February 24, 2012

Music: "D'un temps, d'un pais" by Raimon... La Nova Cançó, music for a cultural revolution

"Los libros son nuestras armas" (Books are our weapons).
Brilliant counter march on Tuesday, February 21st,
following Lluís Vives incident on Monday
Here I've been posting about how wonderful Valencia is, and meanwhile things have gotten ugly here in local politics. There has been an escalation in confrontations between a group of student protestors, mostly from Lluís Vivesa secondary school located in Valencia's center, and horribly incompetent riot police. The high school students have joined their teachers in protesting the "recortes" (budget cuts) in public education. Here in Valencia this has been a particularly bitter affair, given that the PP regional government has repeatedly implicated itself in a number of corruption scandals involving the embezzlement of public funds or the extravagant use of public money on frivolous and elite spectacle events instead of public infrastructure and services. This past Monday things turned violent. The police manhandled and then beat some of the students during a protest, and apparently also in the process beat teachers, parents, and onlookers nearby. Shedding light on how out of touch the police are, video of the police chief shows him talking about the students as "el enemigo" (the enemy). Everyone is quite naturally worked up about it, and some have taken to sensationally likening this "Valencian Spring" to the Arab Spring. (To follow these "Primavera Valenciana" events more closely, go to this story-feed page.)

I remind you that, "La corrupcion, como la paella en ningun sitio, se hace como en Valencia."
"Corruption, like paella, in no place do they make it like in Valencia.")

A whole series of suspicious and disturbing things have surrounded all these events. For example, on Monday evening, if one were to tune in to one's Catalan-language news, one would have seen two _very_ different stories on Canal Nou, the Valencian-run TV station, versus on TV3, the Catalonia-run channel, about the events at Lluís Vives. TV3 showed the images of the police beating teenagers in clear disproportion to the protesters' actions. Canal Nou, in what was clear ideological bias in favor of the local government, showed no video of the violence, just the protest, and then mostly showed video of various government officials talking about the incident with their predictable spin of "protesters shouldn't recur to violence". This form of media distortion on Canal Nou is no real surprise. The channel has been manipulated by the PP government for years. But it is sad that it would carry to the extent of attacking an idealistic and active youth in the self-interest of protecting a jaded and decaying political class. 

You can see a slideshow of powerful images of the police attacks on protesters at Public.es

Yet, let's not disparage the actual workers at Canal Nou, who Tuesday held their own protest about the station's media manipulation of Monday events, complaining that the Canal Nou's directors changed the story: "Se ha criminalizado a los jóvenes presentando a los policías como víctimas" (It has [falsely] criminalized the youth [while] presenting the police as victims). All of this stinks of the usual Valencian PP paranoia and persecution complex reaction to any legitimate criticism and popular complaint. (While I love most everything about Valencia, I find the politics here —PP and PSOE alike— to be one of the city's few shortcomings.) One wonders what economic miracles the PP government here could produce were they to invest this energy they waste on pageantry and the _show_ of success on the actual foundations of success in a modern society: education. (If only the PP would apply some of its neoliberal reforms to the political class, and make it easier to fire incompetent political leaders.) Kudos to the Canal Nou employees, as it now (as of Wednesday) appears that that Channel is taking the protests seriously. Score one for 'speaking truth to power'.

Canal Nou's webpage on Wednesday, February 22nd, the day after the station's workers
protested the directors' manipulation of the news coverage of the Lluís Vives students

It wasn't just students. Parents and teachers, enraged at the
police's treatment of students, also got involved
As it turns out, I first learned of the Monday protest because one of my co-workers had a teenage daughter who was involved in the protest and whose leg was badly scraped Monday as she was dragged on the street by some of the police. Needless to say, she was worried about her daughter, but also furious at the police and eager to see all of this bring about some kind of change in the local Valencian government's handling of public protest and complains about the "recortes". In our brief conversation about it, she and I were talking about the need for student protestors to keep positive, despite this infuriating turn of events. Keep positive as both a tactic, to shame the government, and also as a legitimate source of their youthful strength and social authority, since they are the future of the country and any government would be foolish to ignore them or dismiss them (as the current government seems to currently be doing). 

For a wonderfully playful, if also a bit depressing video montage and critique of this Valencia problem, 
I highly recommend you watch this music video, which uses a song written a while ago by Jaume Sisa, 
"Qualsevol nit pot sortir el sol" (transl. from Catalan: Any night the sun might come out), and foregrounds 
images of the many ways that Valencia's government squandered its wealth on special events 
rather than on basic public institutions. (It certainly provides a contrasting perspective on many of the
spectacular tourist highlights I've been showing of Valencia's capital.)

Forgive me for what may seem like a total change of subject, but as it happens I've been listening a lot recently to a Catalan-language song which I think really nicely encapsulates these issues of reform, hope, but also social critique. "D'un temps" by Raimon was, in its day, music for a cultural revolution, and I think it's worth taking a look at it here both for its importance to Catalan-language culture, as an example of La Nova Cançó, and as a timeless message for advocating change and reform without falling into bitterness about the seemingly intractable nature of political corruption and the indifference of power to real justice. (Without, in other words, ceding the debate to the powers that be, who would want us to get frustrated and give up our complaints.) 

