Silvia Suárez finds talent inherent to the region of Catalonia as she catches up with the woman heading to this year's Eurosonic Noorderslag.
Rigoberta Bandini, Alizzz, Rosalía, The Zephyr Bones, Bad Gyal… What do they all have in common? As it turns out, their artistic matrix lies in Catalonia. From avant-garde electronic music to independent punk-rock, infectious R&B-infused pop or jazzy folk informed by world music, there’s room for everyone in one of the most interesting, unique and artistically-prolific places in Europe.
There are a few elements that make the north-eastern region of Spain stand apart from the rest of the country: climate, culture, language and, in particular, a breeding ground in the arts for talent to grow and ultimately stand out. Its capital city Barcelona has a record in overtaking other cities as a cultural experimentation lab; from iconic clubs such as Razzmatazz to internationally-renowned festivals Primavera Sound and Sónar, as well as the lesser-known Vida and Cruïlla. It’s a city where an avant-garde flair has historically impregnated both its citizens and creators, with a special status for artists and a microclimate shaped by a historically-strong track record for live music.
Crucially, the city is a meeting point in a very unique and particular way, crossing the paths of both foreigners and locals. “The emerging scene in Barcelona is like a sourdough constantly transforming; there ’s always bands coming in and others coming out," electronic artist EJ Marais tells me. “Although pretty much every artist struggles when they are at the beginning of their career, there are venues (such as Pumarejo and Freedonia) and entities always willing to help out, providing a platform for musicians to be discovered.”
Among those entities mentioned by Marais is the Catalan Institute for the Cultural Enterprises (ICEC), one of the regional institutions that have played a crucial role in preserving and enlarging this artistic hub for many years. In particular, the ICEC has acted as a propeller offering help to both creators and promoters, with a special focus on young talents. The Institute’s main role is to implement the export of regional, cultural and creative companies in areas such as music and performing arts through books, visual arts and digital culture.
With representation around Europe (and offices in London, Brussels, Berlin and Paris), its internalisation brand, Catalan Arts, has been working together with the EU in the European Talent Exchange Program (ETEP) to present three of their artists at European showcase Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) as part of the festival’s thirty-six edition, taking place digitally this year. “There has never been such a rich and varied music scene in Catalonia as the present one”, says Mar Pérez Unanue, Market Development Interim Director of ICEC. “Numerous artistic projects are appearing, either from music schools or the underground, that are feeding into a new and vibrant Catalan music scene. The legacy of centuries of tradition of cultural exchange, and the fact that Barcelona, and by extension Catalonia, has become a hub for avant-garde art, means we are seeing the emergence of a wide array of musical projects with an experimental spirit that are sensitive to all kinds of styles and sounds and their fusion and transformation”.
As much as global music highlights remain linked to the Catalan capital’s heart and lifestyle, talent is also inherent elsewhere in the region. The painteresque and traditionally student-spotted town Vic is one example, as it hosts its music market yearly and is home to many renowned artists across the jazz, flamenco and folk world. “From the purest and most ancestral styles, to the most futuristic digital trends, modern popular music made in Catalonia currently has a number of high-quality ambassadors in the form of professional musicians with the will to export their talent”, explains Pérez. Particularly when it comes to the emergent scene, she points out the blooming of a “wide array of musical projects with an experimental spirit that are sensitive to all kind of styles and sounds and they’re fusion and transformation”, remaking the fact that “now it’s a fertile and exciting time for music creation and production in Catalonia”.
“It’s definitely a rich scene in terms of variety and quantity”, agree the band Pinpilinpussies (pictured below), who took part in a past edition of Eurosonic thanks to the support Catalan Arts. “There’s bands from every style -and some of them real good-, but mainly they are all very diverse. However, we could use more unison as a scene, because sometimes it can feel a bit more individualistic rather than a community.”
There’s been a definite paradigm shift in the line-ups of recent years in line with the new generations and feminism, a representative from ICEC’s London branch tells me. “For example, since we joined the ESNS Exchange programme and took part at ESNS festival in 2012, 41 groups from Catalonia have been selected. Among those, in the first 8 years 65% were men-only bands, while just the 20% of them were bands made up of women. But in the last two years the trend has been reversed and grown up to 75% of projects selected led by women, and up to 100% this edition. A trend that makes us very proud of our music scene and confirms the power of new projects led by women”.
