Ialma : ‘We are today’s women !’
The paths that lead to Santiago de Compostela are long. They connect people and places all over Europe. However, for many Galician people who, in successive flows have left their country in search of work or freedom from the dominant dictatorship, the awaited pilgrimage is that which returns them to their culture, to their roots, to an identity which gives people something to share.
What does one do with culture when we are far from home, when it is embedded in nostalgia, when it clings to memories? Of course, we sing, dance, play the ‘gaita’ (bagpipes), and participate in activities in the Galician Culture Centres spread around the world, but how and why? Is it to retain an image romanticized by the melancholy of exile or to bring their heritage closer to a new reality? The choice is anything but simple and those who take a personal approach to answering these questions, over an official or national approach, are few and far between..
In Brussels, five young women from Galicia have gradually created a repertoire of songs and dances borrowed from the base of their origins but adapted to the need for transmitting a new reality; that of women enmeshed in many different languages, cultures and artistic expressions. This group, Ialma, had to struggle to come forth with a personalised piece just as they have fought to create a place in the middle of a world that scrutinises and tries to dictate your direction.
These five singers started in the Galician Cultural Centre in Brussels in order to accompany traditional dances. The dance instructors came from Galicia and the ‘gaita’ was the fundamental (if not obligatory) instrument. But singing, the mixture of memories, the quest and participatory learning, quickly lent to another sensation, as though suddenly another side of this tradition revealed itself : that which appears when the strict boundaries of tradition are not the same as in the homeland. Ialma quickly attracted the attention of professionals and the Zoku label created by EMI Music Belgium. The greatly anticipated release of the first album was an act of liberation, strictly speaking, a kind of transgression with respect to the traditional rules. The singers have diverted somewhat from the paths of Santiago de Compostela but maintain a constant direction, that which returns to their roots. Refusing to overly exploit some folkloric songs and dances, while at the same time never denying their existence, they have shown that along these paths cultures coincide and cross over regions with traditional dances, violin, diatonic accordion, and thousands of other expressions just as rich and energising as the original pieces. Why carve this path with blinders on when opening our eyes and ears can only lead to enrichment?
It wasn’t until their second album, along with a with a fine tuned approach that they gained recognition from the region of Galicia as well. To sing and speak in their mother-tongue, ‘Gallego’ or Galician does not suffice for the singers. They have travelled to Galicia to find the older generation of singers who closely guard their repertoire of traditional songs and hold on to their tambourines (even if they no longer use them). These village women, living museums that are reaching the end of the road, always end up leaving a part of themselves behind on their way and in doing so share a bit of their wisdom. Through this process, Ialma has become a showcase for Galician music; the group has used this opportunity to invite guests onstage such as praiseworthy old women those who have made this music survive, from the praiseworthy old women to whom singing comes naturally, to today’s artists who have taken it upon themselves to shake up tradition in order to reveal the diamond under the dust, notably, Mercedes Péon.
Having taken on the task of changing the sound and concept of the music may also be a beneficial contribution to the preservation of this music. However, beyond the music and song, it is much more than a musical project, it is a commitment to culture that is made evident in the evolution of Ialma, which has now produced three discs and will soon embark on their 10th year together.
From these women, one immediately senses the pleasure and pride they have in sharing what they love and what makes them different in the heart of the immense cultural diversity that inspires them. They are comfortable with this position, to the extent that they consider themselves ambassadors of distant Galicia towards which, with even the slightest pretext, they return to. Though they are too humble to become official ambassadors, the fact is they are increasingly (and justifiably) considered as an example of a positive result of the diaspora. Many exiled young Galician people, who were born in foreign countries, do not feel at home in Galician Cultural Centres and they lose the expression of their culture in the maze of big cities. Ialma has paved the way for them and has proved that still today, especially in their show entitled ‘100 Voltas’ or 100 Turns, that we can be fulfilled while living amongst many cultures without having to latch on to one particular structure; all the while incorporating ancestral elements and that which has been gathered along newly carved paths.
‘We are today’s women.’ Veronic Codesal says with a smile, ‘we have the pleasure of communicating the freedom of what we are able to do with our culture.’ One feels this pleasure of returning to the profound and rich origins, the contact with those who have sung before us. In addition, there is the need to distance ourselves in order to better understand where we can place these fragments of history, which shared through song in the modern-day world, make us stop and remind us that other ways of making music still exist. Between singing at home, in daily life, and sharing their songs on stage with an unknown public, the long journey unfolds that perfectly summarises Veronica Codesal, Marisol Palomo, Nuria Aldao, Natalia Codesal and Magali Menendez within this particular interpretation of traditional music.
Ialma’s record, as they approach ten years together, is an impressive number of concerts or festivals from Belgium and Galicia to Holland, France and the Czech Republic. It is a series of collaborations and shared moments with Mercedes Peon, Kepa Junkera, Didier Laloy, Carlos Nuñez, Eliseo Parra, Berrogüetto, Wannes Vandevelde and also the medieval group, Zefiro Torna. Ialma has participated in various large festivals in Galicia and other events as well, such as the reopening of the KVS Theatre or the prestigious festival ‘Voix de femmes’(women’s voices) in Belgium. They also frequently participate in concerts by ‘Urban Trad’, a group which Veronica Codesal lent her voice to when it earned second place in the Eurovision competition.
Today, as we follow-up on these five singers and their three albums, we impatiently wait for their next project, the fourth disc. In the meantime, we are moved each time they walk on stage, especially during the excellent show ‘100 Voltas’. A daring and astonishing show, during which once again, the five singers, musicians, dancers, singers and other guest musicians proved that popular music with a traditional base is above all a space for coming together and for interchange. Songs and dance mark the journey we make from past to present, between cultural extremities, between the expressions in the village and the city, between the desire to share music with one another, and finally, where different music appears. Possibly Ialma’s principal force is this: to have succeeded at gently breaking down prejudices, barriers and useless blinders.
Translated from French to Englsih by Salomé Phillmann
- Ialma : Palabras darei (Zoku) – 2000
- Ialma : Marmuladas (Zoku) – 2002
- Ialma : Nova era (Kerua) – 2006
- Ialma : SIMBIOSE (FOL Musica) – 2011