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Sample Track 1:
"Hanacpachap Cussicuinin" from SAVAE, La Noche Buena (World Library Publications)
Sample Track 2:
"Xicochi, Xicochi Conetzintle" from SAVAE, La Noche Buena (World Library Publications)
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SAVAE, La Noche Buena (World Library Publications)
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First Christmas Music of the Americas: SAVAE’s La Noche Buena Captures Early Musical Convergence of Aztecs, Incans, Mayans, Africans, & Europeans

Picture the cathedrals of the 16th and 17th centuries in what we now call Mexico and Latin America. Adventuresome composers of the era adapted music and dialects of the Indigenous Aztec, Maya, and Incas, as well as of African slaves, and created unprecedented styles of sacred music for the New World, including the earliest Christmas music written in the Americas.

This music is captured on SAVAE’s latest recording, La Noche Buena, released by World Library Publications. The recording takes listeners on an intriguing and often unexpected musical journey into the cathedrals of the Spanish colonial frontier. The Nativity story is told here through music that captures the lively cultural exchange between Indigenous, African, and Spanish voices. European motets appear alongside Afro-Spanish guarachas on the recording.

“We were initially drawn to this material because of our interest in performing ancient music and, because we live in San Antonio, we were looking for something relevant to where we live,” explains SAVAE Artistic Director Christopher Moroney. “In the course of researching this music, it became evident that a large portion of it was written specifically for use at Christmastime and, in fact, was the first Christmas music composed in the Americas by both Indigenous Americans and Europeans. In terms of the Americas’ contribution to the world’s repertoire of Christmas music, it’s extremely significant.”

On La Noche Buena, SAVAE blends its seven voices with pre-Colombian, African, and European instruments to capture the unique cultural fusion that characterized the earliest part of the colonial epoch. These first Christmas celebrations featured new compositions inspired by the traditional music of the recently converted indigenous Americans and African slaves. The inventive fusion of European forms with diverse dialects and rhythms made church music the bittersweet common language of New Spain.

“The pieces on La Noche Buena were written between 1570 and 1680 by Spanish chapelmasters as well as indigenous composers under their tutelage, says Moroney. “Our use of Mesoamerican percussion instruments is based on Aztec artwork and early paintings from the first decades following the Conquest. The instruments SAVAE uses include the huehuetl (vertical drum), teponaztli (log drum), chicahuatzli (rain stick), and ayacaxtli (rattles and shakers). We also included European instruments such as the recorder, tambourine, and guitar as well as traditional West African drums and rattles. It is also important to note that SAVAE’s drumming patterns are adapted from those found in the codex Cantares Mexicanos, compiled in the 16th-century by Aztec musicians and historians.”

SAVAE made its mark with the Billboard-charting Guadalupe: Virgen de los Indios. SAVAE’s inventive approach to the fusion of pre-Colombian and European musical elements won the ensemble an invitation to record Academy Award-winning composer Todd Boekelheide’s score for the documentary, Discovering Dominga. SAVAE’s 2002 recording of ancient Middle Eastern music, Ancient Echoes, features the ensemble’s exploration of ancient music and dialects from the Holy Land, and has received rave reviews for its blend of scholarly research and creative flair. Director Ridley Scott included a SAVAE track in his 2005 film, The Kingdom of Heaven. Interestingly, La Noche Buena sees SAVAE returning to repertoire they performed at their 1989 debut concert at San Antonio’s historic San Fernando Cathedral, presenting Latin American Christmas music from the colonial period.

“This was an unprecedented time in the history of the world—people from two hemispheres of the globe who had no previous contact with one another were suddenly face to face,” says Moroney. “Along with all the brutality, prejudice, injustice, and horrors that occurred, a remarkably unique and flourishing creative musical culture developed. Some of this now centuries-old music is still so fresh and inventive today that it practically ‘jumps off’ the manuscript pages to any musician who looks at it. It’s an important and often overlooked part of our musical heritage in the Americas and represents essential roots of today’s Hispanic, African American, and World Fusion music genres.”

Additional Info
First Christmas Music of the Americas: SAVAE’s La Noche Buena ...
Q & A with SAVAE Artistic Director Christopher Moroney about La Noche ...

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