He swayed gently, his head tilted up slightly and eyes tightly squeezed shut, as if it wasn’t just his fingers that were determinedly focused on communicating with the strings of his guitar, but also his very essence. I watched transfixed, unsure of what it was that captivated me more; the sounds of his guitar as they floated around the walls of the monastery in a perfect waltz with the notes of his companion’s violin, or the intensity of the concentration that lay bare on his face.
I was standing in the Benedictine Sant Feliu de Guíxols Monastery, a structure that dates back to the 10th century and is listed as a Cultural Asset of National Interest.Restored many times, the monastery that now houses the town’s History Museum was built on Roman ruins as a fortress on the outside and a church within.
Two towers flank the 8th century Porta Ferrada (Iron Gate or Horseshoe Door). On the left, the semicircular Tower of Fum was used as a defense tower and warned residents of any dangers using smoke signals. To the right, the rectangular Tower of the Horn is the oldest and was used to alarm residents using the sound of a sea horn. Due to its size and ability to accommodate 40 men, it was used as a hiding place by monks in 1295, during the attack by French troops.
The monastery exercised control over the agricultural production of the area and protected its residents from its strategic location by the coast. The abbot’s growing authority gradually became a concern for local authorities trying to break free from his feudal power.
The Romanesque Porta Ferrada of the monastery is synonymous with the identity of the town of Sant Feliu de Guíxols, rich in both heritage and architecture, and in essence, a world away from the party towns of Costa Brava. At least that’s what it felt like as I looked up at the apse of the dimly lit church while the music of Pedro Burruezo and Maia Kanaan brought to life its stories. Perhaps its most glorious period was under the patronage of Abbott Arnau (1043-1052), when the Church witnessed fine celebrations on its many feast days, with instrumental music, singing, processions and the recital of religious verses, all of which were regarded as important to spiritual service.
My day at the monastery had left me curious about the musicians whose soulful music had undoubtedly become one of my favorite memories of my travels around Costa Brava. It’s not often that you find yourself connecting so deeply to songs whose lyrics you don’t understand. But it does happen and only drives home the point that we don’t always need to understand music to be moved by it. If you’re curious about what I mean, here’s a video of the singing from the monastery.
A few days later, I had the chance to interview Pedro Burruezo at the BioCultura Fair in Barcelona and learn more about the musician who’s also a highly respected environmentalist and pioneer.
Where does your style of music originate?
My style of music is experimental and innovative. It’s a mixture of different influences- medieval, Flamenco, Arabic, Sufi and classical, among others.
Are there any traditional influences in your music?
Yes, there are traditional influences but these are combined with contemporary sensibilities. The intention of this music is to have a modern sound and serve as a bridge between traditional and contemporary music, while bringing together different styles. I want to make music that is relevant in the present and not stuck in the past.
Which instruments do you use?
Spanish guitar, violin, cello, piano, percussion, mandolin and archilaud.
When did you first begin a career as a musician? What was your inspiration?
I started very young, at the age of fifteen. I wanted to make music that was spiritual drawing from traditional styles such as Sufi and medieval music. Though I wasn’t from a family of musicians, being born into a culture that was made rich by innovative musicians, leaders and vanguardists, inspiration came easily to me. My style of music has evolved over the years to include a stronger spiritual focus. I played in collaboration with different groups and musicians from around the country and we made quite a few records. Then, I had a moment where I knew this was the direction in which I wanted to take my music.
Can you tell me a little about your group?
We are a group of five musicians- two guitarists, a violinist, a pianist and me. Depending on where we’re playing, the place, conditions, budget, situation and the type of audience, sometimes it could be two or three of us performing instead of the entire group. Recently, three of our musicians played to an audience in Ankara, Turkey. Next week, our entire group will play alongside a choir of fourteen singers.
Have you had any formal training in music? Any teacher, master or guru?
I’m a self-taught artist. I’m my own guru.
How often do you play to a live audience? Do you also perform in other countries?
