Music Mondays: Enrique Morente

In Orihuela, his town and mine, Ramon Sije, whom I loved so much, has been taken from me like a flash of lightening.

I want to be the crying gardener of the earth
you occupy and nourish,
comrade of my soul, all too soon.

Feeding the rains, the snail-shells
and organs, my grief without purpose
gives your heart to feed

to the desolate poppies.

The great Enrique Morente is dead. He was one of the giants of Spanish flamenco, born in the slums of the Albacin, Granada’s old gitano quarter in the shadow the Alhambra. His second album, Homenaje flamenco a Miguel Hernández, was inspired by the working class Valencian anti-fascist poet Miguel Hernández, who died of consumption in Franco’s prisons while in his early thirties. Just making this record, was an act of defiance against the aging dictator and an auger of the re-birth of democracy later in the decade.

Morente was deeply rooted in the ancient vernacular culture of flamenco, the underground soul music which had been suppressed under the dictatorship  in favour of a plastic tourist kitsch version, and, with Cameron de la Isla and others, brought this rebel music out of the shadows in the dying years of the fascist regime. Later, however, he earned the disapproval of the increasingly conservative flamenco purists by his increasingly innovative work, such as collaborations with Maghrebi artists and thrash punk bands.

Here is one of his Miguel Hernández songs, “Elegía a Ramón Sijé”. Ramón Sijé was a Catholic poet and very close friend of Hernández, who died very young. The opening words in English are at the start of this post; the whole text can be found here.

Here is Morente in 1981, singing a granaína, one of the song forms of his Albacin ghetto youth.

Here he is with Lagartija Nick performing Lorca’s “Ciudad sin sueño” from the 1995 Lorca/Leonard Cohen tribute Omega.

The pairing of Garcia Lorca and Cohen is sort of obvious, given Leonard Cohen’s debt to the poet, but the musical setting is highly original. Here is “First We Take Manhattan”:

Finally, here is a more schmaltzy but still lovely version of the elegy to Ramón Sijé, by JM Serrat. Serrat is a Catalan singer and songwriter of Morente’s generation. His defiance of Franco came in 1968 when he was selected to represent Spain in the Eurovision song contest, but insisted on singing in Spanish and was replaced and his records banned.

In 1969, Serrat released Com ho fa el vent, a tribute to Antonio Machado, the Republican poet who died in 1938 fleeing Franco’s Spain. (His death is one of the stories told in Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas, which I may write about some time.) Serrat was soon exiled from Spain, but because he chose to sing in Spanish, he was condemned by the Catalan nationalists. “I sing better in the language they forbid me”, he said.

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Seven songs for Spring

I’ve been quite a reticent blogger until recently, but seem to have got it more or less worked out now, although I’m not as sociable as a good blogger should be. Nonetheless, I seem to have arrived in the ‘sphere, by being tagged for a meme by someone I consider a fairly big league blogger, Roland of But I Am A Liberal. The instructions are this:

“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.”

Well, here we go. Not very spring-like, I know.

1. Leonard Cohen “The Partisan”
Here’s two versions from YouTube – poor quality live, with Spanish subtitles, or good quality from the record, with cool slide show. Here’s the story of the song, originally “La complainte du partisan”, written in London during 1943, by Emmanuel D’Astier de la Vigerie (called “Bernard” in the French Resistance, a Stalinist til 1956, then an anti-Stalinist) and Anna Marly. (Here‘s Marly’s version.)

2. The Pogues “Lorca’s Novena”

YouTube here, last.fm here, homepage here.

Ignacio lay dying in the sand
A single red rose clutched in a dying hand
The women wept to see their hero die
And the big black birds gathered in the sky

Mother of all our joys, mother of all our sorrows
Intercede with him tonight
For all of our tomorrows

The years went by and then the killers came
And took the men and marched them up the hill of pain
And Lorca the faggot poet they left till last
Blew his brains out with a pistol up his arse

Mother of all our joys….

The killers came to mutilate the dead
But ran away in terror to search the town instead
But Lorca’s corpse, as he had prophesied, just walked away
And the only sound was the women in the chapel praying

Mother of all our joys….

I was tempted to pick “The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn”,  some of the backstory here.

3. Victor Jara “Luchin”

See also two other songs I love: Arlo Guthrie’s “Victor Jara” (words by the late Adrian Mitchell), and Calexico’s “Victor Jara’s Hands”. [Download mps of last from HaHa Music, Captains Dead, Tonegents.]

4. Manu Chao “Desaparecido”

Last.fm/YouTube; homepage.

I carry on me a pain and sorrow,
that doesn’t let me breathe,
I carry on me a final sentence,
That’s always pushing me along

They call me the disappearer
when they come I’ve already gone,
Flying I come, flying I go
Quickly, quickly on a lost course.

5. Gotan Project “Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre)”

YouTube/Last.fm; MySpace. Everyone knows this I guess. It’s a bit too ubiquitous, on loads of TV ads, but it’s still great.

6. Woody Guthrie “Hard Travellin'”

I wanted to pick something by Woody, as I’ve been listening to him a lot recently. Browsing through YouTube, I found a slightly lame Klezmatics version of “Mermaid Avenue”, some live footage of “Ranger’s Command” from 1945, and “All You Fascist’s Are Bound To Lose” with Sonny Terry from a (WWII-era?) radio show. However, “Hard Travellin'” is the Woody song I first fell in love with, many years ago.

7. The Durutti Column “Homage To Catalonea

Lovely summery Spanish guitar from my favourite post-punk proto-glitch outfit. On album Vini Reilly. Included in a great playlist here.

I’m tagging: Renegade Eye, Fat Man on a Keyboard, Terry Glavin, Francis Sedgemore, Hak Mao, History is Made at Night and (why not?) Nick Cohen.