Here I've embedded a copy of the song for you to listen to, and below you will find the lyrics:

I had been listening to some songs by Raimon, Ramon Pelegro Sanchis, and others of La Nova Cançó movement, as part of my usual language-acquisition trick: listen to music in a language, in this case Catalan, as a way to get a twofer, new language phrases _and_ cultural insight. This song in particular really got me. Raimon wrote "D'un temps, d'un pais" way back in 1964, and I like if for how it is at one and the same time incredibly critical but also incredibly empowering and forward-looking. It jibes with a line I read from Reinhold Niebuhr many years ago, that we must have "hope without optimism." In other words, we should not be surprised if the future doesn't meet our high expectations, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't hold those expectations; because in being fervent in our hope that the future _could_ be better, we ourselves will take actions to make it so.

Raimon is a great starting place for learning about Catalan-language music and culture. (I can't help but note that he is Valencian, since he's from Xátiva. Yes, (many) Valencians speak Catalan, too.I think of him as a kind of Valencian equivalent of Bob Dylan, though admittedly not quite so prolific. Like Dylan, Raimon was part of a cultural movement in the 1960s which used folk music to address political concerns. Many of his songs therefore have a transcendent style and message. Maybe the parallels end there. While Dylan was "the original vagabond," "like a rolling stone," and a rebel's rebel, it wasn't like his singing in English was illegal or anything. Raimon's very act of singing his music in Catalan was. Speaking Catalan in public was illegal during the Franco dictatorship, and it took some real class and "collons" for him to do it. He faced legal sanctions and was blocked from certain events by the Regime, again, just for singing in the Catalan language.

The sixties in Spain. Catalan language as a cultural heritage worth fighting (peacefully) for.

Raimon's experience was characteristic of the movement la Nova Cançó, the name for the resurgence in Catalan-language in music during this period. He rocketed to fame and is probably most famous for his ballad, "Al vent" (1962), popular in the early 1960s and marking him as a serious song writer. He got a boost career-wise by collaborating with Els Setze Jutges, an important group for the movement whose members read like a who's who of important Catalan singers. Some prominent members are still famous today, especially Lluís Llach, whose song "L'estaca" (1968) is another of these iconic classics of the period, and Joan Manuel Serrat. (The name Els Setze Jutges comes from a Catalan tongue-twister ("trebalengua"): "Setze jutges d'un jutjat mengen fetge d'un penjat." Much of their music was playful, and used symbolism and humor to skirt around the Franco censors.) In the 1970s, during "la transición," Raimon and other Catalan musicians' music resurged in popularity, becoming a kind of soundtrack for the new Spain and its hopes for an open and diverse society. (When my wife first heard me play this music, she said: "That's what my parents used to listen to!") For a longer, more detailed discussion of the movement, its critics and legacy, read this web entry in Spanish. Among a future generation of Nova Cançó figures, you can find none other than Jaume Sisa, author of the song featured in the video at the beginning, and like Raimon a "cantautor" (a musician who writes his own songs, usually with some protest or critique content).

All of this is just some historical context for understanding the import of Raimon's lyrics in "D'un temps". He was writing at a time Spain when was growing, economically flourishing really, and yet paradoxically was still a political dictatorship. In other words, the seeds for social and cultural reform were taking root in the streets even while political institutions sought to constrain and repress many ideas, groups, "threats". Take a look at the lyrics, and you'll see how he rises above the frustration to put forward the argument that we already own the moment and have control over the future.

D'un temps, d'un pais (1964)

D'un temps                                   Of a time
que serà el nostre,                        that will be ours,
d'un país que mai no hem fet,        of a country that has never been made,
cante les esperances                    I sing about the hopes
i plore la poca fe.                          and I cry for the little faith.

No creguem en les pistoles:           We don't believe in guns:

per a la vida s'ha fet l'home            it is life which defines man
i no per a la mort s'ha fet.              and not death that has made him.

No creguem en la misèria,             We don't believe in the misery,
la misèria necessària, diuen,          the necessary misery, they say,
de tanta gent…                             of so many people...

D'un temps                                   Of a time
que ja és un poc nostre,                that is already a bit our own,
d'un país que ja anem fent,            of a country that is already being made,
cante les esperances                     I sing about the hopes
i plore la poca fe.                           and I cry for the little faith.

Lluny som de records inútils          Let's leave behind useless memories
i de velles passions,                     and old passions,
no anirem al darrere                      we will not march behind
d'antics tambors…                        the ancient (war) drums…

D'un temps                                   Of a time
que ja és un poc nostre,                that is already a bit our own,
d'un país que ja anem fent,            of a country that is already being made
cante les esperances                     I sing about the hopes
i plore la poca fe.                           and I cry for the little faith.

