protest songs

protest songs
   Protest songs are essentially identified with the latter years of the Franco dictatorship, in the midto late 1960s. Though most of the repressive apparatus of the state remained in being, the relative relaxation of the censorship laws by Fraga Iribarne in 1966 encouraged a few singers, mostly from university and left-wing backgrounds, to begin evolving a new type of music, written and performed in semiunderground conditions. The roots of this new movement are to be found in American folksong and in poems by French singer-composers such as Leo Ferré, Jacques Brel or Georges Brassens. The targets of protest were the social injustices deriving from capitalist development, particularly acute in Spain, where there were no free trade unions, and more specifically political issues such as arbitrary arrest and the lack of civil rights. In those regions with a distinctive language and culture, especially Catalonia, protest songs focused on the denial of linguistic freedoms. Neither the singers nor their public were greatly concerned about the quality of the texts or the music, or the technical virtuosity of the performance, but welcomed the new development with an enthusiasm comparable only to the fervour of the persecuted Christians in the catacombs. By the 1960s, the regime was not in a position to repress such cultural manifestations completely, but frequently texts were censored, concerts were banned or broken up by the police, sometimes violently, and performance of the songs on radio or television was forbidden. One of the most important centres of this kind of protest song was the Catalan-speaking regions, which produced their own brand, the Nova Cançó. In the 1950s Catalonia already had a modest but significant recording industry, and, both there and in Valencia and the Balearic Islands, there was a long-standing commitment to the restoration of civil and cultural freedoms. Some songs became so popular that they virtually became hymns, which would be taken up even by Spanish-speaking audiences, who, though not sharing the language in which they were written, nevertheless identified with the rejection of the dictatorship and neoliberal capitalism which they expressed.
   The protest song is not, however, exclusively Catalan. Paco Ibáñez, brought up in France by Spanish parents, became enormously popular, setting to music and performing, in Spanish, the works of "social poets" such as José Agustín Goytisolo or Blas de Otero, or classical authors like Góngora, Quevedo, and Juan Ruiz, whose satire against the moral corruption of their own age could be applied to the contemporary situation.
   With the restoration of democracy, the protest song experienced a decline, though it has never been eclipsed completely. A few singers formerly active in this genre have continued working, such as Lluis Llach, whose music has evolved from explicit political commitment towards more personalized themes, and Raimon, who composes settings, of classic poems. The phenomenon of the cantautor, the singer who composes and performs his own songs or settings, which was characteristic of the protest song movement of the Franco period, subsists in certain figures more tenuously connected with the tradition, such as the everpopular Joan Manuel Serrat, an exponent of the Nova Cançó who now sings in Spanish. Víctor Manuel progressed from a mild, pastoral version of the protest song to a more overtly committed stance, as an active member of the PCE. Other representatives of the cantautor movement are José Antonio Labordeta, Luis Pastor, Carlos Cano, Hilario Camacho and Mikel Laboa.
   Further reading
   - Boyle, C. (1995) "The Politics of Popular Music: On the Dynamics of New Song", in H.Graham and J.Labanyi (eds) Spanish Cultural Studies: An Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press (a brief and interesting account of protest songs, with inevitable emphasis on Catalan singers).
   - Ordovás, J. (1991) "Pop Music", in R.Gascón (ed.) Spain Today: In Search of Modernity, Madrid: Cátedra (a summary of the Nova Cançó and cantautor movements in Spain since the 1960s).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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