Here is the original version published in a very popular blog about Madrid.
MADRID’S WORLD MUSIC SCENE
It is no secret that the most popular styles of music in Spain are rock and Spanish rock, pop and Spanish pop. Of course, Spaniards listen to much more than this. There’s a market for jazz, funk, soul, flamenco, Latin jazz, salsa, reggaeton, electro cumbia, even trap. In other words, a little of everything. It’s all here for the picking; you just have to know where to look.
But there is another part of Spain’s music culture which tends to go largely unnoticed, both by locals and by those passing through: its world music and world jazz scenes. A wide range of venues in Madrid lend their stages to the performers of these international musical panoramas. In anything from upscale concert halls and clubs to gritty ramshackle bars, you can find musicians, both Spanish and foreign, playing music from the Middle East and the Balkans, from all across North and West Africa, along with countless experimental fusions, in front of large audiences.
It’s admirable for a Spanish musician to take interest in, learn and perform proficiently, music from such different cultures, especially in a country where it isn’t in the highest demand. It is braver still for professional musicians who seek to play music from their home country – one they most likely had to leave out of necessity – to try and find their niche in a foreign land where the styles they will play aren’t part of the popular culture.
Making a living as a musician is already hard enough. Most will spend the bulk of their time giving music lessons to dilettantes, which translates to unstable timetables and income. Earning money as a performer often entails taking on ‘mercenary’ work, as the term is used amongst many a musician. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it may be a fun gig at a club or performing as a session musician with a relatively famous band on a big stage. But it does mean continuously learning new and sometimes uninspiring repertoires to be played only once, and sometimes in front of audiences showing halfhearted appreciation. It’s also the last minute concert at a cocktail party, the hours of busking here and there, the long shows in villages all over Spain, where the performers may find themselves getting heckled by drunken locals, and all the while playing music the musician might never listen to otherwise.
But it’s all worthwhile, because in the end, performing is what they love; it’s their raison d’etre. It makes the good gigs all the more rewarding. From collaborating on film scores to performing at festivals, the immigrant musician playing his native Gnawa, or traditional Yoruba polyrhythms with the talking drum, classical Turkish, Arabic, Indian, or Persian music, it’s nothing short of cathartic. Performing music from their country for a Spanish audience is to pay home a visit, while bringing guests along for the ride. For the Spaniards playing music that isn’t well known (or lucrative to play) in Spain, music that can entail unusual time signatures, modes that escape the Western 12 tone scale, and dizzying polyrhythms, it’s a journey beyond the borders of their home. And on this journey, they play the role of a guide for their compatriots who share this passion for the unfamiliar.
Sinouj is a good example of a Spanish world jazz band based in Madrid. In their music you’ll hear anything from traditional Arabic modes to jazz scales intertwined with West and North African rhythms or R&B and drum n’ bass, not to mention some very psychedelic sounding synths laid on top. You’d have to watch them to see (or hear) how they pull that off.
Darawish’s repertoire covers traditional classical pieces from all over the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Parsinava employs Western instruments and styles, but their repertoire draws mainly from Iran’s rich and diverse musical traditions. Boudanga plays Gnawa, music infamous for setting its listeners into a mystical trance, and can be found combining forces with flamenco legends like Jorge Pardo. Then there’s Ogun Afrobeat, which pushes the genre of Afrobeat to new territories by embracing a greater plethora of African styles.
These are just a few representations of the world music and world jazz bands that come to life in Madrid. Most of them will probably remain in the underground, where they will continue concocting new experimental groups that may not even create a website or a Facebook page; some of the best shows still come about through word of mouth. While you may never hear of these bands, the musicians are out there performing regularly, often at reputable venues and festivals, sometimes alongside famous artists, but also on the street, at grimy dive bars, or in unlikely places such as the Museum of Anthropology, a Nigerian church, private parties at the homes of famous actors –any place can become the stage for a performance.
One group, called Ewa, specializes in traditional Yoruba music, and despite only a few concerts in its trajectory, they can tell the kind of story that vindicates the life of a musician. The nascent group once performed at Madrid’s prison. Our Lady of Mercy, the patron saint of prisoners and the homeless, was the inspiration for this concert organized by an association that helps immigrants. The audience was a lively bunch of male and female prisoners. Used to having to stay quiet, at the concert, they were allowed to let their cheers soar. The band members say that in their lifetimes of performing, they could not recall a show in which their audience showered them with applause of such thunderous intensity.
One of the pieces the musicians played had a feel reminiscent of flamenco – something which isn’t uncommon, as the 12/8 rhythms in flamenco are by no means a far cry from the rhythmic patterns you can find in both North and West Africa. Members in the crowd started participating with the kind of fervent hand clapping – palmas – that’s typical in flamenco. One of the prisoners leapt onto the stage, took hold of the microphone, and sang for his fellow inmates.
Ewa is not the first band in Madrid to perform at a place like this, and they won’t be the last. In fact, they may end up being yet another fleeting musical experiment comprised of musicians who routinely perform together in dozens of other projects. Or they may find a way to emerge from the underground and perform in the spotlight of the international festival circuit. But along with the other dozens of groups sprouting in this vibrant Spanish capital, they prove that here thrives a network of musicians who perform music from around the world, and numerous places where you can hear this music performed. The bands of world music and world jazz in Madrid are an expression of the city’s ever-growing ethnic diversity, their music testament to Spain’s rich history, and telling of the country’s future.
Below you’ll find a list of festivals and venues where, if you search carefully, you’ll find quite a few concerts featuring Madrid’s world music and world jazz bands.
- Las Fiestas de Distritos Barrios
- Veranos de la Villa
- Fiestas San Isidro
- La Noche en Blanco
- Festival de Ramadán
VENUES / CULTURAL CENTERS
- Círculos de Bellas Artes
- Conde Duque
- Casa Árabe
- Casa África
- Casa del Mediterraneo
- Sala Galileo
- Café Central
- Café Berlín
- El Bogui
- Espacio Ronda
- Sala Caracol