a rare occurrence.
Simply stated, Estampie & their various associated solo-factions are responsible for some of the most luscious, mesmeric, medieval resplendence of the modern era. This most certainly is not the part-time, synth-dependent, loosely-researched rehashing of medieval melodies, but a serious, sedulous & superlative undertaking & execution by expert musicians under an ongoing project operating at the highest standard. Estampie, the longest running &, dare I say – “parent body” ensemble – have been running since 1986. of the many, many musicians to traverse the collective through the decades in it’s varying formations, the multi-instrumentalist ustad Michael Popp & vocalist Sigrid Hausen are the most enduring members, with Michael described as “musical director” & credited as producer on most of the excursions.
Next to emerge or addendum is the sublime Al Andaluz Project, who’s truly superb Deus et Diabolus debut crystallized in 2007 on Galileo Music Communication. This subdivision saw the induction of two more female vocalists – Mara Aranda & Iman al Kandouussi, converging Arabic & Spanish with the Latin & assorted dialects & tongues of Sigrid Hausen. Conceptually, the projection was intended to simulate & embody the cultural & religious plurality of the al Andaluz civilization under the Umayyad caliphate in Spain & the Iberian peninsula, which was renowned for its polytheism & clemency for cross-cultural art & science, that apparently flourished in its accommodating environment during intermittent intervals over the 8th, 9th & 10th centuries. I remember thinking this was a little glib & quixotic back in 2007 – my how things have changed! & the point seems sharper & more current than ever.
So I missed a section. Before the inception of the Al Andaluz Project, Mara Aranda was herself already whirling with two medieval musical ensembles over in Spain – L’ham de Foc & Aman Aman (if my chronology is not in error?). Perched on the propeller of another maestro of arcane lutes – Efren Lopez – & a brilliant supporting collective of musicians, Aranda lead a similarly exigent consummation on the medieval genre.
It was purportedly at an actual Estampie concert in Germany that a L Ham de Foc recording was passed on to Estampie by a “visitor”, with the averment that such serious musicians & medieval specialists would probably appreciate it. & indeed they did. Al Andaluz followed quickly after.
Aman Aman have unfortunately only issued one album, the absolutely storming & solitary fifteen-track 2006 Musica I Cants Sefardis d’ Orient I Occident. For me, it is one of the best of them all, which is saying something as the quality exercised by these tremendously virtuous musicians through the many forms & albums is stark.
The historical research & conceptualization, particularly for the many permutations & specialized expansions of Estampie, are really rather scholastic. One does not have to indulge this detail at all when enjoying this incredible music, but it is clear that the precision & authenticity invested is immense, often with extensive compendiums accompanying each release detailing the periods, historical characters & themes that influence each exploration.
I am surprised that this multitude is not far, far more famous, especially given the immense popularity of various high-profile fantasy dramas that draw so heavily on medieval & “dark age” mythology, aesthetics & historical substance. Then again, as so often is the case in the arts & beyond – the shrewdest, most astute or profound practitioners are often strangely peripheral or scarce when it comes to the loudest fanfare or acceptabilities.
This radiantly beautiful & ancient music – & the highly consistent & skilled collectives driving it – are really worth your investigation. As “niche” as the medieval monicker may be presumed, this is magnificently relatable, appealing & even accessible music, without any compromise or reduction in complexity or depth. The entirely acoustic instrumentation & the ancient energies & harmonies are also an especially emollient & purifying reference & inspiration in our techno-degenerative & humanely-numbed era. Scores of barely registered esoteric instruments are routinely integrated, demonstrating the breadth of instruments that once chimed across Europe (the Middle East have done a much better job at keeping their older instruments in action). Definitely some of the most outstanding music around as far as I am concerned.