For the Huichols, the Wixárikas, music is one of the purest expressions of the spiritual world. An indigenous ethnic group from western central Mexico, they’re widely known for their ceremonies and religious pilgrimages which include the ritual ingestion of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus operating as a means of communication with divinity. Dance and music also make up a significant part of the traditions that honor their deities. The sounds of these peoples, unique and indigenous, years ago inspired Philip Glass to approach both the culture and its musical tradition. The result was an album, Concert of the Sixth Sun, in which mysticism and peculiarity describe a ritual universe as powerful as it is sublime, as humble and simple as it is majestic.

According to the calendars of the prehispanic Mayan and Toltec peoples, the history of the universe is divided into suns. The sixth sun began on December 21, 2012, after 5,125 years of the fifth sun. The Concert of the Sixth Sun was held the day before this era-change in Real de Catorce, a small ghost town (once a mining community) in the heart of the traditional Huichol area. Accompanied by Glass’s piano, the wixárika spiritual musicians included Daniel Medina de la Rosa and Roberto Carrillo, who played the huichol violin (raweri) and the huichol guitar (kanari), respectively. They also sang de la Rosa’s lyrics, inspired during his own pilgrimages and religious ceremonies.

As a musical testimony to the magical encounter, the concert was also a ritual. The resulting album of the same name is made up of four ceremonial compositions reinterpreted through the inclusion of a non-indigenous voice (the piano), but which nevertheless feels completely organic. At Glass’s request, proceeds from the sale of the record are donated to the wixárika community of Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán (a reminder of the American musician’s  gretaness of spirit).

The unique sound of the Huichol instruments – of European origin but which have evolved into instruments and sounds typical of the ethnic groups who adopted them since the Spanish conquest – is strange to ears accustomed to conventional violins or guitars. Their squeaky voices, nearly out of tune, express in time a sweetness and strength worthy of the sacred message they transmit. The repetitive melodies (clearly emulating a spiritual trance) are fused with what’s widely known as musical minimalism, characteristic of much of Glass’s music, and in which the piano remains in the background and functions as a support for the main melody and voice. The apparent simplicity and depth of such religious melodies blends perfectly with Glass’s music and results in a timeless auditory treasure.


Glass’s trajectory has given us many similar works. Recall Passages, the 1990 album recorded with the great Ravi Shankar and which brought a taste of India’s musical culture to a broad audience.  More recently, on Orion (2004), Glass collaborated with musicians from all over the world (from China, Australia and Greece, to name but a few). A portentous musician, Glass was born in Baltimore, and throughout his dazzling, long career, he’s sampled the music of peoples from around the world, always reminding us that, finally, music is a universal language capable of exalting anyone willing to feel it.

 

 

 

 

Image: Creative Commons

For the Huichols, the Wixárikas, music is one of the purest expressions of the spiritual world. An indigenous ethnic group from western central Mexico, they’re widely known for their ceremonies and religious pilgrimages which include the ritual ingestion of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus operating as a means of communication with divinity. Dance and music also make up a significant part of the traditions that honor their deities. The sounds of these peoples, unique and indigenous, years ago inspired Philip Glass to approach both the culture and its musical tradition. The result was an album, Concert of the Sixth Sun, in which mysticism and peculiarity describe a ritual universe as powerful as it is sublime, as humble and simple as it is majestic.

According to the calendars of the prehispanic Mayan and Toltec peoples, the history of the universe is divided into suns. The sixth sun began on December 21, 2012, after 5,125 years of the fifth sun. The Concert of the Sixth Sun was held the day before this era-change in Real de Catorce, a small ghost town (once a mining community) in the heart of the traditional Huichol area. Accompanied by Glass’s piano, the wixárika spiritual musicians included Daniel Medina de la Rosa and Roberto Carrillo, who played the huichol violin (raweri) and the huichol guitar (kanari), respectively. They also sang de la Rosa’s lyrics, inspired during his own pilgrimages and religious ceremonies.

As a musical testimony to the magical encounter, the concert was also a ritual. The resulting album of the same name is made up of four ceremonial compositions reinterpreted through the inclusion of a non-indigenous voice (the piano), but which nevertheless feels completely organic. At Glass’s request, proceeds from the sale of the record are donated to the wixárika community of Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán (a reminder of the American musician’s  gretaness of spirit).

The unique sound of the Huichol instruments – of European origin but which have evolved into instruments and sounds typical of the ethnic groups who adopted them since the Spanish conquest – is strange to ears accustomed to conventional violins or guitars. Their squeaky voices, nearly out of tune, express in time a sweetness and strength worthy of the sacred message they transmit. The repetitive melodies (clearly emulating a spiritual trance) are fused with what’s widely known as musical minimalism, characteristic of much of Glass’s music, and in which the piano remains in the background and functions as a support for the main melody and voice. The apparent simplicity and depth of such religious melodies blends perfectly with Glass’s music and results in a timeless auditory treasure.


Glass’s trajectory has given us many similar works. Recall Passages, the 1990 album recorded with the great Ravi Shankar and which brought a taste of India’s musical culture to a broad audience.  More recently, on Orion (2004), Glass collaborated with musicians from all over the world (from China, Australia and Greece, to name but a few). A portentous musician, Glass was born in Baltimore, and throughout his dazzling, long career, he’s sampled the music of peoples from around the world, always reminding us that, finally, music is a universal language capable of exalting anyone willing to feel it.

 

 

 

 

Image: Creative Commons