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Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Crystal Fighters, by Jackson Grant. Interview with Sebastian Pringle, centre.

2016 has been a year marked by divisiveness, politics that promote a fear of others and a movement to put up walls and barriers around our national identities. Global political attitudes have shifted toward a national defensiveness and a distrust of alien cultures, veering away from ideals that embrace, accept and celebrate differences.

But if there is one band that is standing defiant in the face of those ideologies, it is Crystal Fighters.

Based in London, the band’s core members are Sebastian Pringle (vocals, guitar/ukelele), Gilbert Vierlich (keys, guitars, Txalapaparta) and Graham Dickenson (guitars. txalaparta). They formed in 2007, and while Sebastian and Gilbert are both Londoners, Graham is from the US and former singers and original band members Mimi Borelli and Laure Stockley are Spanish and of Basque descent respectively. The band were inspired by stories in a notebook authored by Stockley’s Basque grandfather (the name 'Crystal Fighters' was taken from a play written by him). From the start, the band’s sound was grounded in Basque-folk influences, combining electro beats with the ferocity of the txalaparta, a Basque percussion instrument.

 

Crystal Fighters are an important band to have around right now. Their largest fanbases are in the UK and Spain, and can be seen as a creative example of the importance of nurturing cross-border relationships, “We are English speakers, but we are heavily influenced by Spain,” says Sebastian. “Thankfully Spanish people like our music too. While there is loads of amazing music in Spain made by Spanish musicians, they are mainly known in Spanish speaking countries. So we try to make Spanish songs in English, as it just comes easier to an English speaking audience.”

The band’s unique Basque-electro sound demonstrates how creatively fruitful global fusions of culture and music can be. While writing their first and second albums they travelled to the Basque region, and for their newly released third album Everything is My Family, Sebastian returned again to the Basque countryside,  “...we always try and use elements from the Basque culture as it ties the music together. Usually it’s the wooden blocks, the Txalapaparta” he tells us. “It has such a tribal energy about it, we love using that in our music”

Crystalfighters

Live in Amsterdam, 2016. Photo by Teresa Weikmann

While writing Everything is My Family, Sebastian also travelled further afield to South and Central America. “It is really life experience - that’s the main thing that shaped the album” he clarifies. ”Whether it's the Basque culture, North America, Central America... wherever we go we try to connect with the people and the landscape and the land -  the sound of the place - and just let it flow”

Everything is My Family maintains  the signature upbeat positiveness characteristic to the Crystal Fighters sound. Lyrics focus on themes of love, partying, dancing and togetherness. “The lyrical idea just comes from appreciating everything having its place in a beautiful cycle of life -  the idea that everything is helping each other exist in this world” Sebastian says. “Going back to the big bang, or whatever it was that sparked life - there was a family at that time, so surely we are still a family now - just much more spread out.”

 

The sense of inclusion and community is important to their live show as well, as they urge their audiences to hold hands and come together. “That's a whole other side to our thing” he explains. “The body is amazingly sensitive, receptive to positiveness, smiling, hugs, to joy - that will actually make you live longer. We are social beings.”

Crystal Fighters nurture and encourage optimism. Two years ago their drummer Andrea Marongiu tragically passed away from an underlying and undetected heart condition. Despite this, the new music has not ventured into negativity or hopelessness. Rather, they pay tribute on the track “Lay Low”, which celebrates life and the profundity of the love between friends and family. It is an uplifting track, emblematic of the attitude of the new album.

Whilst maintaining his passion for exploring new sounds in different places, Sebastian still lives in east London. His attitudes differ to those of some of his fellow countrymen - those who agree with Prime Minister Theresa May, who recently declared “If you believe yourself a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” Sebastian reflects on this statement. “I suppose she is trying to be divisive and get people to get behind their country. I completely disagree - going under the ‘everything is my family’ type thing - refugees, asylum seekers. It’s terrible selfishness that these richer governments seem to have”

One of Crystal Fighter’s earliest and most popular track is the electro-frenzied rave song 'I Love London', which has evolved into a sort of anthem for Londoners. In light of recent political events, does he still love London? “I do love London” he says, unwavering. “I currently live in London, I still have optimism. Although, I realise that I hang around in certain circles - I am vegan, I go to vegan restaurants...but I see people understanding and trying to make a change, especially environmentally.”

