What’s popular on the Spanish radio is a world away from what’s cooking beneath the surface. Funk, flamenco, Latin jazz and trap have all leapt into the limelight, but there’s a part of Madrid’s music scene that stubbornly resists going mainstream, even if it might be growing.
I’m Isaac, and I want to tell you everything I learned during my seven years as a concert musician in Madrid. I played piano at festivals, bars, clubs, cocktail parties and weddings alongside musicians who showed me music I might never have been exposed to back in Los Angeles. Maybe I was just in the right place at the right time, but I saw a world that very few even know exists.
From inside concert halls to gritty dive bars, we can find music of the Middle East, the Balkans and Africa taking stage, though many of these musicians are Spanish. In the last decade, Spanish musicians have increasingly taken to music from different cultures, even in a country where it isn’t in huge demand. At the same time, professional musicians who play the music of their home country are finding their niche in the underground scene too.
A Nigerian musician thrumming complex Yoruba polyrhythms on his talking drum, a group of Moroccans performing their deeply hypnotic Gnawa music, and Middle Eastern orchestras playing their rich classical repertoires can transport you to the vivid world they left back home. Even for the Spanish musicians playing unusual time signatures and modes that escape the Western 12 tone scale, it’s a journey for them and their audience beyond physical borders, like guides for their Spanish compatriots who share their passion for the unfamiliar.
MEET MADRID’S UNDERGROUND GROUPS
Sinouj is a Spanish world jazz band based in Madrid. They combine traditional Middle Eastern modes with everything from jazz scales, African rhythms and drum n’ bass, often intertwined with psychedelic synths.
Here’s a video of them playing in concert:
Darawish’s repertoire covers traditional classical pieces from all over the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Parsinava employs Western instruments and styles, but their repertoire draws mainly from Iran’s rich and diverse musical traditions.
Boudanga plays Gnawa – music infamous for putting its listeners into a mystical trance – and can be found combining forces with flamenco legends, such as Jorge Pardo.
There’s also Ogun Afrobeat, which pushes the genre of Afrobeat to new territories by embracing a greater plethora of African sounds.
Most of these bands thrive underground, where they will continue concocting new experimental groups who may not even create a website or a Facebook page. Some of the best shows to emerge from the underground scene are heard about only through word of mouth.
Ewa, who specialise in traditional Yoruba music, have only a few concerts in their trajectory, but they can already tell the kind of stories that vindicate the life of a musician. The group once performed at Madrid’s prison, where they played to a lively bunch of men and women, who quickly began clapping along. The 12/8 rhythms found in flamenco echo those in both North and West Africa, so it was a familiar sound to many of the inmates. One then leapt onto the stage, took hold of the microphone and sang for his fellow inmates. Normally forced to stay quiet, the prisoners were for once allowed to let their cheers soar and the band members explain that in a lifetime of performing, they couldn’t recall another show with such thunderous applause.
Along with countless underground groups flourishing right under Madrid’s nose, Ewa prove that here thrives a network of world musicians – local and foreign. The groups of world music in Madrid are an expression of the capital city’s ever-growing diversity. Their music is testament to the Spain’s rich history and telling of it’s exciting future.
While you may never have heard of these bands, countless emerging musicians are out there performing regularly, often at reputable venues and festivals and even alongside famous artists. You’ll also see them playing at no-frills bars or the Museum of Anthropology, and some play regularly in a local Nigerian church (more about that in my upcoming article). They can also be found playing at the homes of celebrities, but these same bands are also out on the streets, in metro stations and on busy squares. So slow down – you never know who you might walk past on your commute.
Stay posted for more of Isaac Shamam‘s articles, where he shares with us everything he knows about Madrid’s thriving underground music scene.