EJ Marais puts this difference down to a historical lack of financial and technical support: “Lately there are many more projects led by women too because previously there wasn’t many references out there and, traditionally, the few ones breaking through had to look for opportunities abroad”, he reflects. “However, it’s great that there are a large number of initiatives today that put ever effort in neutralising inequality in music.”
A fully-female line-up will take part in the upcoming ESNS edition, following in the footsteps of artists such as Tarta Relena and Las Karamba as well as Pinpilinpussies. “Being selected for the ESNS edition last year was such a highlight, and since we already knew the festival, suddenly being part of the line-up felt unreal," Pinpilinpussies tells me. “We missed the feeling of the live venue and atmosphere surrounding it (the beers, the people from the industry you meet there) as the performance was online but we managed to put together a great show. It was a great chance overall for us to step up and become more knowledgeable in the European world, especially taken that very few bands get to be confirmed to play there, so that’s already a prize.”
Spain’s emerging talent will be presented among more than 200 artists, 4.000 delegates and a conference program spread over three days this week. “We’re sad that we won’t be able to have a ESNS edition as before Covid, but it wouldn’t be fair to not support ESNS and bands and managers in these very complicated times for live music”, explains Pérez. “We are all on the same boat and grateful to be able to take part in the 2022 online edition together with these three amazing projects led by women.Our aim is to overcome the pandemic fatigue and, via the digital options, the attending professionals discover new talent that hopefully will be able to bring to their Festivals and Venues in the near future”.
Ultimately, this year’s three participants - Carola Ortiz, Marta Knight and Santa Salut- have been on our radar for a while now. As Catalan Arts points out, “they are in an ideal stage of expansion and internationalisation beyond our borders, but most importantly, they're ready to win over new fans.”
We catch up with Ortiz, Knight and Salut to find out how they’re coping with the pandemic and what they expect from the 2022 edition of ESNS.
One of the hottest names on the Eurosonic line-up, this young singer-songwriter and guitar player has caused quite a stir in the scene during the last couple of years. Marta Knight's subtle and elegant voice, intricate and witty lyrics as well as the catchy melodies that surround each of her songs has led to comparisons to everyone from Sharon Van Etten to Lana del Rey.
Eclectic in sound and introspective in mood.
The Smiths and The National have shaped the way I understand songwriting. They both make me want to write honest lyrics like theirs.
Since dates and events have been delayed because of the pandemic, it's given me the time to sit down, reflect and get inspired to write, which is my favourite part of making music.
That things show the best outcome when you find a perfect balance between excitement and patience.
I’m going to be introducing a few songs from my debut album which is coming out this year. So expect to get reflective lyrics that swing between sadness and hope, simple and direct melodies and some dreamy guitars.
I’ve been following Blanks for a while and I really like Sofie's and Annie Taylor's vibes.
During the next months, I'm going to release a few singles before I fly over to Texas to play at SXSW. Then, I'm going to drop the entire album and play at Primavera Sound. So I’m crossing my fingers so that the pandemic allows this and much more to happen in 2022.
Terrasa-born Carola Ortiz became a citizen of the world from the age of 18. Having lived in India, Brazil, Greece, Turkey and the US, this clarinettist, singer and songwriter also draws from both scenic arts and the jazz world, thanks to her parents’ professions. Hard to tag under one single genre, so far she’s released five albums with her three bands and worked across over twenty releases involving rock, swing, and folklore. one her latest studio album Pecata Beata, released last year, she returns to her roots, singing fully in Catalan and adapting poems from regional authors into her music.
Passionate mediterranean folk melodies and rhythms with a touch of jazz, and chamber music.
Many, and they constantly change. In the past I used to listen to big jazz artists such as Miles Davis or Ella Fitzgerald - both a huge influence to me, especially because my dad is a jazz musician himself. Most recently I have been listening to Spanish folk artists like COETUS, Eliseo Parra, Maria del Mar Bonet and Joan Manel Serrat. I’ve played with some of them and others are artists that my parents used to listen to during my childhood. I’m also quite into folk artists from the Balkans - Greek and Macedonians singers as well as instrumental music.
