An astounding series of peaks across North-West Spain are reified in folklore as instantly recognisable landmarks nefarious conquistadors and regular Joes all fixed upon as they finally sailed into the serenity of home waters. Anabel Santiago’s 2007 album Desnuda is in effect a rejuvenation of a musical heritage which sails between those many Spanish traditions, the ghosts of imperialism, the lonely rural sheep-farmers, and the songs that bind them all together as objectively and non-judgmental as is possible. When Santiago lilts between the lonesome rural holler and the thundering lungs of big city bravado on De los Picos d’Europa, one is privileged to appreciate just how central the theatrical, artistic, poetic, and musical traditions of Asturias are to a nation never quite as bonded as the postcards may like us to perceive. Santiago is a performer par excellence, that part of her character many of us will know by now, how she can croon, wail, mystify, and throw you off guard with her unique approach to every note that leaves her lips, is why she is as vital to pastoral Spain as Dolores Keane is to the wild hinterlands of Galway, or Victor Jara was to the humble children of Lonquen.
Desnuda’s most engaging moment is more than just a recognition of a heritage and the duties one must perform in order to preserve it in the face of joyless modernity, Santiago’s vocal presence is alone enough to rustle up the necessary levels of awe a sunset in Asturias can bring, where she takes the song to as much as where it has been is the real victory for all concerned. Some could wallow at the dying of a culture or commodify it; Santiago isn’t a philistine and never will be. Her music and her interpretations of that created by others is as much a challenge to the future as a lament of the past, at the centre of it all is Santiago’s nods to all walks of life, not pleading for a momentary flirtation with the red carpet, instead offering a simple, honest, and beautiful snapshot of everything in its own natural order. De los Picos d’Europa is the pinnacle of Santiago’s strengths, while never being the limit of her ambitions.