Belinda Sykes & JOGLARESA

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Classic FM Magazine November 2003
Belinda Sykes and Joglaresa are worlds apart from the blandness of Anonymous 4 and the inanity of the Medieval Baebes. They deliver gritty, high-energy performances of music often packaged as pure and contemplative, despite all its associations with the all-too-human medieval image of Mary Magdalen, the repentant prostitute. Scholarship and committed music-making unite, underpinned by Sykes’s knowledge of folk music from Europe and beyond.
Recommended. ***** [5 stars out of 5 stars]
Andrew Stewart

The Telegraph 30 August 2003
There was clearly something about the figure of Mary Magdalene, the archetypal repentant sinner, that medieval Christians found peculiarly simpathetic and attractive and that led to many picturesque legends about her: she inspired not only great popular devotion but also a huge corpus of music, of which this fascinating selection represents only the tip pf the iceberg. The programme contains examples of everything from simple hymn-like pieces with irresistably catchy tunes to more sophisticated items, such as plainsong-based motet and a passionately declamatory trouvère song.

Joglaresa's performances, whose imaginative use of improvisation creates an exciting air of authenticity, are equally varied, exploiting every possible combination of their four female voices and two instrumentalists to give each piece its own distinctive character.

Some strophic songs are sung with robust tone and compulsive rhythmic energy to the strains of a hurdy-gurdy, some are given gentler and more lyrical treatment with fiddle and/or harp, while other pieces including some luxuriantly ornamental solos with an almost oriental flavour, dispense with instruments altogether. With or without accompaniment, however, words are projected with extreme clarity.
Elizabeth Roche

The Independent on Sunday 3 August 2003
Antithetical in style to the not-till-we're-married-mister, pre-Raphaelite polish of Anonymous 4 and Trio Medieval, Joglaresa sing and play stright from the breast-bone; hot, grubby, rough-palmed and heavy on thhe patchouli oil. Though blessed with the variously girlish and matronly four intertwining voices and the hypnotic improvised accompaniments of hurdy-gurdy, fidel and harp, the jewel in their crown is Belinda Sykes; a musicologist, instrumentalist and vocalist who studied singing in Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. Sykes's naive yet sophisticated voice recalls the distant, throaty bark of Voix Bulgaires, the melismatic confidence of a muezzin, and the melancholy low of a cabaret chanteuse - a fittingly complex sound for a disc that traces Mary Magdalen's progress from prostitute to saint in a society as drawn to female carnality as it was repelled by it. Thick with Petrarchian sensuality, these C13th and C14th Burgundian and Italian hymns and songs reveal an icon who defied taxonomy. Folksy but fascinating.
Anna Picard

The Sunday Times 10 August 2003
On this excellently performed and recorded disc of 24 numbers devoted to Mary Magdalene, they relish the enriching of what are often very basic sources - so basic that some come without any indication of music at all - with a carefully gauged improvisatory approach, to colour as well as line. Thus, refined timbre is sometimes replaced by a course, nasal treatment, and they also admit the possibility of instrumental participation, which here might be the delicately sensual sound of harps or the less subtle noise of hurdy-gurdy and medieval fidel. The booklet includes an informative essay on the history and significance of the character of Mary Magdalene.
Stephen Pettitt