I’ve also had a major crush with Björk for many years and Cabaret and musical theatre - Liza Minelli and Barbara Streisand, since my mum comes from the theater world.
It's been a blessing! I loved being able to have free time and lacking the pressure of having to attend public events and meetings. I felt like a kid again, free to explore with no conditionings of time and results. Therefore, I was extremely creative during that time and wrote the lasts songs that completed my latest album.
I’m happy coming back to my Catalan and Mediterranean roots, and that this is the strongest and most personal side that I own as a composer - at least for now! Additionally, I've reconnected with a side of me that I left behind and that I love: being a performative artist on stage. Having an acting side that only comes out when I am in front of an audience is so much fun! I started exploring that facet again during lockdown, mainly by filming myself while covering some of my favourite songs on Instagram.
Since it will be recorded in video-format, there will only be two songs on the set but I think you’ll get the idea of how my Pecata Beata sounds. I will be performing with two other musicians, a cello player an a classical Spanish guitarist. There’ll also be some Balkan influences as well as some Portuguese Fado. These songs are all about the experience of pain and sorrow by a woman in her darkest times.
I also wanted to honour my ancestors in this album, so I have written the music for the poems of a few Catalan female authors.
I love Maika Makovski! She's a powerful women and musician, always reinventing herself. I’m very happy to share the line-up with her.
I’ve got quite a few concerts scheduled with Pecata Beata in Spain, performing both as a trio and a quintet. Coming up this month, I have a concert in three movements that was written exclusively for me and that will take me to the main Auditori of Barcelona, and I've also been invited to join this amazing new project called Jazz For Kids, where a big band of children will play my original compositions!
I’ve just returned from a very intense month of exploring India and so, ideally, I’d like to start a journey there by the end of the year. Not only is it my second favourite place in the world but I’ve got so many collaborations in the making waiting there…
23-year old Salut Cebrià built her artistic persona after growing up with 90s and 00s hip-hop. After attending a beatbox battle in a town nearby aged 15, she started writing her own lyrics for fun. Two years ago she started to take things more seriously after an open mic in Barcelona’s Raval neighbourhood.
As Santa Salut, her music has found an audience with a DIY-generation and her socially-critical, feminist and anti-capitalist verses have found her wider attention. From performing a COLORS session to being asked by the Spanish Government to soundtrack a campaign on equal rights, she's a leading talent in Spain's alternative urban-pop scene.
Energy directly from an every-day changing soul and its emotions.
My very first influence is '90s and '00s rap and R&B; Wu Tang Clan, Onyx, Lin Que, Lil Kim, Biggie, Eminem, Queen Latifah, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Nelly Furtado, Beyonce’s B-Day album… Also Stromae, Queen, The Fugees! People who innovated and brought new sounds to the music culture.
Personally, I couldn’t create new music then because I found out that I needed to live and feel life around me in order to talk about it. It felt quite empty, I’m not gonna lie. So I draw a lot and practice my singing technique instead.
I guess during that time I also learnt that I can REALLY do whatever I set myself to, if I listen to my heart and feel my strong light. If I don’t mind what other people think about me, my art or my decisions, I guess I can materialise anything what goes around in my head. I’ve also confirmed that my inner me is shouting - "I want to travel, see the world where I’m living and meet the maximum amount of people so I can learn about them and their cultures, their souls!!” - and I’m still learning to getting to know myself.
My team and I totally love and respect the rareness and energy that comes from each other; as we are friends and we empower whoever is by our side, I guess you can easily feel and listen to that energy live… We are dynamite!! So Fran on the guitar can bring you a relaxed melody and then, one second later, it’s like we are just superstars. Then Sofia helps with chorus and also does beatbox, she is a volcano! Then there’s also Andrea with her saxo… I mean, no words! The show’s got that classy sound at the same time than Dj DAAX’s mixing instrumentals and sounds. I think the whole thing is a little like a travel evolving into different types of music based on rap.
My first album ‘Discordia' will be released on the 3th of Feb, so we’re going on tour in Mexico, Argentina, Greece and Spain. It's the first time that I’m travelling to South America and I’m really excited because it also feels like a new stage in our career. Also, I've been making a lot of music so there’ll be lots of videos and singles coming up soon.