for solo percussionist (cajón with other instruments)
Sensemayá is the title of a poem by Afro-Cuban writer Nicolás Guillén, which recounts the ritual slaughter of a snake. Subtitled “chant to kill a serpent,” the poem is highly rhythmic and almost demands to be recited aloud rather than read silently. It has been set to music by both classical and popular composers, the latter including the well-known Chilean group Inti-Illimani. Most famously, though, it served as the inspiration for the orchestral tone poem of the same title by Silvestre Revueltas, probably his best-known and most often-performed composition.
While Revueltas did not do a vocal setting of the poem that I know of, it is obvious to anyone who knows both the poem and his composition that many of the musical rhythms are taken from the speech rhythms of the original poem.
In this piece, which I consider to be a small homage to Revueltas, I use some of those very distinctive rhythms along with others of my own devising. I have, like Revueltas, tried to capture the ritualistic, fatalistic, violent atmosphere of Guillén’s small masterpiece. It was written at the request of my friend and colleague at the University of Louisville, Greg Byrne.