Xabier Diaz & The Adufeiras de Salitre – support Barzaz – Celtic Connections – New Auditorium, Royal Concert Hall.
Written by celtic music radio on January 22, 2024
Having previously seen Xabier (pron. SHAByer for those of you not proficient in the Galician!) during 2020 Celtic Connections, at a tour-de-force concert in the Drygate Brewery venue, I was really looking forward to this one.
First up on the night were Breton traditional band Barzaz. Great musicians and steeped in Breton tradition. Their percussionist, David ‘Hopi’ Hopkins, was, however, hors de combat with one of the seasonal bugs that are going round, and that, unfortunately, diminished the drive of their performance a little. Flautist Jean-Michel Veillon and Alain Genty on fretless bass were outstanding musically, and guitarist Gilles Le Bigot confidently underpinned the performance.
The youngest member of the group, their brand new singer Youenn Lange, has a very sweet voice. Lange did give the impression of having been dropped in at the deep end though and was obviously having to concentrate more on his music stand than on engaging with the audience. I have to be frank and say that what also held them back a little was their choice of material. While I appreciate that the band sees itself as a preserver of Breton history, from a performance point of view, the setlist was very downbeat and many of the songs, as skilfully explained by Gillon, were on serious or downright macabre themes. They would have made a marvellous backdrop for Breton-based documentaries or historical dramas, but I feel the show would have benefitted greatly from more audience engagement and more upbeat numbers. While Barzaz demonstrate tremendous musical skill and knowledge, the band should perhaps take a few performance hints from their Breton compatriots Tri Yann, Alan Stivell, and Nolwenn Leroy.
By contrast, Xabier Díaz – vocals & percussion (plus some ad hoc dancing!), Javier Álvarez -accordion, Gutier Álvarez – violin, hurdy-gurdy, and Galician bagpipes, and the five all-female dancers, singers and percussionists who made up this touring version of the Adufeiras de Salitre, all demonstrated huge amounts of what they call “chispa” (lit. “spark”) in Spain.
Highlights of the performance for me were as follows: Cantiga da Montaña (Song from the Mountain) – a brilliant piece which I suppose you’d have to call a 5/8 jig. The smoothness with which the band flowed over this irregular rhythm would have put Dave Brubeck to shame, and the vocal delivery, both from Xabier and from the Adufeiras, was superb. Xabier has a very gentle easy sound to his voice, but he makes great use of its wide range and his own percussive talents to really drive a song. Tentenublo (Cloud Warning) – this opened with a bell tolling – as village church bells would have rung to warn shepherds of an approaching storm. Very evocative, and, between Xabier and the Adufeiras, full of physical as well as musical movement. Pasodobre de Beo (Pasodoble from Beo) – as you might guess, this is a Galician variant on the traditional Pasodoble dance that’s performed, in all its variations, throughout Spain. Again, lots of movement on stage, and the audience joining in on the chorus – which happened frequently throughout the night as songs from the Iberian Peninsula are rich in choruses that go le-le-le-le, lah-lah-lah-lah, or na-na-na-na, which definitely makes audience participation a whole lot easier.
I have to give a special mention to the Adufeiras. The ladies sang, danced, and played their adufes (a kind of square bodhran) throughout the show giving tremendous energy to each song. Xabier himself was no slouch physically and gave us some wonderful little interludes of Galician traditional dance – a master at work! There was, as seems usual at Xabier Díaz concerts, a standing ovation and encore at the end. My only reservations about a thoroughly entertaining show were the comparative formality of the auditorium versus 2020’s Drygate Brewery venue – which had the aisles full of people dancing, and the fact that what Xabier described in an interview I recorded as “their biggest hit”, O Baile de Noró, didn’t appear in the set. Next time please, Xabi!