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.

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.

Has Rajoy outfoxed the young lions?

Por: | 25 de febrero de 2016

RajoyRivera

‘I am sometimes a fox and sometimes a lion. The whole secret of government lies in knowing when to be the one or the other’ – Napoleon
 
The post-election negotiations to date have arguably exposed a lack of political nous and experience. The three junior leaders – Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), Pablo Iglesias of Podemos and Albert Rivera of Ciudadados – have behaved like lions, convinced they are the alpha male. The one old sage in the mix, Popular Party (PP) leader Mariano Rajoy, has behaved like the fox, stalking his prey from the shadows, never putting himself in danger of reprisal or counter attack.
 
“Today we lack the support, but we are waiting for events to unfold.” Since this statement following his second meeting with King Felipe VI, events haven’t unfolded too badly for the PP. Yes, they are losing figures to corruption investigations, and they have watched most of the negotiations from the wings, but slowly and surely the conservative party has gained ground since declining the offer to form a government. By being behind the curtains Rajoy has not been tainted by the show on stage.
 
Since King Felipe VI invited election runner-up Sanchez to form a governing alliance, a mix of political naiveté, missteps and clichés has eroded much of the electorate’s goodwill towards the three parties in discussion. In the background the PP has moved to purge itself of corrupt members and unhelpful headlines. The result is that with the March 1st investiture session looming, Sánchez, Iglesias and Rivera are still battling to put together a viable governing deal and the PP is addressing one of the electorate’s principal concerns with the party. In order to keep the fox out of government, the young lions must seek sufficient consensus such that all can remain the leaders of their pride while sharing power.
 
Sánchez and Iglesias clashed on the election campaign and relations have not thawed. Iglesias has continually tried to seize the initiative by making offers to Sanchez that have been rebuked. One of the many big sticking points is the Catalan question. Podemos has the boldest position held by a national party. Some of the PSOE are sympathetic to the Podemos view while others cannot stomach the thought of holding a referendum. A critical mass would likely agree to a coalition if the Podemos position on Catalonia was dropped and the focus was switched to political reform and a center-left approach to the economy and social policy (which would probably lead to the Catalan question losing some of its potency). Alas Iglesias has so far not budged. The cliché of the left preferring to honour a principled position than to be in power is evident. Iglesias’s confrontational manner has also hindered progress and he needs to understand that in any coalition he will be a junior partner.
 
Rivera has placed himself at the center of discussions, but he has mishandled it. He kept on reiterating his pledge to not join a coalition and by overplaying his hand he has been increasingly drawn in to the only serious option: a coalition involving the PSOE. His boisterous approach, though, has left him no option but to make significant climb-downs in order to avoid forcing a rerun.
 
Observing the three lions bearing teeth and marking their ground, the fox Rajoy now has what remains of his pride briefing against the dangers to the economy and security of a left-wing alliance. In the public’s ears this will sound less cynical than a month or two ago and reflect what they see: the inability of the alpha males to agree in times of national urgency. In tandem the PP has begun the purge, issued notice that it will democratise its senior membership and use words like transparency and accountability
 
By taking the calculated risk of declining King Felipe VI’s invitation, stating he did not have the support to form a strong government following rejection by the PSOE and Ciudadanos, Rajoy has bought himself time. He has also given the other parties the spotlight and the chance to demonstrate their faults. He has watched predictable arguments and points of contention derail negotiations and damage all parties.
 
The only way to keep Rajoy and the PP out of power for four years is for Sánchez, Iglesias and Rivera to form a Coalition of the Losers or as I would prefer, The Second Transition Coalition. They must focus their fire on reforming politics and political institutions. A platform of increased accountability and transparency throughout politics and its apparatus can deliver what Spain needs. It will also demonstrate the left can work together and there is place for a liberal party. To do so the young lions must all lose some face.
 