Through their music and live performances, Crystal Fighters want to make you dance, smile and forget a little bit about the darkness of the year. “There is an element of positive action to our band” he stresses. “Positiveness, get together, dance, fun, freedom, light, awesome - and that makes you feel good. We are glad to be fighting that corner”

Crystal Fighters are currently on their European tour, and will play Spain in December. For more information, click here

"Everything is my Family" is out now

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One day after the mass Ni Una Menos protest, which demanded women’s rights and safety against rising instances of domestic abuse and femicide in Latin America, Chilean pop star Francisca Valenzuela talks to us about using music as a platform to campaign for women’s equality. In November she will bring Ruidosa, a feminist-focused music festival, to Mexico City.

“Domestic abuse, femicide and this perpetuation of machista culture is something very prevalent in Latin America. This was the first time I have felt, seen and heard the concern and the actual empathy and understanding of rape culture in the voices of men and the people who before were unconvinced – even women.”

Francisca Valenzuela is speaking to us a day after the Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) protest, which took place in Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, El Salvador, Mexico City and other locations in Latin America. The protests came about after the heartless killing of sixteen-year-old Lucía Pérez, who was drugged and raped multiple times in Argentina’s Rio Plata, dying as a result of her injuries. Outrage and horror provoked thousands of women to take to the streets in Buenos Aires – sparking a chain reaction in other cities of Latin America, where incidents of domestic abuse and femicide are rising.

“...as last week has been so intense, with this catharsis of women telling their stories, men and women are becoming conscious of things that activists and feminists have always been aware of” she continues.

Mujeres marchan con pancartas por las calles de Buenos Aires contra la violencia machista.

Women protest on the streets of Buenos Aires EITAN ABRAMOVICH (AFP)

Valenzuela participated in the protest in her hometown Santiago. She is an active campaigner of women’s rights, understanding the importance of bringing women together to share their stories and experience of mistreatment and injustice. In March this year she launched Ruidosa in Santiago, a music festival dedicated entirely to addressing misogyny in the music industry. In between a series of concerts which took place throughout the day, female musicians and music industry professionals came together in panel discussions to share tales of their own personal struggles in the male-dominated industry.

“… it was not only a great outcome in terms of people that came, but the participants themselves really became involved, making the project their own, which was something important - to have that collective feel” she reflects. “It was interesting to have a very specific agenda in terms of addressing the problems of this patriarchal culture.”


 When we spoke last March, she cited Mexico as a country where she experienced a deeply entrenched machismo culture in the music industry. “It was absolutely intentional to bring the festival to Mexico. Mexico has very prevalent sexism, but also it is an important epicentre of Latin American music; it has an amazing thriving scene -  impacting both South America and North America.  There are all these women who are professionals in the industry that never have had the opportunity to share experiences and speak from Mexico to the world”

Taking place on the 4th and 5th of November, Ruidosa will bring female authors, artists and musicians together in the free festival in Mexico City, with the aim not only to discourage sexism, but also to celebrate, encourage and empower women - in all industries and societies.

“...the music industry is the initial approach, but of course the intention is for it to grow, drive change and look for answers in other areas of culture and creative industries” Francisca stresses.   

 

 

Valenzuela has addressed the issue of sexism and sexuality in her songs, most markedly in 2015’s ‘insulto’ - a song which defies the patriarchal ‘norm’ in support of gay rights. Twenty-nine-year-old Valenzuela is currently one of Chile’s most successful musicians, with large fanbases in both the US and Latin America. In her activism, she follows a Chilean tradition of combining music with socio-political statements, ranging back to 50s-60s folk icons Violeta Parra and Victor Jara, to contemporary compatriots such as rapper Anita Tijoux.

Is there a sense of obligation and responsibility for Chilean musicians to use their influence to initiate change?

She reflects on this for a moment. “I don’t think it is an obligation, sometimes there is a grave responsibility placed on musicians, especially in Chile.  I think it is a good thing, in that you feel very connected and involved in your local context. Sometimes some musicians just want to do their music and create - that doesn’t mean that is the wrong thing to do.” She pauses. “But there is a sense of responsibility, and for me there is a great impulse to combine my interest as a citizen and humanist with an artistic drive...”

“...so it is compelling for me to use music as a platform, whether it is in songs or storytelling or the impact I can have locally.  I do think there is a synergy with between my intention and interests to do music and use it for issues that concern me.”

Ruidosa takes place on the 4 & 5th of November in Mexico City.  For more information, click here.

Additional information: franciscavalenzuela.com,

 

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English Improvised Comedy in Barcelona

Por: | 25 de octubre de 2016

For the past three years, and now a fourth, early November in Barcelona has meant one thing to me: IMPROV INTENSIVE with the BIG IF.

