The Sounds of SAVAE

Those who attended Friday evening’s concert at the Colgate Memorial Chapel were treated to a unique and culturally rich musical experience from the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble, more popularly known as SAVAE. SAVAE’s members, which include Kathy Mayer, Tanya Moczymgemba, Christopher Moroney, Covita Moroney, Jody Noblett, Lee P’Pool and Sonya Yamin, used a wide variety of indigenous instruments and rare dialects to recreate the music of the Aztec and Inca territories of Nueva España.

SAVAE’s performance was an interesting fusion of Indigenous American and Colonial Spanish music. Equally as remarkable, however, is the history behind this incredible blend of culture producing this style of music. The captivating show utilized music written by indigenous composers in conjunction with Portuguese and Spanish chapelmasters in New Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These rare musical works, which consist of a blend of Indigenous Latin American, West African and traditional European styles, were transcribed from colonial cathedral archives found in Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. The European missionaries in these territories wrote music that conveyed stories of Christianity in indigenous languages and styles, and performed these songs with the familiar instruments of the indigenous peoples to create a cultural bridge between the different groups. As a result of this, songs involving the traditional mother goddesses of the indigenous cultures eventually began to be replaced with music involving the Virgin Mary. The song “Nican Mopohua” performed by SAVAE was sung in the classical Nahuatl language and recounts the visitation of Mary to Juan Diego. The actual performance of these songs in their native tongue, when combined with the vast array of indigenous instruments, is what makes SAVAE’s concert truly impressive.

The group utilizes instruments such as the ayacaxtli (gourd shaker), chicahuatzli (rainstick), teponaztli (slit drum), atecocoli (conch shell horn) and huilacapitzli (ocarina), as well as more basic tools such as deer antlers and toned rocks to perform their music. These seemingly simple instruments combine to create complex rhythms and drumbeats that engage the audience in the stories being told. The authenticity of the performance is such that if you were to close your eyes, you may feel as though you were listening to an ancient ceremony performed by an indigenous culture.

Sophomore Amber Harding is a member of the choir who had rehearsed with several members of SAVAE earlier that evening also remarked on the concert.

“It was really interesting to hear them all together as a group, its very neat that they are bringing back this traditional music from the colonial times,” Harding stated.

Since their debut in San Antonio’s San Fernando Cathedral in 1989, SAVAE has been traveling and performing their music across the country, appearing on national radio programs and in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News and the Chicago Sun Times. Their music has also been featured in acclaimed documentaries such as Discovering Dominga, by Academy Award winner Todd Boekelheide, and in films such as Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. The acclaim attributed to SAVAE’s performances is certainly worthy, and their live performance was not only entertaining, but also a culturally enlightening experience.

Contact Kristen Robinson at [email protected].