On December 21st Rajoy was the other man, yesterday’s man, a symbol of the old politics that had been forever blunted with the 109 seats gained by Podemos and Ciudadanos. However, he is now ready to swoop in and, if Sánchez’s bid to become prime minister fails, make the PSOE and maybe Ciudadanos an offer they can't refuse, for refusal will lead to a rerun and Rajoy will make it clear that he was the only one who put the nation’s interests first. If any leader thinks negotiations have been uncomfortable so far, they will be worse with Rajoy, in lion mode, opposite.

Three songs have eclipsed perceptions of Spanish music in the non-Spanish speaking countries of Europe for far too long. These are Los de Rio’s 1995 dance-party hit Macarena, Ricky Martin’s Spanglish 1999 classic Livin la Vida Loca and Enrique Iglesia’s 2001 sob-provoking ballad Hero. I guarantee that if you ask a few people from, say, the UK, what Spanish songs they know (that is, songs actually from Spain) one or all of those aforementioned hits will be on the list.

So why is it that so many of us recognize Spanish music as those three songs that were released over a decade ago? Of course the Spanish music scene is far more than just vintage Latino pop. It just seems that Spanish musicians have had a bit of difficulty breaking outside of Latin and Spanish audiences.

Although perhaps not achieving massive superstar status like the aforementioned acts, Spanish artists are now gaining recognition internationally by means of exhaustive touring, high profile festival appearances and damn great music. So let’s retire our Macarena dance moves and get up to date on a few musicians who are earning Spain a solid musical reputation abroad.

 

El Guincho

  

From the Canary Islands, El Guincho is Pablo Díaz-Reixa, a musician whose tropical psych pop has put listeners around the globe in a state of contented bliss. He gained international recognition after the release of his second album, 2008’s Alegranza!. Alegranza! is a unique sound – complete with erratic rhythms, obscure sampling and hypnotic chanting - it’s a listening experience that idyllically saunters along, taking you somewhere far-away, eccentric and unreal. El Guincho has since released Pop Negro in 2010 and has toured Europe and North America.

Now, six years since Pop Negro, El Guincho will release his fourth album, HiperAsia, on March 11th. Inspired by the chaotic frenzy of Chinese bazaars in Madrid, the album takes a more electronic turn than his previous records. HiperAsia is already available to download digitally and the music video for the first single “Comix” was premiered at the end of January.

More: El Guincho (Official Facebook)

 

Álvaro Soler

   

In January 2016, Soler won the European Commission’s European Border Breaker Award – an initiative set up to award musicians who gain success outside of their homeland. His debut single El Mismo Sol is almost vexingly catchy; flamenco-claps are layered with melodic guitar riffs and tied together with Soler’s uplifting, party-themed lyrics. It first became a massive summer anthem in Italy last year – and thanks to an English re-recording of the song featuring Jennifer Lopez, the infectious Latin-pop hit is now set to get stuck in the heads of both US and UK listeners. 

It’s not so much a surprise that Soler is gaining success internationally – he’s quite the international guy. At a young age, he attended a German school in Japan, where he was influenced by the variety of music that his international classmates were listening to. He speaks fluent German and is now based in Berlin – although he is fiercely proud of his hometown Barcelona. “…of course my music is Latin pop - if you have to put in a box. Although lyrically I just took the personal experience of living in Japan, Berlin, Spain and from working together with creative minds in different places.”

In 2016, Soler is now faced with the difficult task of following up his super hit. “We are finishing some songs now and I feel confident I will keep on making music. The goal is not to have something bigger than the last song- that would be cool of course, but the goal is to have the same fun as the last record and just see what happens. I’m just happy to survive by making music, travelling and meeting new people.”

www.alvarosoler.com 

La Pegatina

 

 

Ska-party band La Pegatina have had just as much success touring outside of Spain than in their home country. Last year, from February until December, they completed an extensive tour, visiting ten countries, including Macedonia, Belgium, France, England and the Netherlands. They have a large fanbase in the Netherlands, and eventually dedicated an entire tour to the country. “Holland is one of our favourite countries to play. People there are really open minded and open to new cultures. Plus, they love to party. In Spain, or France, audiences can be more critical. Here people just enjoy the music without thinking too much about it – no judgment” says accordionist Romain.

