Thursday 16 September 2021

Misa Criolla

             Misa Criolla by Ariel Ramírez

This year marks the centenary of the birth of the composer Ariel Ramírez (1921- 2010), the great exponent of Argentinian folk music. He is known primarily for his wonderful Misa Criolla (1964) that made him world-famous, with the sale of millions of records. This sixteen-minute "Creole Mass" was originally sung and performed by local choirs and musicians with an element of improvisation, a lamentation in Spanish over genocide and extreme poverty, a protest, with a deep longing for universal peace, alternating with a celebration of life and thanks to God. 

The initial Kyrie begins with deep slow drum-beats reflecting the vastness and solitude of the Andes mountains. The Gloria is a sort of carnival, juxtaposed with a  drum rhythm used by the Incas for funerals. The Mass concludes with a melancholic rhythm from the Argentinian pampas.

Misa Criolla, watercolour and inks, 1974, approx. 80 x 60 cm. 
Collection of Prof. Cees Hamelink 

I knew the original recording of this work, but then it began to be performed worldwide. When I was living in Geneva in the early seventies, I heard a performance in Victoria Hall by the Agrupación música Ariel Ramirez. The ensemble was all dressed in black capes, except the conductor, wearing a colour like old rose. Most of them played indigenous instruments as they sang, like the charango (small guitar), the quena (Indian flute) bombo (Argentinian drum), and siku (panpipes). I wanted to capture the variety of Latin American rhythms, the dynamics of the players in action and the vocal sounds that were to become the tiny textures, the angular or rounded shapes of the bass notes and floating echoes of the magnificent voices of this passionate ensemble in my painting. I had never heard such a resonant deep bass. I was totally captivated!  

Back in the studio, working on the largest sheet of paper I could find, I used a variety of brushes, bamboo pens, graphite, inks and watercolours, in my attempt to saturate myself in rhythm, to visualise my ecstatic experience. It was one of my early attempts (in 1974) to represent such graphic rhythms in my paintings, perhaps a key work in my development.

I was in Argentina, Chile and Brazil in the 1980's, leading workshops for teachers of the International Baccalaureate Visual Arts programme. I was enraptured by unforgettable vast expanses of nature, patterns, rhythms, rich earth colours and music, the like of which I had never experienced before - but I also became painfully aware of political and social injustice. The Misa Criolla is full of all this. I went to this multi-cultural continent to teach, but I learned so much.

Today, I would really love to create kinetic paintings in synch with this music and put it on video in my studio. Quite a challenge, but it's on my bucket list. Here's a Link to one of the many recordings on YouTube. Play this music as you watch the painting!