Posted by: puebloman | August 29, 2009

Poetry is a smoking gun . . .

When we came to Spain we were given some CD’s by our friend Paul Griffiths , the well known carpenter and Hispanophile. Paul is presently living on a remote island near the arctic circle where his partner, who was once briefly a midwife there, is now worshipped as a fertility goddess by the incredibly small gene pool that makes up the island’s community. When he left the UK, we gave Paul a copy of “The Wicker man”, which seems to have left him unaccountably nervous.

paul, nervous

paul, nervous

The discs Paul gave us were the songs of Paco Ibáñez, who makes songs from Spanish poetry. Because of the directness and simplicity of the poetic language, the clarity of Ibáñez’ diction and his powerful communication skills, his songs are a perfect introduction to the the musicality of the Spanish language, also its beauty and its fondness for the subjunctive, without which all outcomes would be certain and life would not be worth living. As a tribute to Ibáñez, and because I can’t find much on Google in English  that makes sense – even in Wikipedia – here is a monograph on him.

Paco Ibáñez

paco ibBorn in Valency in 1934, Ibáñez, (Francisco Ibáñez Gorostidi) spent the early years of his childhood caught up in the turmoil of the Civil War. He spent his early yers in Barcelona and is therefore sometimes referred to as a ‘Catalan’ singer. His mother was from the Basque country, so he is sometimes referred to as a ‘Basque’ singer.  He is both, and many other types of singer besides. His father was a carpenter and an Anarchist, so the family quickly found itself in exile in France as the fascists tightened their grip on Spain.

In 1952 he began to study the guitar. He enrolled on to courses at the Scola Cantorum in the Latin quarter of Paris, where he met and studied under the classical guitarist Andrés Segovia.

He read poetry and especialy the satirical works of Brassens, whom he still considers to be his master and mentor. He began to devote himself to communicating Spanish poetry through song. His first album in 1964 consisted of Spanish poetry set to his music, half them by Góngora, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and half by Garcia Lorca the twentieth century poet murderd by Granadian fascists in 1936. The work was illustrated by Salvador Dalí, the well known fascist. The album was in its time a radical work, and when it came out, the record was seen as an assault on traditional notions of “Spanish song”.

In 1967 he returned to to sing publicly in Spain  for the first time, during a brief lull in censorship under the dictatorship. He was able to give recitals in Madrid and Barcelona. While in Paris Ibáñez had developed a highly individual style – classical and flamenco guitar technique applied to the poetry of Spain in the context of the Parisian “chanson” – the popular song as part of the cafe culture of the streets. Although the didactic political song was never part of Paco Ibáñez’ repertoire, his choice of material, invariably that of Spanish poets persecuted by fascists, and his championing of poetry as an essential to the collective human spirit, bought him into conflict with the dictatorship. He performed, for example, the poem “Andaluces de Jaén” by Miguel Hernández on television. The poem praises the olive workers of Jaen and the miracle of the olive, and is in the tradition of Spanish pastoral poetry. It was however a highly controversial performance, because Hernandez had died in one of Franco’s concentration camps in 1942 and was one of the poets whose work was banned under the dictatorship. The same can be said for his rendition of Celaya’s poem that ponderously translates “Poetry is a weapon loaded with the future”, which confronted the dictatorship not with political opposition, but with a simple philospophy inimical to it.

In 1969, Ibáñez set Rafael Alberti’s poem “At the Gallop”. Alberti had been in exile in Argentina since 1939 and was another proscribed poet. The song was a fantastically successful “hit” for Ibáñez, and made him a symbol of the struggle against the pro-Franco dictatorship. Ibáñez was able to perform his song with Alberti reading his poem at the Alcala in Madrid in 1991.

In 1969 Ibáñez returned to France to with a triumphant concert at the Olympia, Paris. For the first time the programme included his Spanish (Castilian) translations of Brassens. A double album was made of the live recording. In 1970 in Paris, he met Pablo Neruda  the Chilean Nobel laureate, whose poetry he had set to music. Neruda was the Chilean ambassador to Spain during the fall of Madrid. He was a friend of Lorca.  On hearing his poems sung Neruda said “You have to sing my poems, your voice is made to sing my poetry …”.

Paco Ibáñez was able to remain in Spain until 1971, but returned again to France then, partly as the result of pressure from the Franco administration. He was considered to be one of the most openly critical of the resident dissidents of that time.Paco

Nineteen seventy three could be said to have been the pinnacle of  Paco Ibáñez’ carreer, when he was prohibited from performing throughout  the whole of Spain by “la Dirección General de la Seguridad”.  By including Paco Ibáñez in its list of prohibited artists, the Franco government entered his name onto a role of honour that included the flower and glory of contemporary Spanish artists all murdered, exiled or otherwise persecuted.

Since Franco’s death and the establishment of democracy in Spain, Ibáñez’ work has has continued to increase in availability and popularity. At seventy seven years of age he continues to perform in great stadia and on the streets, a living reproach to those fascist ideas that survived the second world war and are furtively maintained in Spain and elsewhere today.


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