Last May they released their fifth album Revulsiu, “This CD has more social lyrics than our last albums… lyrics about our country, about our identity, corruption, politics” says singer Adrià. Although the band is based in Barcelona, they are hesitant to align themselves with the independence movement. “Our band has members from France, Spain, Catalonia” Adrià continues, “…we are mixing everything – so we don’t want to be leading any movement. We can say we need a social change in our country and a referendum is needed, but as a band we don’t all hold the same opinion.”

2016 promises even more shows for La Pegatina. At the beginning of February the band announced the formation of “La Gran Pegatina”, a touring ensemble that includes the addition of extra vocals, sax, violin, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar and a VJ. This version of the band will only exist for a five month European tour, “…it’s something very special for us and we will do something legendary” the band wrote on their website.

www.lapegatina.com 

Sara ∏

  

Dubbed as the new face of ‘neo-soul’, Catalan musician Sara Pi combines soulful singing with funk and RnB styles – then blends it with exquisite Brazilian rhythms. Her latest single, Summertime neatly sums up the essence of her music “summertime, thinking of you here…. The heat of your breeze as you pass me by…” – the elusive feeling of ‘saudade’ is flawlessly captured, making it an ideal soundtrack to a tranquil, sunny day. Her unique style was brought together through collaborating with Brazilian producer and guitarist Erico Moriera – and she now bases herself between Brazilian beach town Paraty and her hometown Barcelona. While the majority of her songs are in English, she has also recorded tracks in Portuguese, Spanish and Catalan.

Sara Pi released her debut album Wake Up on Sony Records in 2013, which was met with critical acclaim in her home country. Her follow up album, Break the Chains, was released in October 2015, and she has since been touring in Spain. This March she will showcase her music to an international audience at Austin’s SXSW - as one of the few Spanish acts to be featured at the high profile event.

 

www.sarapi.com

 

Other ones to watch: BeGun, Delorean, Hinds, La M.O.D.A, John GRVY, The Parrots

Pep Guardiola: credit Maja Hitij AP
Pep Guardiola: credit Maja Hitij AP

Unless you’ve been trapped under a particularly tardy rock you will doubtlessly have heard that Pep Guardiola, Catalonia’s most loved son and Catalan of the year in 2009, is to take over the managerial reins at Manchester City next season. There will, I’m sure, be more than enough help from his ecstatic new employers to ease Pep’s path into his northern home. But as a Barcelona resident who once lived in Manchester I felt obliged to do my bit, helping Pep out with a few useful pointers as the Catalan’s Catalan trades the Teutonic swank of Munich for the rain-washed home of Joy Division.

1) The Rain

Manchester, as Txiki Begiristain may have pointed out as he tried to persuade Guardiola to take the Manchester City job, doesn’t actually get that much rain. In fact, if you look at the statistics, it only gets 810 mm of rainfall per year, just 5mm more than Munich.

But there are lies, damned lies and statistics and this is one of them. I’m not saying that this stat is wrong, per se, but the problem with Manchester is not so much the amount it rains, but the way.

That’s to say, Pep, you can bid goodbye to the dramatic tropical rain storms that hammer Catalonia, in favour of a constant, annoying drizzle. And when I say constant, I mean it: it rains roughly four days out of seven in Manchester and it feels like more. And if Pep’s a fan of barbecuing - something the endless personal profiles over the last few days have oddly failed to address - then he’s plain out of luck, as organising a barbecue in Manchester is akin to a game of rainy Russian Roulette.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Manchester and spent many happy years there. But it’s not called the Rainy City for nothing. Look at it this way: there’s a reason Manchester has produced so many world-beating bands when Barcelona hasn’t: in Barcelona you can go to the beach for about six months a year. In Manchester, tucking yourself up in a rehearsal studio laying down the doom-laden future of music helps keep you out of the rain.

