Music Review: The Spirit of the Earth

by Philip Glass and Daniel Medina de la Rosa and Erasmo Medina
reviewed by John Malkin
Album cover

The new two-CD album from Philip Glass—The Spirit of the Earth—is a curious collaboration between the American classical composer and two indigenous Wixarika musicians from Santa Catarina in Jalisco, Mexico. Their meeting and musical process developed over many years and the result is remarkable and unique. Glass describes the music to S&H this way: “It doesn’t sound like avant-garde or experimental music and it doesn’t sound like traditional music. It sounds like something that you don’t know.” 

The Spirit of the Earth features Glass on piano with Daniel Medina de la Rosa singing while playing the Wixarika violin (xaweri), along with his son Erasmo Medina on the Wixarika guitar (kanari). Fifteen years ago, Mexican author/anti-anthropologist Victor Sanchez introduced Glass to the spiritual music and sacred ceremonies of indigenous communities in remote regions of Mexico.

“We began to work in a new kind of language. For seven or eight years we played together and developed this language,” Glass reflects. “I was adapting my music to what he was doing, but then I noticed he changed the structure of the music to mirror what I was doing. That was a big breakthrough. Recently, after we did a concert together Daniel told me, ‘Now you have become an expert on Indian music!’” (See Glass’s answers to five questions about the album, page 86.)

The four 35-minute pieces are carried by Daniel’s story-songs inspired by visions of poderios sagrados—nature deities—and carry the titles “Wiextki” (Blue Deer), “Yuniuki Kuta Xetehey” (Are You for Real?), “Ekawipa” (We Are in the Wind), and “Hikuri” (Sacred Cactus). The trio played its first concert in 2012 (“The Concert of the Sixth Sun”) and later performed The Spirit of the Earth in Mexico in 2017 and at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California, in September 2018. —John Malkin

Photo: Arturo Bejar

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