Skip to main content
  • Les Anxovetes: “El Meu Avi”

    Camera: Hannah Luc, Kevin Patrick, Jacob Weber, Andrea Curran, Jackson Harvey, David Barnes, Bryan Wilmot, Charlie Weber
    Editing: Bryan Wilmot

    For two weeks this summer, as I moved around the National Mall, I felt as if I had been transported to the Mediterranean coast. Sitting in the Plaça Major or at Rinzler Stage, I would close my eyes and sway to the gentle and harmonious melodies that Les Anxovetes crooned into the Festival air. Their traditional havaneres musical style instantly resonated with me, and, at times, I could vaguely hear sounds of the sea as they lulled the crowds.

    Les Anxovetes (“the little anchovies” in Catalan) is a group of havaneres musicians from Girona, Catalonia. They perform the traditional repertoire of these nostalgic songs referencing the sea and telling stories of Spanish sailors who traveled to Cuba. 

    In this video from an evening concert on the Rinzler Stage, Les Anxovetes sing “El Meu Avi,” a popular songwritten in 1968 that pays homage to sailors who died in the Spanish–American War. Its lyrics tell a personal tale of the songwriter’s grandfather, who fought in the war. This is the most beloved of all of the havaneres and has become a symbol of Catalan identity.

    The song goes…

    El meu avi va anar a Cuba,
    a bordo del “Català”
    el millor barco de guerra
    de la flota d'ultramar.
    El timoner i el nostramo
    i catorze mariners
    eren nascuts a Calella
    de Palafrugell.

    My grandpa went to Cuba on board the Catalan, the best warship of the high seas fleet. The helmsman, and our master, and fourteen sailors were born in Calella de Palafrugell.

    Arribaren temps de guerres
    de perfídies i traïcions
    i en el mar de les Antilles
    retronaren els canons.
    I els mariners de Calella
    —el meu avi enmig de tots—
    varen morir a coberta,
    varen morir al peu del canó.

    Wartime came, the time of perfidy and treachery, and canons thundered in the sea of the Antilles. And the sailors from Calella, my grandpa among them, died on the ship’s deck at the foot of the canon.

    Quan el “Català” sortia a la mar
    cridava el meu avi:
    Apa, nois, que és tard!
    però els valents de bordo
    no varen tornar, (no varen tornar)
    tingueren la culpa els americans

    When the Catalan was going to the sea, my grandpa shouted, “Come on, boys, it’s late.” But the courageous sailors did not return. The Americans were to blame.

    Quan el “Català” sortia a la mar
    els nois de Calella
    feien un cremat
    mans a la guitarra solien cantar:
    Visca Catalunya! Visca el “Català”!

    When the Catalan went out to the sea, the boys from Calella made a fire. They played their guitars and sang: “Long live Catalonia! Long live the Catalan!”

    Sydnee Winston is the social media coordinator for the 2018 Folklife Festival.

    BeyondThePale, “Havaneres: Catalan Sailor Songs”

  • Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.