“Improv” or “impro” is short for “improvisational theatre” and the BIG IF is the biggest English-language improv festival in Europe. It’s organised by BIG, the Barcelona Improv Group, founded in 2011. The festival has been taking place in the Gràcia neighbourhood of Barcelona on the first week of November since 2013. This year it takes place from the 2nd to the 5th November. In it participants get the chance to take great variety of workshops and watch up to 5 different shows per night. These shows offer the audience the chance to see many kinds of improv styles and groups from all over the world, including mixers that perform for that night only.

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The festival has grown enormously since its first edition in 2013. It started with 3 nights of shows and 4 rotating workshops during 3 days and round 100 registered participants, this year’s edition has almost 200 registered improvisers taking up to 29 different workshops led by 17 teachers from around the world and performing shows during 4 nights. The workshops delve on all kinds of performance skills applicable, not just to improv, but to acting in general. These include buffoon, masks, using soundtrack, musical improv, stage presence, storytelling, directing, and performing for children. The shows also present a great variety of styles and formats, making for an evening out in which anyone can find something to their pleasing.

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Improv is a type of theatre in which the scenes and stories are made up on the spot, without script, props or anything but the quick thinking and connection between the players. The main point of improv is to “yes and” any situation that comes up. This means accepting what’s going on (YES!) rather than fighting it (negation), and then adding your own personal touch to it (AND…). It has a predecessor in the Commedia dell’Arte of the Italian Renaissance, with its improvised plays based on vague plot outlines and the use of stock characters. Present-day improv comes from the study theatre games for education and developed into a strong network with schools such as Second City and Improv Olympics. Quite a few well-known actors such as Bill Murray and Kristen Wiig started off doing improv.

BIG is the only English-speaking improv group performing regularly in Barcelona at the moment that also offers improv classes and team building workshops for businesses. However it’s far from being the only improv group in the city. There are many other Spanish- and Catalan-speaking groups in Barcelona such as Impro Acatomba and The Modestos which will also be performing during the BIG IF.

In Madrid there are also many Spanish-speaking improv groups (ImproMadrid, Jamming, Impro Impar…) and one English-speaking group. This last one is called MAD Improv and has been going on since January 2014, started by a former BIG performer Benjamin Nathan-Serio. And if you can’t find an on-going improv scene in your town you can always start it yourself…

Photo credit: Alessio Carone

Why would a country reject peace?

Por: | 17 de octubre de 2016

Hundreds of people gather for ‘The Peace Concert’ on Monday in Bogotá.

Voters march for peace days before the referendum / LEONARDO MUÑOZ (EFE)

I lived in Colombia when Scotland rejected independence from the United Kingdom. This became a sort of a joke to some of my Colombian friends there, “Why would you campaign for independence all these years just to reject it?” they asked. I remember being sent a meme saying ‘Viva la independencia..! Sigamos siendo una colonia inglesa!” (Long live independence… let’s continue to be an English colony!)

Two years on, people outside of Colombia are asking similar questions about the Colombian peace referendum. Why would a country with such a tragic history - a 52-year-long civil war which has caused 6.9 internally displaced victims - vote against peace?

It’s not a decision as simple as a 'yes' or a 'no', as the referendum required it to be.

For many Colombians who voted against peace, the deal was too lenient on the FARC and granted the rebel guerrillas too much political power.

Another major factor is the ongoing influence of Senator Uribe over the Colombian electorate. Álvaro Uribe Vélez was president from 2002-2010, and the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, initially served as a Minister of Defense under him. With Uribe’s support, Santos succeeded him. However, the two fell out due to their diverse attitudes in quelling the civil war. Their distinct approaches towards peace have divided public opinion. This culminated in Uribe launching a campaign against Santos in the 2014 election. Santos won narrowly, and Uribe remains his main political rival, staunchly against the peace negotiations.

El expresidente Álvaro Uribe habla a los medios después de votar, en Bogotá.

Uribe, moments after voting NO / GUILLERMO LEGARIA (AFP)

Uribe is the at the head of the ‘No’ movement. His father was murdered by the FARC and he is not forgiving of the rebel factions' past. Conversely, Santos claims forgiveness is the only way to achieve peace.

The 'No' campaign targeted different Colombian communities. For example, while the Catholic church leaned in favour of peace, the Evangelists were largely influenced by the 'No' campaign. One example of this is Oswaldo Ortiz, an Evangelist 'digital pastor' and prominent online personality who claims ‘only peace can be achieved with God.’ For many 'No' voters, Santos’ acceptance of the FARC was too far away from religious principles. Saying ‘No’ was a way to combat increasingly liberal influences. Additionally, Santos’ appointment of the openly gay politician Gina Parody as the ‘Yes’ campaign coordinator was interpreted by the ‘No’ campaign as a way to threaten conservative family values through the peace treaty.

