It’s one of the very few natural certainties that as we begin, so we must end – everything that lives, one day, has to die. Humans, perhaps uniquely aware of our own mortality, deal with this fact through ritualising death with every civilisation having different customs, fables and folktales about the afterlife and the importance of dying. Taking cues from the Mexican ‘day of the dead’ festival, Modern Troubadours set some of these ancient stories to live music in a fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of what lies beyond this world.
A wonderfully reaffirming celebration of both life and death.
Sarah Nichols presides over the evening with grace and quiet confidence, telling the stories with great solemnity and respect. She is a warm, engaging host and we are lucky to have her as our guide through the underworld. Her backing musicians are equally talented. Percussionist and artistic director Aldo Aranda moves between drums, singing bowls, glockenspiel and other traditional sound-makers with a fluid virtuosity. His presence is commanding and he provides much of the visual energy of the piece.
Flautist Gaëlle Dohen provides a complimentary lightness across a similarly large array of woodwind instruments. Nichols herself completes the soundscape with occasional harp playing – the Troubadours are an odd sonic trio but completely appropriate for the stories they tell. Dancing and vocals are sometimes added, ensuring that this really is a fiesta in all senses of the word.
It’s slightly too long – one fewer story would have sufficed to ensure a tighter experience. Having said that, the combination of fine storytelling with energetic and unorthodox orchestration is an effective one. Ultimately, what really makes the piece shine is, like many of the stories it tells, it is in no way morbid: Fiesta De Los Muertos is a wonderfully reaffirming celebration of both life and death.