Banner photos: Cornelia Kraft
Girona's own: the music scene
[A version of this article was first published in The Costa Brava Resident magazine]
For anyone recently moved to Girona province, one thing quickly becomes clear—live music is flourishing in this region.
Aside from the array of performances that take place every day of the week in bars, clubs and other venues, there are almost 50 music festivals throughout the year.
These range from jazz festivals in Palafrugell, Banyoles, Figueres and the city of Girona to international music festivals in L’Escala, Begur and Calella de Palafrugell.
Anyone with a taste for keyboard music could go along to the Piano Festival in Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery in El Port de la Selva or head for the Organs of Catalunya concerts in Cadaqués and Castelló d’Empúries.
Another specialised celebration of music is the Costa Brava Festival de Guitarra, created in 2004. “[Since it started] we have increased the average concert attendance,” said Josep Manzano, the festival’s organiser. “Every year more concerts are scheduled. In our first festival we had six concerts and last year we had twelve.”
To celebrate the fifth birthday of the festival this year, Josep Manzano explained that “we are editing a compilation CD with excerpts from the concerts held in the past four festivals.”
The Guitar Festival covers the whole of the Costa Brava with concerts taking place in various towns, including La Bisbal, Palamos, Platja d’Aro, Santa Cristina d’Aro, Llançá, Caldes de Malavella, as well as Girona and nearby Salt.
Both Catalan and international guitarists perform different styles of guitar music, from classical and jazz to Flemish.
While festivals such as this one often use traditional music venues (concert-halls, bars, etc.) live music in Girona can also be heard in some more unusual places.
In the summer months, traditional 19th-century sea shanties (havaneres) are sung at beach concerts throughout the Costa Brava, with both l’Escala and Calella de Palafrugell important venues.
Another successful source of interesting music is Girona’s Jewish History Museum, located in the narrow-laned Jewish quarter of the old town, ‘the Call’.
Assumpció Hosta from the museum told me that a series of shows of Sephardic music is played there every August. “People are interested because we have an intimate little patio area that accommodates a maximum of 150 people,” she explained.
“Some arrive and queue up half an hour early to get the best seats. It’s a special venue. We light candles and the ambience is lovely. But it was not easy at the beginning, 10 or 11 years ago, because getting the word out to people about what we were doing was difficult.”
However, it seems that the hard work has paid off and the ‘Nits de Música al Call de Girona’ is now a well-attended summer event in the city.
As well as being an area that plays host to a variety of musical events, Girona is also a focus for local soloists and groups.
One example is Möondo, an intriguing outfit that call themselves “a chameleonic offering with a multidisciplinary vocation including funk, jazz, music of Mediterranean and Hindustani roots, electronic effects and video-jockey creations.” Based in Girona, the group has nine members who come from both Girona and Barcelona.
Their spokesman Dani Ibañez, who plays guitar and other stringed instruments like the oud and sitar, said that the group has worked with Martin Probst from Germany and Moroccan dancer Rachida Aharrat.
“We mix music from different origins and backgrounds,” he explained. “We also use traditional percussion, string and wind instruments from various parts of the world. Some of us have lived and studied in places like India, Turkey and Syria.”
Ibañez believes that there are plenty of bands with stylistic diversity but that rock and pop is what most people are orientated towards. He said, “There’s a lot of creativity out there. The problem is finding good places to play that have the right conditions to suit some groups’ technical needs.”
Another local talent is JM Baule, a performer and recording artist from Blanes who has sometimes used the name ‘Brian’.
Although he is Catalan, the music that has really captured his interest comes from abroad: he specialises in the songs and styles of American musician Bob Dylan. He says that he admires Dylan because he gave him his first contact with folk music.
“Hearing his song ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was the catalyst to get a guitar and start playing songs by Dylan and Peter Paul & Mary...Then I came across the work of Woody Guthrie.” He went on, “It all started as a game but I have now done four CDs of Bob Dylan songs.”
Baule has translated more than 40 of Bob Dylan’s songs into Castilian, both recent compositions and some from his early days. He said that the undertaking was a struggle, but a relatively smooth one.
“I had to interpret the meaning of the songs and rewrite them, while retaining the true sense of each original version. I often ended up saying other things more akin to a European feel of life. All my translations and adaptations were approved by Dylan’s United States manager, Jeff Rosen.”
Despite the extra work involved, Baule is not too concerned about performing Dylan’s songs in their ‘original version’. “I rarely sing in English—only the old Muddy Waters blues, as my English is dismal.”
As an old-timer in Girona’s music scene, Baule believes that this area is very different to the rest of Europe.
“It’s good here, but very traditional in terms of language,” he said. “Spanish is not heard a great deal. Rock groups flourish in Catalan. It is very difficult to find managers and promoters that risk getting involved with folk and blues music.”
A newer act that is starting to gain attention is Banyoles-based band Ella Electrica, who perform mainly in Girona and Barcelona and, unlike Baule, write all their own songs and in English.
Drummer Eduardo Montes commented that they had tried writing lyrics in Castilian but that they never got anywhere. “We sing in English because we always listened to English music,” Montes added.
Amongst their many and varied influences he includes Foo Fighters, The Clash, Radiohead, Placebo and Bruce Springsteen.
The four members of the band are aged between 26 and 30, though Montes joked that they are all going through a “second adolescence”. Apart from all having had the group’s name tattooed on their left buttock, they share the common aim of enjoying themselves first and then transmitting this to their audiences.
“While we like the blunt, fast and intense rhythms of rock n’ roll, we have no barriers whatsoever against what we want, regardless of style,” explained Montes.
BIG NAMES IN THE HISTORY OF MUSIC IN CATALONIA
Born in Girona on the first day of the 20th century but having largely grown up in Cuba, Xavier Cugat was one of the musicians who opened up Latin American dance music to a wider audience. His hits ran through the 1930-s until the late 1940’s and he was a leader in making styles such as the tango, the cha-cha, the mambo and the rhumba more well known internationally. His music has often been considered as highly commercial and has been categorised as “easy listening,” with a similar style to Desi Arnes or Tito Rodriquez. Having spent most of his working life in the USA, he returned to Catalonia for the last twenty years of his life and died in Barcelona in 1990.
Lluis Llach is one of the most well known names in Catalan music. He was born in 1948 and grew up in the small village of Verges in Baix Empordà on the Costa Brava. Lach made his first public performance in Terrasa at the age of twenty. Within two years of stepping onto the stage he had recorded his first album, Les Seves Primeres Cancons, which went on to sell over one hundred thousand copies. Loosely classified as a rock or soft rock singer, Lach chose to express his lyrics in Catalan, rather than Castilian, often through the political style of "Nova cançó" (New Song) which went directly against Frano’s dictates. The metaphor of a rotting stick which he used in the song L'estaca was a clear protest against the Fascist regime of the era. Another of his best known songs, “El bandoler” (The Brigand) is a typically earthy tale where he looks back on the casual robbery and violence of nineteenth century Spain. Known also for his acting career and for his involvement in wine production, Lluis Lach retired from performing in March last year.
Born in the Ripolles area of Catalonia in 1860, Albéniz gave his first piano concert at the age of four. After brief and unsuccessful childhood stints studying in Paris and Madrid, he became an itinerant musician. By the age of fifteen he had already seen many parts of the world but returned to continuing to hone his craft in Europe. His composing focused mainly on Spanish folk music and theatrical works. Albéniz is probably best known for “Iberia,” a suite of 12 piano pieces. He died at age 48 and was buried in Barcelona. A museum in his home town of Camprodon is dedicated to him.