CATALONIA SONGS THAT CATALANS CARRY IN THEIR HEARTS
There are songs that are special to a land. Songs that when someone from that land hears them, one can’t but feel a special connection with their country. Songs that touch your heart and make you feel you belong. They have become identity symbols that one grows up hearing, learning and singing. And in Catalonia we have many of them.
If you are into music, and consider like we do that music is a great way to get in touch with the local culture and connect with the locals, today’s post will give you great ideas to start exploring the most famous Catalan songs and who knows, maybe they can become the soundtrack of your next trip to Catalonia.
This is the Catalan music that any local knows by heart:
El meu avi
Habaneras are a music genre born out of sailor songs mixed with tropical and Cuban influences, born in a time when Cuba was still part of Spain. They are still sung in festivals of coastal villages, by bands of men using mostly their voices and maybe an acordion. They speak of love, and travels, and the sea.
El meu avi is by far the most popular one, and it speaks of a grandfather that embarked on a ship called “El Català” (the Catalan) on the War of Cuba, and according to the song words, and died with the rest of the crew when they were shipwrecked by the bombs of the American ships. The story, however, is only inspired in the real life of the grandfather of the author who indeed fought in that war but in a different vessel and survived and returned as a hero. This song should accompany you to any day trip to the Costa Brava, or a walk along the Port Vell Marina and the fishermen Barceloneta district.
The National Anthem of Catalonia dates back from the Guerra dels Segadors in the 1600’s, although the current words weren’t fixed until the end of the 1882 out of the melody and verses that had persisted through oral tradition. The song describes how the Catalan reapers revolt against the Spanish army, that had entered Catalonia to fight the French but was abusing the local population.
The chorus, “Bon cop de falç”, exhorts the reapers to wield their sickles against the enemy. Els Segadors is sung in political meetings and special Catalan festivities such as La Diada. Funny enough, some claim that the origin of the tune is a Catalan folk song with a similar melody that also speaks of sickles… with a risqué double meaning!
I found that video in case you want to compare – but in my opinion the two songs are quite different (in fact, I had heard the song before and I never made the connection!). Make Els Segadors the soundtrack for your visit to el Born district, specially in the Fossar de les Moreres and the ruins at the Mercat del Born (not quite the same war, but the same emotions and enemy).
The Mountain and Monastery of Montserrat are the spiritual heart of Catalonia. There is worshiped a Black Madonna, la Moreneta, Patron Saint of Catalonia. In 1880, to celebrate the 1000 years of the Monastery, composer Josep Rodoreda wrote the music for a poem by the Catalan poet and priest Mossen Cinto Verdaguer dedicated to the Black Madonna of Montserrat.
The result has become the anthem of Montserrat, one of the two songs that the Escolania choir sings every day but Sunday and school holidays in the Basilica. It’s quite touching to be there and see the locals standing out and singing along the Chorus that calls Her “April Rose, Suntanned of the mountain range, Star of Montserrat” and asks her to “illuminate the Catalan land and takes us to Heaven”. This, of course should be your soundtrack when you visit Montserrat, but also inside the Cathedral of Saint Eulàlia, since the Virgin of Montserrat has a dedicated side chapel to the left of the altar.
La Santa Espina
Sardana is the most typical dance of Catalonia, danced holding hands in circle and repeating the two same short and long steps, sometimes bouncing, sometimes more still. You’ll see people dancing it every Sunday at noon in front of the Cathedral, as well as during local festivals such as La Mercè.
La Santa Espina is probably one of the most popular sardana songs, originally part of a Zarzuela (the Spanish less elitist little sister of opera) of the same name written by the Catalan theater author Angel Guimerà with music of Enric Morera. Its Catalanist spirit with a chorus stating that “We are and will be Catalan people, want it or not”, got La Santa Espina prohibited by the repressive dictatorships of Primo de Rivera (1913-1926) and Franco (1939-1975).
Make this song the soundtrack when you visit the Castle of Montjuic, where the Catalan president Lluís Companys was executed in 1940.
Muntanyes del Canigó
The Canigó mountain rises up 9134 feet high (2784m) in the Roussillon, France – a land that was once Catalan until it was lost in 1659 with the signature of the Treaty of the Pyrenees (what links this song to the Segadors we mentioned before). In any case, the mountain has remained a Catalan symbol, and to nowadays you’ll still see a Catalan flag flapping at its top. Also from here departs the flame that every June 23rd will start bonfires all over Catalonia to celebrate Saint John’s Eve.
The song Muntanyes del Canigó, though, is an old love song talking about mountains, nostalgia, a nightingale and religion. Of crystalline beauty and probably one of the best Catalan songs ever, it is very appreciated by local choirs, that often include it in their concerts – which is why it’d be a great soundtrack when you visit the Palau de la Música Catalana.
AND BONUS! Would you like to know what song is not specifically a Catalonia song but many feel it as close to their hearts as if it was a national anthem?
Cant del Barça
Spain is a soccer country, and there are two eternal rival teams – just only one of them is the best: Barça, of course! The FC Barcelona team has become not just the first Barcelona team (there’s a lesser known one called RCD Espanyol), but almost a symbol of Catalonia, too. And the club anthem has somehow achieved a political statement, even if it’s usually only sung at the Stadium or during the celebrations of important victories.
Nevertheless, its words are very inclusive: “The entire stadium outcries: we are the blue and scarlet people. It doesn’t matter where we come from, either South or North, but now are all agree: a flag unites us!”. Not necessary to say that the song will follow you around when you visit the Camp Nou Stadium… but you can also play it in la Rambla when you pass the Canaletas fountain and recall of the victories that have been celebrated there, as it’s the traditional meeting point for that.
What are your favorite Catalan songs ever?
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