Mediterranean Music – Catalonia
Boy, do you have a lot of music; and even more diversity than I was expecting, and a lot of protest which I suppose I was expecting. Protest supporting the independence of Catalonia is a theme of the music, of all of the culture here. People like Cesk Freixas whose music is not really my thing, but his importance in the region’s culture and politics is too prominent to ignore. And Marina Rossell i Figueras “one of the most important singers in the modern Catalan language. She has sung traditional and revolutionary classical Catalan songs, habaneras and her own compositions”.
There is a sort of Spanish/Ska fusion – also found in other places on the journey so far, but much more pronounced in Catalonia. Some bands are playing a mix of flamenco, reggae, ska, rumba, and a European pop. Under the grey skies of a Northern Ireland in July (where I am writing) it all seems unfeasibly happy. There’s just not enough sun where I am and a surfeit where they are.
I am immediately struck by the jolly tunesmith creativity of almost every band I have listened to from Catalonia. On the verge of dismissing many as being “too poppy”, at the beginning; the more I hear, the more I realise that happy, singable, literally toe-tapping songs are what I should be expecting. Not the least being La Troba Kung-Fú who are just so much fun to listen to.
What would you expect to find in a Mediterranean region?
In this part of Spain that doesn’t want to be part of Spain, where there is a mighty influx of visitors each year? Arabic, African, Chanteuse, Jazz (of many types), electro, experimental, early medieval European and some decidedly uncharacteristically odd without category. And every sort of Spanish and Latin dance.
We have reached the northeastern extremity of the Iberian Peninsula. Here Spain meets France. Catalonia is designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy. I’ve already peaked over the Pyrenees and have heard some musical commonality already. But I’m in no rush to leave Catalonia just yet.
There are four provinces: Barcelona, Girona*, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital and largest city is Barcelona second only to Madrid in population. Catalonia’s population is around 7.5 million. And the music is stupendous. This is supposed to be a superficial meaningless unscientific survey. In Murcia I found almost nothing of note apart from the street music. Worth the trip to see and hear that. Most was YouTube videos rather than commercially available recordings. Valencia and Andalucia were filled with music, new, historic, and influenced by other Mediterranean countries and regions. Catalonia is stuffed with world class music and bands. Some I can’t make up my mind about. Are the Strombers “world music” or a bunch of mates having fun, or a highly commercialised pop music? Are they – and some of the other bands on the playlist – variations of modern day Spanish Madness, or the Pogues (well tanned with better teeth)?
And why have I never heard of the breath-taking 17 piece Coetus?
Everyone should have a Coetus album. They are my new favorite band.
“Coetus is the power and excitement of 17 musicians on stage, playing essentially percussion and vocals. It stems from the interest of its director Aleix Tobias to collect percussion instruments found in the Iberian Peninsula, the vast majority unknown. Coetus gathers them and endows the instruments with their own language, inspired by traditional rhythms, but with a current perspective, making an intensive dialog with the voices. Coetus has recovered traditional music and songs of celebration, lullabies, work songs, and children’s songs.” Source
[Remember, I’m not really here. I’m following an imaginary journey supported by the Internet; YouTube, Wikipedia, Spotify and Google Search.]
At this point the Spotify playlist is a few minutes short of 3 hours. Having watched some of the videos and listened again, I’ve managed to cut the playlist —- but by less than 30 minutes. It extends through time from Ovidi Montllor (1942 – 1995) who was of
“the Nova Cançó, (meaning in English “The New Song”) artistic movement that promoted Catalan music in Francoist Spain. The movement sought to normalize use of the Catalan language in popular music and denounced the injustices of the Franco regime. The Grup de Folk, which emerged in the same period, also promoted a new form of popular music in Catalan, drawing inspiration from contemporary American and British music.” [Source]
He influenced the modern day politician and singer songwriter Cesk Freixas. It extends through genre from medieval and traditional to electro and experimental. I want to hear more of Man Ex Maqina. I have seen Calima play – they are a stunning stage presence – both music and dance. Coetus have a more traditional world music style, but their influence is derived from around the whole of the Med. The excursion into what I’m calling Spanish Ska includes about 5 bands Strombers, La Troba Kung Fu, La Pegatina, Els Catarres and a few others. I’m not sure what to make of this. Is the music as superficial as my survey or does it have more significance. it’s great fun, though. Great fun. Then there is Els Francolins
And Rumba – so much rumba.
I won’t go through the whole playlist. It does not surprise me that there is great music in Catalonia – its history, its position, its influences. But I wasn’t expecting so much and such incredible variety.
The book I have chosen for this section is Cathedral of the Sea, by Ildefonso Falcones, trans. Nick Caistor. But I await the library request to be fulfilled and the book I ordered online to be delivered by post. So, in books I’m ahead of myself in the journey and have read Total Chaos Jean-Claude Izzo preparing me for the more gritty Marseilles in a few weeks.
There is more about the books here.
Want to travel further?
Gibraltar – Andalusia (or Andalucía) – Murcia – Valencia – Catalonia – France – Monaco – Italy’s North West – Western Italy – Italy – Toe to heel – Slovenia – Croatia – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Montenegro – Albania – Greece – Turkey – Syria – Lebanon – Israel – Palestine – Egypt – Libya – Tunisia – Algeria – Morocco
*The Girona – the ship not the provence – has a link to Northern Ireland. But that relationship is celebrated in A Coruña in Galicia.
The Ulster Museum owns the excavated remains of three of these ships, the galleass Girona which was wrecked at Lacada Point, near the Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim, La Trinidad Valencera which ran aground in Kinnagoe Bay, Co. Donegal and the Santa Maria de La Rosa which sank suddenly in Blasket Sound, Co. Kerry. [Source]
When I visited A Coruña in 1997, the chairman of the Girona historical society told me that while the Spanish Armada was due to depart from Cadiz, it in fact started from A Coruña. The professional sailors who had sailed from the Spanish Navy’s main port (as Cadiz was then and still is), many abandoned ship and local farmers were dragooned into crewing the armada. True or not, it sealed a relationship between Belfast and A Coruña, through Girona.
UPDATE: Now I have put together the YouTube playlist, I am even less certain about some of the bands. I will leave it up to you to decide what music you like, but I thing some of the bands sound better than their videos look.