D'un temps                                   Of a time
que ja és un poc nostre,                that is already a bit our own,
d'un país que ja anem fent.            of a country that is already being made.


Having thought about these lyrics a lot, what I'm most struck by is the hopeful progression they offer. While in the first stanza he talks of "un país que mai no hem fet", very quickly he is already talking about "un país que ja anem fent" – from a country that has never been made, to one that is already being made. Or a shift from "un temps que serà el nostre" to "un temps que ja és un poc nostre" – from time that _will_ be ours, to one that already is a bit ours. And there's the subtle but poignant rejection of what "they say" about "necessary misery". Again, this in 1964, a decade before the end of the Franco Regime, and in a banned language!

Another topic which didn't make the cut this week: the "Golpe de estado de 
1981" or "23-F". Thursday marked the 31st anniversary of a famous failed military coup,
when Spain's young democracy was tested and many feared, even if only for a few hours,
that the country would fall back into a dictatorship. I think expats, in their armchair
commentary over the Garzón case don't appreciate how recent democracy is in Spain. The
still oh-so-controversial Amnesty Law of 1977 was only four years old when all of Spain
watched this coup unfold onscreen and wondered whether that was the end of the
experiment. In retrospect, with a firmer, healthier democracy, some are now
wondering whether the Franco regime abusers got off too easy in "la transición".

I've noticed a lot of "rencor" (bitter resentment or rancor) recently about the turn to the right and "no holds bar" politics in Spain... Camps miraculously acquitted. Garzón sentenced. (This post was originally inspired by all the buzz here and abroad on the recent verdict in the Garzón case. I won't dissimulate. I'm incredibly disappointed in the outcome. In systems of justice, sentences send messages. And it is the _wrong_ message to send that Baltasar Garzón, a judge, is the first and, I believe, so far _only_ person to be convicted for the Caso Gürtel.And now the so-called "Valencia Spring" in my hometown. It's enough to break a Left-leaning politico's heart. Surrounding all of these happenings is a lot of, "See, I told you the Spanish are intractably corrupt" in the expat blogosphere, or "Of course the political class doesn't care about the public" among the locals. Now I can understand this sentiment as a knee-jerk reaction from the angry and disenfranchised. But I actually think this sentiment, though human and understandable, is not the right way to direct anger and disappointment over injustice. Somehow we reelected this corrupt Valencia government, and it is hard not feel frustrated with how a political class so clearly corrupt and out of touch with the economic needs of its electorate is not fired for its incompetence. But I try not to let it get to me, and to instead think of the long road (not just the next election cycle). What these kids at Lluís Vives are showing people is that it is not about how we feel now, it is about what we do now for our futures.

Back in 1981, the King Juan Carlos interceded on behalf of the public, and helped diffuse the
coup d'etat by going on television and asking that the military return control to the Congress.
This irony, that it was the king who helped save Spain's democracy, is why many, including
even me, are so loyal to the royal family even though it's criticized as an anachronistic institution

I take this as the deeper wisdom of Raimon's song. It is about not ceding _any_ ground, not even the terms of the debate by succumbing to bitterness, cynicism, or defeatism. I'm hopeful that as people take to the streets to protest the injustices of this economic crisis —the pigheaded, untested and probably foolish ideology of "austerity"— we are all able to hold on to that positive spirit. (Consider this an extension of my earlier soapbox rant manifesto to willfully ignore the economic crisis negativity.) To not let the negativity of the powers that be —who keep telling us about "la misèria necessària", necessary cuts and economic misery— convince us that our future is not defined by us. Spain continues to be a country that is being made, and I'm hopeful that its future will be brighter than its past.


Anonymous said...

The valencian's laguage isn't Catalan.
That's a lie spread by the Nazis Catalan

An Expat in Spain said...

To "Anonymous": I guess it was just a matter of time before a nationalist Valencian posted an intolerant comment like this. I take it as a sign of the weakness of your convictions and argument that you, 1) use the overcharged and in this context vacuous epithet "Nazi", and 2) sign "Anonymous" rather than own your (outrageous) claim with an actual identity.

Rather than remove the comment, I leave it here as an example of the heated feelings of an intolerant minority. Fortunately, I can easily dismiss this incorrect statement: that Valencians' language isn't Catalan. Any linguist would beg to differ, and would not bend to the political whims of the region or the moment. Anonymous, should you continue to feel angry about the historical accident that caused Valencians' language to be called "Catalan", which by happenstance is the same adjective used for the Catalan region and people, I refer you to this entry where I detail this issue more carefully:

Raimon is a particularly interesting figure in this (imagined) "Valencià versus Català" debate. While he himself is a Valencian, in this song at several points he sings with a Catalan accent, clearly a sign of the years he lived and worked in that region (without ever feeling any anxiety about speaking his native version of Catalan there).

Tumbit - Mr Grumpy said...

.... and then on top of all that half of the Generalitat go and 'borrow' Millions of Euros destined for overseas aid. My Daughter's school can not afford to turn on the heating or lighting, but these guys can still afford to help themselves...

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