Paco Peña’s Requiem for the Earth, commissioned for the 2004 Salisbury Festival, is a powerful musical expression of the idea that our existence on this earth is ephemeral. In due time we all pass away, and most of us live in the expectation that a new generation will take over, and that life, as we know it, will continue as if for ever. But Paco’s flamenco requiem takes us beyond the traditional Catholic liturgy, with its Lux Aeterna, its Dies Irae, Libera Me and Agnus Dei, for whereas the Requiem Mass expresses the hope that contrite souls will find their place in heaven on the Day of Judgement, and hence a faith in life everlasting, Paco’s requiem is a requiem for life on this planet.
How apt is Paco’s use of flamenco as a vehicle for a requiem for the earth: the Córdoban poet Ricardo Molina suggests that flamenco is rooted in the earth of Andalucía like a tree that draws its sustenance from the history of that soil. The flamenco singer’s voice tells us poignantly of the essential materials of life; and whereas other dance forms, including classical ballet, may take us into the ether, into a place above us, flamenco rises from the ground as an affirmation of our own origins from the Earth itself. There is passion, despair and joy in flamenco, but not spirituality or lofty purpose. Flamenco deals with the day to day, with survival in a harsh world. It speaks of our surroundings in a powerful, pragmatic language and an outburst of feeling.
In Misa Flamenca (1988), the poignant lament of the flamenco singer rasps against the more rounded, less syncopated sound of the choir. The resulting tension lends authenticity to both elements, the flamenco and the liturgical. Paco’s Requiem for the Earth is no less dramatic and adds a powerful voice to the words, whether for the Christian or indeed for those concerned with the Earth. In it, we are faced with our collective responsibility for having damaged the fabric of life to the point where our actions may well prove cataclysmic to ourselves as well as to other forms of life. Paco’s requiem expresses his grave concerns for humankind; it also encourages us to invest some hope in the future, above all in telling us that we must act now to save our planet.