20 years before Jon Balke’s project Siwan, a group of passionate musicians going by the name of Radio Tarifa set out to explore what the music of mediaeval Spain might have sounded like. Over the course of four albums released on the World Circuit/Nonesuch record labels between 1993 (with the ground-breaking Rumba Argelina) and 2006, Radio Tarifa broadcast a superb exploration of the Arabic, Jewish and Christian musical traditions through the prism of flamenco, rock, jazz, mediaeval and renaissance music.

Radio Tarifa is a symbolic name and it really sums up the music of the group. Tarifa is the southernmost point of Spain. If you turn the dial of a radio there you can pick up sounds from North Africa, you hear the Arabic early morning call-to-prayer; from there you reach out into the whole of Mediterranean Europe, to the Middle East, and beyond to the Americas. And that’s us and our music—a meeting point between all the cultures that have passed through, and continue to come through, that part of Spain.

Faín Dueñas

Radio Tarifa - Rumba Argelina (1993/1996)
Radio Tarifa – Rumba Argelina (1993/1996)

Radio Tarifa was formed in the late 1980s when two members of an early-music and renaissance ensemble (percussionist Faín Dueñas and Vincent Molino, a flute player from southern France) met with Andalusian flamenco singer Benjamín Escoriza in Madrid.

An eclectic mix of instruments borrowed from different traditions (gimbri, ney, crumhorn, Poitou oboe, darbuka, djembe, tabla, harmonium, oud, bouzouki etc.) alongside an electric bass, a saxophone, a keyboard or a piano accordion and the gravelly voice of Benjamín Escoriza (1953 – 2012) became the striking characteristics of Radio Tarifa’s adventurous sound.

Almost all our music is modal, which means it is totally melody based. Modal means it’s not chromatic, so it doesn’t use all the black and white notes of the piano like classical European scales, and the scales do not necessarily have seven-note patterns either. We all play single melody lines with different rhythmic phrasing, and the flow and the delicacy and density of what we do comes from that.

Faín Dueñas

Radio Tarifa - Temporal (1998)
Radio Tarifa – Temporal (1998)

The traditional flamenco song “Temporal” comes from Radio Tarifa’s 1998 eponymous album which explores the roots of flamenco with a cast of 14 musicians. Following a short introduction on percussions, double bass and Spanish guitar, the majestic contrast between Benjamín Escoriza’s passionate and earthy voice and an ethereal jazz-like solo on the bansuri elevates the song to soaring heights. And while the Indian transverse bamboo flute is not an instrument traditionally used in flamenco music, it nevertheless hints superbly at the Romani/Gypsy roots of the style and exemplifies Radio Tarifa’s experimental sound.