The Paraguayan artist Bertha Rojas is one of the greatest Latin American classical guitarists, but she is well aware that before her there were other pioneers to whom she dedicated her album “Legado”.
“In times past for a woman to travel the world playing a guitar was a rarity to say the least,” Rojas said in a recent phone interview from Asuncion about her new album. “There was a very big limitation for a woman to follow her dreams and if that dream involved dedicating herself to music or dedicating herself to composition.”
In “Legado”, released at the end of May, Rojas pays homage to the French guitarist Ida Presti (1924-1967) and the Argentine Maria Luisa Anido (1907-1996), of whom he includes original compositions and others that have been made to celebrate them. These guitarists not only developed their own voice as outstanding concert performers, they also composed, arranged and inspired new generations.
“I think that in some way María Luisa paves the way so that what many women do today of playing music around the world, being able to travel with a guitar, is something normal,” said Rojas, who also defined Presti as “the most great that the guitar had in the 20th century”.
“He also had a level of understanding of music that went far beyond explanation,” he added of Presti.
Rojas said that he wanted to pay the ransom that other of his colleagues have made of both, since he considers them exceptional creators. “We had to dust them off a bit to bring them back into the conversation and to get closer to their figure and the immense legacy they leave behind,” he said.
Among the compositions of the guitarists, Anido’s “Lejanía” stands out from the “Nostalgic Preludes” series. “It is the work of María Luisa Anido that is going to remain in your unconscious the most, almost without realizing it. It happened to me when I heard it for the first time, I kept hearing it inside me,” Rojas said. “I couldn’t tear myself away from that series of arpeggios that were so beautiful and evocative.”
De Presti included “Segovia”, composed in honor of the Spanish maestro Andrés Segovia. Rojas said that Segovia was a decisive figure in Presti’s career because his father wanted him to play the guitar after seeing him in concert. “He was so fascinated with the figure of Segovia that he said ‘my daughter is going to be a guitarist,’” Rojas said.
“Idylle Pour Ida” is a tribute to Presti composed by British maestro John W. Duarte after the guitarist’s death. This theme has a music video in which Rojas performs it from the stage of the Municipal Theater of Asunción with a long white skirt that resembles a large flower from which she emerges. During the recording of the video, directed by Noelia Armele, Rojas was alone, but applause is heard at the end, which was recorded during one of her concerts in Finland.
“That was the idea Noelia had,” Rojas said. “She told me: ‘the applause is yours’”.
The work in four movements “Anido’s Potrait”, composed by Brazilian guitarist Sérgio Assad, is a tribute to the guitarist and to Latin American genres and styles such as zapateado, chacarera and salsa. It was created on behalf of Rojas.
“I said, ‘Maybe it’s time to step into the story a little bit. What would happen if I asked a figure like Sérgio Assad to write a portrait of Anido?’” Rojas recalled.
The series plays with musical anagrams, assigning a sound to each letter of Anido’s name. The genres that Assad chose are also representative of the different stages of the guitarist’s life. The chacarera represents her childhood in Argentina. The second movement is a zapateado that describes her time in Spain, the country where she died. The third movement is a barynya that refers to her travels and stays in Russia and to the folk music of that country. The last movement is a salsa dedicated to her visits to Cuba.
“It is the most evocative and the most capricious of the movements, where there is a very interesting rhythmic flexibility”, said Rojas about the last one. “That salsa really is a very, very beautiful work where you can feel all the Latin American rhythms in all their splendor”.
The album highlights “El misachico” from the series “impresiones argentinas” by Anido, which he dedicated to his mother after her death. “It describes a ritual of death, of burial… you can almost perceive that caravan that is accompanying the body,” Rojas said.
“The way he describes death is one sound, you listen at the end and it’s one very soft note, which I think is the last breath,” he added. “Every time I’ve played it, it moves me a lot.”
Rojas, who will perform this Thursday in concert at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in a recital dedicated to Presti, has also been feeling quite emotional lately, but for good reason.
Her beloved guitar “La rojita”, which has accompanied her since 2008 rehearsing daily from 4 to 6 hours and which appears in its red case on the cover of “Legado”, was recovered after being stolen in Cleveland and was on its way to be reunited with her at the time of the interview.
“We did the exercise of visualizing that the guitar was taking off on its own flight and it just appeared there,” Rojas said happily. “I want to know how many stories she is going to tell me when she comes back.”
Rojas, who has been nominated for three Latin Grammys, will perform in concert at the Asunción municipal theater on July 28 and in Buenos Aires on July 31.