Various Artists – Smithsonian Folkways, Music of the Maya-Quiches of Guatemala: The Rabinal Achi and Baile de las Canastas

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
A frank look into the mystical origins of a number of Indian civilizations.

There's a gloriously primal quality here, a feeling of being transported back to a time before the Conquistadors — in fact, it's largely ritual music. These are field recordings made in 1945 (actually the earliest recordings of Guatemalan Indians), which accounts for the hazy sound quality, but it's worth persevering for this unique peek into the mystical worlds of the Maya, the Quiche, the Chajul and the Nabaj. Much of the music comes from the Rabinal Achi, a drama mentioned by the Spanish, while Baile de Las Canastas was a performance that marked the tribe's change from a nomadic to an agricultural society. Centuries ago these were great epics, and even these stripped-down performances retain a certain grandeur. The melodies are simple, even hypnotic, while there's a wildness to the rhythms that seems untamed, but is actually disciplined. As a double glimpse into raw, early Latin history, it's fascinating.