2) The Football

Manchester, like Barcelona, is very much a football town, home to two of Europe’s preeminent teams, while watching football is an obsession for many Mancunians. But people in England watch football in a very different way to the Catalans: there’s no delicate tactical chat; no love for endless passing and - heaven forbid - no watching five a side B side leagues on a Wednesday evening. Instead, there’s lots of drinking, shouting and calling up radio talk shows in tears. It’s pretty good fun, in other words. But perhaps not quite what the endlessly urbane Guardiola will be expecting.

Oh, and a word of warning, Pep: if anyone asks you if you think England will win the World Cup, just say “yes”, OK? Do not, in any case, launch into a detailed tactical takedown of all England’s flaws. That’s not what we asked. And we don’t want to know.

3) The supporters

The home crowd is one of the best things about English football, typically cheering on their team enthusiastically even as they limp to a nil-nil home draw to Stoke. But the big difference between Manchester City and Barcelona games are the away supporters. At the Camp Nou you might get about 100 of them and you’ll need a telescope to make them out. At the Etihad, they will number in their thousands. And, much as they will probably quite like you deep down, Pep, for the 90 minutes of a match you are pretty much fair game for whatever insults they might throw at you. So just keep cool when, rather than applauding your fluid tactical selections, the away fans remind you ad nauseam that you’re going bald and you love Coldplay.

José Mourinho - sorry to mention him, but it’s true - was actually very good at this, managing to see the funny side when opposing fans accused him of buying his smart new coat from Matalan. Try to do the same, Pep, and we’ll all be a lot happier.

4) The Food

England’s food is much maligned - unfairly so, in most cases - and Manchester plays host not just to exemplary haute cuisine but also the delights of the Curry Mile, where you will find 70 different restaurants selling an incredible range of South Asian cuisine at very reasonable prices.

Pep, please, take a trip to the Curry Mile some time. You won’t regret it. Just don’t try ordering a glass of champagne to wash down your curry. It’s beer with curry, right? And in many cases you can even bring your own.

On the other hand, tapas in England is generally rubbish. It’s not so much that English restaurants can’t make it but the end product normally costs such exorbitant sums that it somehow ceases to be tapas-y.

Pep, I’m sure you can afford it. But all the fun is hoovered out of a plate of patatas bravas when the price is nudging 10 pounds. Oh, and Pep: no one in Manchester has even heard of a calçotata. Sorry. So stock up next time you’re in Valls.

5) The Nightlife

Manchester has stunning nightlife and if Pep develops a hitherto unlikely affection for Detroit techno he will be very well served there. But it’s probably safe to say that the city hasn’t quite got its head around the late-hours drinking culture in the same way that Barcelona has. In fact, late nights in Manchester city centre can resemble a bizarre cross between children’s birthday party and boxing match, as hordes of revellers, drunk to their very foundations, lurch around, making jokes, telling their best friends they love them and spoiling for a fight. It’s like the worst of Barcelona’s Ramblas, robbed of its seaside joviality and force-fed cheap vodka-based drinks. It can be a lot of fun, Pep. But whatever you do, don’t try to jump the taxi queue as you speed back to your Cheshire home after a night at the theatre.

6) The Sense of Humour

My girlfriend is Catalan. We’ve lived together for five years. And only now does she just about know when I’m making a joke. Maybe in the next five years she might even understand them.

The English sense of humour, then, is far, far removed from the Catalan. So just smile, Pep, and pretend you’ve at least recognised someone is telling a joke, even if your admirable footballing brain has fogged over at the alleged humour laid down in front of you. And don’t laugh at your own jokes, either. That’s very much not done.

Most of all though Pep, enjoy it. Manchester is a fantastic city and you will be adored by the City fans. Maybe you’ll succeed in turning around the club’s fortunes, forging a Northern English Barça that will thrill and devastate in equal measure. Maybe you won’t. But you’ll get to hear some fantastic music, eat the best curry of your life and maybe even crack the dry Mancunian sense of humour. So who cares if it rains?

El País

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