The “pretty” killer of men with her knife. The prostitute of the “moraite martyrdom” temples. The mistress who wandered from counter to counter. The one who wanted to love freely and do her “holy will.” None had names, but they were all bad women, flashes of color that illuminated for a few minutes that gray postwar Spain glued to the radio. The unfortunate protagonists of the Andalusian song were the symbol of all the excessive and furtive passion with which “the sensible and decent girls of the new Francoist Spain” could only fantasize, as the writer Carmen Martín Gaite recalls in her memoirs, The back room. All that feminist, transgressive and homosexual universe hidden behind layers and layers of double meanings and tragedies is close to reaching its first century, immersed in an academic review that tries to rid it of the stigma of a regime that groped it to its cultural denosation.
The researcher at the University of Murcia and disseminator of the genre Lidia García still recognizes the surprise that caused her to discover in the middle of the confinement that the song still has more pull than she herself believed. Its 26 podcast chapters Oh, bells! they accumulate thousands of reproductions in 23 countries of listeners hooked to their readings about sexuality, humor or the implicit fandom in the genre. They joined the 21,300 followers that the researcher gathers on her Twitter account @thequeercanibot, where she humorously explores “the visual perspective, of what kitsch and the popular ”that is implicit in the folklore and the couplet, something that he will address in depth in the doctoral thesis that he is preparing and in the work Oh, bell ringers! Songs to move on you are about to post.
García’s work joins various academic investigations – such as those of professors Alberto Romero and Cristina Cruces – and interesting recently published works, such as Doña Concha, the rose and the thorn, a comic by the Valencian artist Carla Berrocal about the life of the Piquer. That is not to mention the recurring viralization that, from time to time, video cuts with statements by Lola Flores or Rocío Jurado experience, talking about feminism, tolerance or even fraud against the Treasury. But the Andalusian copla was much more than that overwhelming character of its interpreters today turned into meme meat for the youngest.
The so-called Spanish song arises “at some indefinite moment in the late 1920s,” as García recalls. The expert sees notes of cuplé, zarzuela and flamenco, to which the singer Maribel Quiñones, known as Martirio, adds influences from the 18th century tune and from Italian opera, just at one point, that of the Generation of 27, that it was so “flowery” in the poetic that “the stories become more elaborate”, as the artist sums up. With those wickers and the momentum of the cinema, the couplet takes off and becomes a barn of successes for more than three decades with its own star system cañí between renowned authors and folkloric women who were much more than simple interpreters. “It is mass culture. It is inspired by the popular, but it is not such because it is within the cultural logic of the moment ”, points out García.
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The theme is almost always loving and starring women of “bad life”, as Martín Gaite defined that string of “betrayals, stabs, badly paid kisses, tears of rage and fear”. The story is closed in a narrative that answers itself with an introduction, middle and end. The pretty, pretty (composed by Ochaíta and Valerio in 1948 for Conchita Piquer) begins with an unnamed woman who ends up being revealed as the proud murderer of her lover. In The blackberry (by Quintero, León and Quiroga for Lola Flores, in 1946) she first breaks hearts, until a married man destroys hers. In most cases, “that twist of the screw gives a different dimension” to what was narrated, according to García. “When I heard it, I would pinch you. They are staged pictures with which you live five lives paying five pesetas ”, explains Cristina Cruces, professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Seville.
Behind so much female drama there were authors – always men – who were capable of creating verses “in the line of Federico García Lorca’s poetry,” according to the professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Cádiz Alberto Romero. Among them, the triumvirate of the brilliant poet of the 27th Rafael de León – at the time, a friend of Lorca -, the composer Antonio Quintero and the pianist Manuel Quiroga, creators of more than twenty hits of the moment, like Tattoo, Green eyes, The Lily The Sorrow, sorrow. His lyrics were not made for everyone either, but were designed specifically for interpreters who displayed all the theatricality and hyperbole possible: Marifé de Triana, Conchita Piquer, Miguel de Molina, Lola Flores or Rocío Jurado. “It gives you the wonderful possibility of becoming the protagonist of the story. The song walks, stops, snatches, gathers itself, laughs and cries ”, reflects Martirio.
Moreover, on many occasions, the folkloric did not even have to pretend, what she sang was nothing more than the musicalization of the personal drama that hit her and that the composer knew very well. The documentary Lola, by Israel del Santo, premiered on Movistar +, reconstructs in detail the stormy sentimental and artistic relationship that existed between Lola Flores and Manolo Caracol —he, older and married—. Against this background, the lyrics of The blackberry it acquires an almost autobiographical look on the lips of the brilliant cantaora and the public knew it.
“The spectator’s competence here was fundamental, he was not going to the show as a virgin,” says Romero. That universe of passions could be further complicated with lyrics very given to double readings of situations on the margins of the time, such as homosexuality. The song was composed and performed by gay men more or less out of the closet, such as De León himself or the singer Miguel de Molina, and was followed by homosexuals who hid their reality while fantasizing about those hidden and frustrated loves.
Color, horror and hunger
“They were stories of whores, single mothers, with homosexual readings, and all that is opposed to the ideology of Catholic women,” Garcia details. Although that was not an impediment for, after the Civil War, a Franco regime without its own cultural project to appropriate the genre most listened to at the time and raise it to the top, as a synonym of Spanish and cañí. “The song of the 40s has a lot of survival. It is like a transgression allowed within something very closed, in an atmosphere of horror and hunger. They were gaudy colors in that gray Spain ”, reasons Romero. The assimilation with the regime and the arrival of new foreign rhythms had as a consequence, a decade later, the revulsion of the Spanish song during the Transition. And Cruces understands it: “Sociologically, Spain could not revisit Franco’s culture in a friendly way.”
Annoyed with the unjust sanbenito, the singer-songwriter Carlos Cano and Martirio herself were precursors in keeping the song and all its imaginary alive, beyond the dictatorship. The first with the composition of new lyrics, such as Mary the portuguese (1987); the second, by recreating them “with another accompaniment and another reading” to the rhythm of jazz, as Quiñones recalls. Almost 25 years after the legendary album Early morning verses (1997) —the interpreter and the pianist Chano Domínguez propose to celebrate the anniversary with a tour next year—, Martirio believes that the effort has been worth it: “These versions served to unite the opinion about the copla in conservatives and avant-gardes, shedding prejudices by seeing them on another more naked and essential level ”.
After them, artists such as Pasión Vega, Miguel Poveda, Diana Navarro or Elsa Rovayo, known as La Shica, have also reverted the Spanish song to great themes. “It is a way of expressing basic things of the human being. For me, it is still valid ”, defends Rovayo. But, in the opinion of Professor Romero, the new singers do not have it so easy, if the question is to expand the songbook: “The problem with the song is that it is a closed repertoire that already had a great development in the 1940s. and 50. Outside of that context it is very difficult to create something new in something that has sociological and diffusion canons that today are very different ”.
It remains to be seen if the Spanish song has more travel, beyond the investigative field or the meme on social networks. García is confident in this: ”It could happen that someone rescued her from a different place. Or that it remains as a genre with historical interest ”. La Shica, directly, believes it with the devotion of a coplera: “Just as I think that reggaeton will die, I think that the song will never disappear because it is very good. They are unbreakable songs. I hope they continue to experiment with them ”.