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  • Barcelona’s New Arrivals: The Itinerant Music of Catalonia

    The musical styles in Barcelona exemplify the diverse communities that coexist in this city as people from around the world make it their new home. This playlist celebrates the movement of people that many of us experience in our globalized societies, resulting in a colorful mosaic of sounds and a hopeful vision of the future.

    1. “Barcelona Sona”
    by Yacine & the Oriental Groove (2016)

    Other Mediterranean communities—such as those of North Africa and the Middle East—have come together in the city to create new multicultural projects. In the case of Yacine & the Oriental Groove, the band combines the stylings of Greek lute player Yannis Papaionnaou, Turkish saxophonist Ertoruk, Algerian guitarist and bassist Massinissa Aït-Ahmed, drummer Dani Clavera, and Algerian Spanish singer Yacine Belhacene.

    2. “Fuera de la Mar”
    by Las Migas y Silvia Pérez Cruz (2010)

    Singer Silvia Pérez Cruz tells stories through music, something she says she inherited from her mother. She sings in at least five languages, which is a reminder of the richness and diversity of cultures that gave life to flamenco in the south of Spain. As a music student in Barcelona, she founded a group with three other women called Las Migas. Seeking to bridge music with emotion, they found inspiration in classic flamenco and other forms of sung poetry. The lyrics of “Fuera de la Mar” feature a poem by renowned Spanish author Federico García Lorca (1898–1936).

    3. “El Muerto Vivo”
    by Sabor de Gracia (2017)

    Cuban music arrived in Andalusia in the nineteenth century, leading to a new style of flamenco referred to as rumba flamenca. Its rhythms inspired the Romani community of Barcelona to create rumba catalana. People have danced to this very distinctive and cheerful Catalan genre for decades, as artists like Peret rose to fame with songs like “El Muerto Vivo” ¹—iconic in the rumba catalana repertoire. This is a modern version by Sabor de Gracia, one of Barcelona’s most popular rumba catalana groups.

    La Troba Kung-Fú
    Joan Garriga of La Troba Kung-Fú
    Photo by Thesupermat, Wikimedia Commons

    4. “Petit Rumbero”
    by La Troba Kung-Fú (2010)

    As it becomes more popular, rumba catalana continues to transform. La Troba Kung-Fú is an example of how the genre is opening up to other styles such as cumbia, Tex-Mex, and hip-hop. Founder Joan Garriga grew up in the 1970s, when dance bands were taking back the streets of Barcelona as a reaction to the muted era of the dictatorship. This project similarly seeks to bring communities together across borders by bringing together a variety of musical styles, stories, and landscapes.

    5. “Benvinguts”
    by Cheb Balowski (2001)

    Another musical style known for experimenting with a range of global rhythms and sounds is mestissatge, which appeared in Barcelona in the late 1990s. Young people with different cultural backgrounds came together to play music that included Latin American, Caribbean, African, and Indian influences along with the deeply entrenched and globalized movements of rock and hip-hop. This music is known in Spain for its upbeat character and danceability. Using lyrics in Catalan, Spanish, and Arabic, Cheb Balowski’s “Benvinguts” welcomes immigrants, illustrating the optimistic vision of multiculturalism often expressed through this genre.

    6. “Tornaré”
    by Les Anxovetes (2015)

    Flamenco, rumba catalana, and mestissatge exemplify in different ways the back-and-forth relationship Catalonia has with Latin America, and more specifically Cuba. Another genre that illustrates this relationship is havaneres. These nostalgic songs often reference the sea, since they date back to when Spanish sailors traveled to Cuba. Les Anxovetes is a group of female singers based in Girona, accompanied by a guitar and contrabass. They offer a fresh take on the traditional havaneres repertoire, opening up the genre to younger audiences with songs like “Tornaré” ².

    7. “Otro Ladrillo en la Pared”
    by Tromboranga (2017)

    Beyond these musical styles, Latin American immigrants in the past couple of decades have brought their own itinerant music with them. This is the case with Tromboranga, a salsa group based in Barcelona comprised of musicians from Venezuela, Colombia, and Spain. In “Otro Ladrillo en la Pared,” the band pays homage to immigrants all around the world, in particular alluding to the refugee crisis in the music video.


    8. “Esperanzah”
    by Marinah feat. Lágrimas de Sangre (2017)

    Marina Abad, also known as Marinah, is a former member of the popular band Ojos de Brujo, known for what they describe as “jipjop flamenkillo” (hip-hop with flamenco). In “Esperanzah,” Marinah collaborates with Catalan hip-hop group Lágrimas de Sangre, singing about how hope becomes stronger when accompanied by empathy, solidarity, and action.

    You can hear music from Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia at the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, June 27 to July 1 and July 4 to 8 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

    Mariángel Villalobos is a Catalonia program intern for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She recently graduated with a master’s degree in ethnomusicology from Royal Holloway, University of London. She is from San José, Costa Rica.

    ¹ “El Muerto Vivo” was originally written in 1965 by Colombian composer Guillermo González Arenas, who was inspired by a real-life event in the Department of Antioquia, Colombia. Peret’s version was recorded in 1967 after listening to an album by the Cuban singer Rolando Laserie.

    ² “Tornaré”  was composed by Josep Lluís Ortega Monasterio (1918–2004), who rejected his military career for a life as a composer and singer of havaneres.

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