Usually, we have about two performances a month. We have performed in France, Turkey and all over Spain, including the Canary Islands. Our music isn’t targeted towards the masses with a strong commercial intent or to achieve popularity. It’s special and for people who appreciate the genre and the style. We play to an audience when the conditions are right. The place where we play is also an important factor. Very often, we play in churches.
What are the usual themes of the songs? You said your music was spiritual. Are your songs also religious?
I’m always looking to highlight the human essence through my music. My songs don’t talk about God like gospels do. The spiritual messages and lyrics of my songs are very subtle. These are inspired by Sufism and God, but are more poetic in nature rather than strongly religious. Spirituality is at their very core, and not religion. I’m very inspired by the works of great poets and the masters of mysticism. Some of these are Kabir, Rumi and Ibn-Al-Arabi.
What impact do you hope to make on your audience?
I am often told that my music makes people feel calm and at peace with themselves, something that is necessary in a world that’s full of confusing moments.
How do you connect to the music and what does it mean to you?
I have a love for all things spiritual and making music puts me in touch with my own state of being. When I’m making music, there’s nothing technical about it, it’s purely and solely based on feeling. The essence may have elements of Blues or Flamenco but it doesn’t strictly adhere to one particular style. There isn’t one rigid label you can put on it.
For me, my music is a need and a means of artistic expression. It isn’t about achieving commercial success or popularity.
What or who is your biggest inspiration?
Everything inspires me. It could be God, nature or people, depending on the song and context. For example, I like to sing love songs. But the same song that is sung to profess one’s love to a woman could also be sung in devotion to God.
Can you tell me about the magazine The Ecologist? (Pedro is Chief Editor of the magazine)
The Ecologist is part of the ecological movement in the country. It was founded by Edward Goldsmith, over forty years ago in England. It’s one among three ways we spread awareness of the movement, the other two being educational efforts through courses and degrees and the BioCultura Fair, organized by the NGO Asociacion Vida Sana. We have many writers and collaborators who contribute to the issues. The message is to have greater environmental awareness and move towards organic and natural products.
Spain is the largest organic producer in Europe. The ecological awareness has been growing in the past few years and more people believe in the organic movement now than when we first began. Our planet is moving towards destruction. So, it’s very important to strike a balance with nature, if we are to leave behind a sustainable world for future generations. Fortunately, there are various aspects represented in the fair that tours major cities in Spain such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Bilbao, such as education, medicine, art, energy and construction.
Whether it’s the fair or the magazine, or even my music, the message is similar and it’s about returning to the earth and stopping the destruction of the planet and human societies.
Which part of the country is your favorite?
I’m Catalan and I come from Murcia, a region in the south east of Spain. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite part of the country. The world is magnifique, it’s beautiful. Every place can be magical and special. However, I’m not a fan of urban tourism and cities. I prefer the countryside, beaches and nature. I’m a farmer, I have a garden where I grow my own vegetables for the food that my family consumes.
It’s very important for people to cultivate their own food and know its significance. Food is sacred. I believe that the food that you grow using your own hands has Baraka (in Islamic mysticism, it has a meaning similar to blessing). The next revolution in the world will be that of the farmers.
What is your favorite kind of music?
Flamenco, Sufi, the ragas of India and medieval music.
How do you foresee the future of modern spiritual music?
I aim to make music that is relevant in the context of present times, a quality I believe is very important. Music isn’t meant to be in a museum and that is why there is so much emphasis on the contemporary aspect in my music. However, at present this kind of spiritual music is a minority in the country’s music culture. I believe that in the near future, there will be more artists creating this type of music.
Here’s another video of Pedro and Maia.
For general information to help you plan your travels to Spain and suggested itineraries (including off-the-beaten-path places like Palafrugell, Girona and Cap De Creus), check out my Spain Travel Blog. Alternatively, just get straight to the point and find out where to go for the best chocolate in Barcelona 😉
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