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‘On Music and Political Concerns’: an interview with Hilda Paredes, in Vortex

Vortex Music Journal has published a very interesting interview with UYMP composer Hilda Paredes.  In a conversation with Luis Velasco-Pufleau of the Universität Bern in Switzerland Paredes talks about the political and ethical concerns which influence her music, the relationship between her music and contemporary Mexican indigenous poetry,  the link between gender issues and social justice, the burden of racism, the embodied experience of violence, the destruction of language and the relationship between her creative process and environmental concerns. 

Velasco Pufleau writes:  ‘We discuss these issues in relation to several of her works, in particular Kamex ch’ab (2010), El Palacio imaginado (2003), La tierra de la miel (2013), Harriet (2018) and Rainy days (2019). The result is an exploration of how she tackles in each work these issues by constructing networks of events, places and people.’  Paredes talks in detail about the influence the Mayan language and culture has had upon her work, about the particular Mayan phonetics, which sounds do not exist in European languages and which she tries to portray in her music, particularly in Kamex ch’ab, where she explores Mayan phonetics both in the vocal lines and in the string writing.  She also explores the form of the shamanic prayer in Kamex ch’ab, and explains how ‘the repetitions and additions transform the ritual to achieve the transformation sought by the shaman’.  Paredes tells how she has worked frequently with Mayan poet Briceida Cuevas Cob, whose poems she describes as very current and strong, and about the struggle to preserve the pre-Hispanic linguistic legacy, which could be lost due to racism. 

In her opera ‘El Palacio imaginado’ (Phantom Palace, 2003) Paredes addresses the racism and self-colonialism that prevails in Mexic­­o.  In her opera La Tierra de la miel, which forms the fourth part of the Cuatro Corridos chamber opera created under the direction of Susan Narucki, Paredes relates the true story of a network of sexual exploitation and human trafficking between Tenancingo (Tlaxcala) and the San Diego region of the United States.  Paredes explains: ‘My work ends with Iris, who is dead, singing in Nahuatl, as many of these women are indigenous. My interest was to give a voice to these women whose deaths have not been vindicated.’  Paredes’ BASCA Award-winning opera Harriet addresses the issue of slavery, the many human rights issues surrounding slavery, the Underground Railroad, the story of the legendary Harriet Tubman, one of the first abolitionists in the US. 

Finally, Paredes talks about her creative processes in music and her environmental concerns.  Her work Rainy days was commissioned by the Philharmonie in Luxembourg, for a festival which explicitly criticises consumerism – stating that “Less is more” – and advocates a world in which reduction and restraint preserve nature and human relationships.  Paredes says: ‘For me, composing is a process of discovery. It’s like sculpting, you have a block and you take matter out of it until you find the essence of the idea. That’s part of my creative process and in that sense I do compose with the idea of “less is more”. Although it seems paradoxical in my work, because there are works that are quite intense, with many sounds, textures and movement.’  Paredes goes on to explain how Rainy days is made ‘like a hocketting play between the two pianists’ and how it is influenced by the gamelan and the gamelan’s pattern of movement of the musicians’ hands, rather than the melody being controlled completely by pitch. 

To Velasco-Pufleau’s concluding question ‘Do you think that the very definition of sounds that are considered as music and those that are not, already has a political dimension?’,  Paredes responds: ‘All the sounds that conform a specific piece of music, are part of my compositional palette, without necessarily having a political discourse in advance. I have explored the dramatic context that includes social or political issues mostly in opera or music theatre……. Music itself has a much wider potential, which leads us along unsuspected paths to discover sound universes, inner worlds and to develop the imagination and the capacity to surprise us.’  The whole interview may be read here:


Photo: Harriet, Act III