Another motivation to vote against the peace deal was a fear of becoming like neighbouring country Venezuela.

If you look at an infographic of how regions of Colombia voted, there is an obvious correlation between areas worst affected by violence voting for peace, while those more distant from conflict areas voted no.

Uribe is a controversial figure, and an unpopular one for victims of the conflict. His methods of stopping the FARC were violent, and many believed that Uribe himself encouraged paramilitary activity to take down the FARC. It was largely fighting between FARC and other rebel groups that caused innocent deaths and civilian displacement. Victims of this do not wish to return to Uribe’s hard-line tactics, preferring Santos’ measured and diplomatic approach in securing peace.

Santos saluda el aplauso recibido tras conocerse el Premio Nobel de la Paz.

President Santos received a Nobel Prize for his peace efforts / JOHN VIZCAINO (REUTERS)

After the referendum outcome, Santos initially announced that a cease-fire would remain in place until the end of October. Since then, thousands of Colombians have marched for peace in Bogota and other locations throughout the country. Perhaps as a result of this, the cease-fire has been extended until the end of the year. 

Even if Colombia voted 'yes', it would be a small step towards peace. While the FARC is Colombia's largest guerrilla group, armed rebel groups and narco bacrims are still active in areas around the country. Peace talks with the country's second largest rebel group, ELN, have been announced for later in the month. 

Last week, President Santos was awarded a Nobel Prize for his peace efforts. It is hoped that this recognition will help the Colombian public come to an agreement in a resolution of the conflict. 

Susana Medina: Object Lessons

Por: | 05 de septiembre de 2016

Anglo-Spanish author Susana Medina gives three lessons about three objects, which relate to three different identities and three stories. This audio slideshow explores and studies her relationship with objects in a similar fashion to Susana Medina's literature.

 
 
 

When Susana Medina speaks, her voluptuous lips resemble a place to rest. Salvador Dali’s powerful Mae West bocca sofa comes to mind. When Susana and I met earlier this year, we were discussing the power of objects, the main theme of her latest novel. The book is called Philosophical Toys and it's her debut novel written in English. The story explores and studies our relationship with objects, masterfully interspersed amid a plot that leads us to London, Spain and Mexico, while the reader discovers many engaging characters, some of whom are collectors of objects and inquire about the enigmatic nature of the things. Playfully concocted, her novel is both a celebration and critique of our relationship to objects from fetishes, to curios, to commodities, to objectum sexuality, to our becoming cyborgs through our addiction to technology.

 

"Susana Medina's writing displays a sense of elegant engagement with a minatory world, the prose is both spare and lush, and there's a commendable tension about the enterprise."

-- Will Self (novelist and journalist)

 
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Susana Medina with her latest novel, Philosophical Toys
(click on image to view hi res photo)
 

Susana Medina has written and published poetry, a novel, stories, essays and a cinematographic script. She has made two short films based on Philosophical Toys, Buñuel’s Philosophical Toys and Leather-bound Stories (co-directed with Derek Ogbourne), and received numerous awards, including the Max Aub International Short Story Prize. Other works include Red Tales (bilingual edition, co-translated with Rosie Marteau) and Souvenirs del Accidente. Her work is featured in Best European Fiction, 2014, Dalkey Archive Press. Born in Hampshire, England of a Spanish father and a German mother of Czech origin, she grew up in Valencia, Spain, and has lived in London since 1989. Susana's work is published by Dalkey Archive Press, a publisher of fiction, poetry, and literary criticism recently relocated to Texas in the United States, specializing in the publication or republication of lesser known, often avant-garde works, as well as major international authors in translation.

 

"A shockingly beautiful innovative voice in which the sublime and laughter are perfectly matched."

Andrew Gallix (editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine, writer and academic)

 

During February of this year, Susana and I recorded a podcast interview. We spoke of her writing, childhood, collectors of objects, Cinderella's lost slipper, superstition, animism, parallel universes, fashion, fetishism, social media, politics, biculturalism and cyborgs, among other subjects. The podcast can be heard by clicking on the link below:

 

The Susana Medina Podcast Interview

 

"Susana Medina is a genius!"

- Deborah Levy (British playwright, novelist and poet)

 

 

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Susana Medina in her studio with a pet
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 


Susana Medina's website

The novel entitled, Philosophical Toys by Susana Medina is published and sold by Dalkey Archive Press as well as Amazon and other good bookshops.

Derek Ogbourne's website

Reportage, Photography & Post-Production: Paul Louis Archer Photography

Audio slideshow music and sound design: Daniel Fisher & David Austin

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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