and in China , a broad repertoire of traditional song, Sephardic music and original compositions.
For two decades she has researched and sung Turkish, Greek and Occitan music; early, mediaeval and Sephardic song. Her legacy to date includes some 20 albums, much-deserved music awards, and praise from the public and the critics alike.
Mara has worked with such well-known groups as Speculum Ensemble, Oni Wytars and Ensemble Unicorn. Of particular note is her recent work with the group Capella de Ministrers, and their joint albums Els Viatges de Tirant lo Blanch, El Ciclo de la Vida, La Cité des Dames, and her latest Judeo-Spanish production, recorded live at the Palau de la Musica in Valencia, and due to be released in the fall of 2014, La Música Encerrada: Sefarad.
Mara Aranda’s work revolves around the Mediterranean tradition; she has brought a language and beliefs to the world. Never was this more true than with the release of the album Deria (Gallileo-mc, 2009): Ufi’s Independent Music Awards Best World Music Album 2009, and voted Best Album on Catalan Radio’s Hidrògen programme. It was also the most noted Spanish World Music production of 2009; in the World Music Charts Europe Top Ten for four straight months; and the only Spanish group to be mentioned in the Charts’ annual line up. On top of all that, the album was voted Ovidi Montllor Awards Best Folk Album 2009 as well as being nominated for the best lyrics and best arrangement categories.
The new album Lo Testament (Bureo Musiques, 2013) is just as convincing as Deria, being nominated for the Ovidi Montllor Awards Best Folk Album 2013 just hours after being released.
Dedicated to musical composition and interpretation, and influenced by early musical roots, Mara Aranda will never stop experimenting in other creative fields such as the visual arts, literature or photography. Over the last few years, as a result of her eclectic interests, she has started studying different singing techniques.
The first group in which she actively participated was Cendraires in 1990, along with Joansa Maravilla and Néstor Mont. Their first and only album was recorded in 1998.
As an active participant in the Sete Sóis Sete Luas Festival, she has taken part in international projects with Luigi Cinque, for his record Alentejo Story Concert (2005) inspired by Saramago’s novel Levantado do Chão along with Elena Ledda. Follwing this, she teamed up with the Algerian singer and composer Akim El Sikameya to record a DVD and go on international tour. El Sikameya had put together for his Med’Set Orchestra musicians from across the Mediterranean: from Andalusia and Valencia; from La Toscana and Sicily; from Portugal and Greece. Then in 2012 she took part in the Sete Luas Orchestra with Mario Incudine as a director, touring Europe speading her key message: coexistence and fusion of Mediterranean cultures.
She has worked with such Spanish artists as David Cervera and Miquel Gil from Valencia. She worked together with David Cervera on his album Talaud in 2004. This was a fusion of traditional Mediterranean culture and classical music with avant-garde elements. She was key participant with Miquel Gil on his album Organic.
Motivated by her desire to study and research traditional music, she travelled and lived in Crete during 2003 and 2004. There she met Ross Daly and learnt about his musical and educational project in Labyrinthos. She also attended a seminar on Bulgarian music and voice given by Tzvetanka Varimezova, Director of the Bulgarian National Radio Folk Orchestra. In 2005, she returned to Thessaloniki, Greece where she studied folklore, traditional vocals and music in depth. She got to grips with religious Byzantine chant at the En Chordais academy with Drossos Kutsokostas.
It was also in Thessaloniki, -the Jerusalem of the Balkans for the Sephardim-, where she began to complete her repertoire by exploring more the Western perspective due to her proximity to mainland Spain. Here, she made contact with Nikos Tzannis-Ginnerup who received the legacy of the Sephardic musical tradition from David Saltiel. The result was the album Jewish-Spanish Songs of Thessaloniki (Oriental Music, Berlin, Germany, 1997).
Mara Aranda’s research and compilation is reflected in the album Musiques i Cants Sefardis d’Orient i Occident -Sephardic music and song from east and west- with Aman Aman titled published by Galileo-mc.
The fact that she moved away from her own roots in a geographical sense made her look back at them with a renewed interest. She started get to grips with traditional song from Valencia -cant d’estil- through the great singer-songwriter Josep Aparicio ‘Apa’ and went on to perform different television series’ soundtracks too.
In 1998 she put together the group L’Ham de Foc along with Éfren López; a project with Greek, Turkish, Balkan, Arab, Iranian, and Afghan influence, but with a strong Valencian identity.
L’Ham de Foc went on to become one of the most internationally acclaimed Spanish groups at the time, bringing togther a broad fan base from across the musical spectrum. They managed to reach a diverse audience; enthusiastic and loyal to a musical and artistic style that was different, authentic, adventurous, open and far removed from the conventions of folk, rock and pop. It developed into a unique timeless musical concept without trying to follow other trends. Their compositions grabbed the attention of art professionals and the public alike. Three albums were recorded between 1999 and 2006, all critically acclaimed: U, Cançó de dona i home and Cor de porc.
For two years on Channel 9 Radio-Si Radio in Valencia, she produced, directed and presented the programme Microkosmos dedicated to early and traditional music.
She played the lead in prestigious producer Pyrene’s documentary programme Vinoleum dedicated to Caroig Massif, with photography and texts by Manuel Asensi and music by Joan Manuel Serrat and L’Ham de Foc.
In 2007 she embarked on a fascinating journey with German group Estampie, led by Michael Popp; a project that revolutionised the interpretation of early music in Central Europe. The formation was christened Al Andaluz Project and brought together the strength of its three female vocalists: Sigrid House -Estampie and Qantal’s lead singer-, Iman Kandousi and Mara Aranda. The each represented three different musical heritages of the three cultures in Spain. Along with musicians Aziz Samsaoui, Ernst Schwindel, Sacha Kotochnikov and Jota Martínez they created something that had never been done before.
The fruits of their efforts can be seen in Deus et Dibolus, Al Maraya and Abuab Al-andaluz, and includes a repertoire inspired by Central European, Sephardic and Andalusian cultures.
Mara has worked tirelessly and meticulously with such early music groups as Speculum Ensemble directed by Ernesto Schmied; Ensemble Oni Wytars directed by Michael Posh; and Ensemble Unicorn directed by Marco Ambrosini. Her work with Capella de Ministrers deserves special mention, putting togther such works as Els Viatges de Tirant lo Blanch, The Cicle of Life and Locked Music: Sefarad: compositions transmitted by oral tradition through the centuries in Turkey, Bulgaria, Morocco and Greece.
In February 2013 the much anticipated album Sephardic Legacy sees the light of day, a celebration of the music and song of the Sephardic Jews in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean.
Currently working with the group Solatge on a repertoire of traditional music from the historic territories of Aragon, the album Deria has won several awards: Best Folk Album 2009 COM; Best Folk Album Catalunya Radio programme, Hydrogen; and several weeks in the WCME’s prestigious ranking of Best Folk Music Groups in the World. Their second album Lo testament was released in October 2013 winning the award Best Folk Album 2013, again from COM.