Friday, January 24, 2014

From Fiesta To Folk: Els Valldemossa

On the Formentor promontory there is an old farm called Ses Cases Velles. It used to be the property of the family of Miquel Costa i Llobera, the Pollensa-born poet who, most famously, wrote "El Pi de Formentor". On an interior patio there is a bronze bust of the poet. The sculptor was a Basque artist by the name of Horacio de Eguía, whose work can be found in other parts of Pollensa and Mallorca: a bust of the painter Anglada Camarasa in Pollensa; monuments to the Archduke Louis Salvador and Santa Catalina Thomàs in Valldemossa; monuments to Father Juniper Serra and Ramon Llull in Palma; and a bust of Queen Sofia at the Marivent Palace.

Eguía died on 15 January 1991, so this year does not represent a notable anniversary. But he was born on 15 April 1914. Perhaps the centenary of his birth will be celebrated; it should be. Eguía's story is one worthy of a whole article, and I shall doubtless write one. But for now, the story to tell has to do with Eguía's accidental role in discovering what became one of Mallorca and Spain's most important music acts - Els Valldemossa.

In 1959, Eguía was resident at the Hotel del Artista in Valldemossa, an establishment that was described as an "oasis of Mallorcan talent" in the middle of the last century. It was in that year that Eguía introduced three brothers, who, together with a cousin and a girlfriend, were performing at the hotel, to the director of Palma's Tito's nightclub. The three brothers were Rafel, Bernat and Tomeu Estaràs, whose father had created a group for folk dance and dancers in the 1920s. The cousin was Maties Estrades and the girlfriend was Bernat's. She was Swedish, and her name was Nulle Oigaard. Together they formed what for a time was known as Los Existencialistas de Valldemossa, a name that was shortened to Los Valldemossa. They went on to perform at Tito's for three years until 1962, and in that year the group took charge of another Palma nightclub, Tagomago. They later appeared on the BBC and in 1969 took part in what has gone down in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest as the most bizarre contest of all. Held in Madrid, Salvador Dali was responsible for its publicity, but just as odd was the result. It was a four-way tie, one of the joint winners being Salome, who was backed by the Estaràs brothers.

The group which, despite the deaths of two of the brothers in the past six years, is still going, were essentially a pop act for several years. At the height of their fame in the 1960s, they included among their number a ballerina-come-vocalist who had been voted Miss Balearics and Lady of Honour of Miss Spain in 1961. She was Margalida Llobera, better known as Margaluz, who was to later acquire further celebrity for her films and theatrical performances and who had been a protégé of the Mallorcan impresario Paco Vicens who died last year. In 1970, Los Valldemossa scored a massive summer hit with "Fiesta" (Margaluz, who was pregnant, was temporarily replaced by an American, Genia Tobin).

Two years after the success of "Fiesta", things began to change. The brothers' background, as can be noted from their father's founding of the Parado de Valldemossa folk dance group, was in folk music - Mallorcan folk music, and this meant music sung in Catalan. Though Franco was still in power, in 1972, taking advantage of what had been a general relaxation of prohibitions on Catalan and greater permission for it to be used publicly, the group recorded an album of Mallorcan folk in Catalan. Essentially therefore, they were returning to their roots, and after Franco's death they formally dropped the Castilian version of their name and became known only by the Catalan alternative - Els Valldemossa.

Though the group's name was one I was familiar with, I didn't know a great deal about them and I hadn't necessarily been inclined to find out much before coming across a mention of them by chance in an old issue of the "Majorca Daily Bulletin". Next to an article about a familiarisation visit to Mallorca by Harry Goodman and other executives of Sunair Holidays (which had been what I had been interested in) was Irene Taylor's "Majorcan Miscellany" for 26 March, 1969. In this it said that Los Beta and Los Valldemossa were "running neck and neck in the poll to decide Majorca's top entertainers". I don't know which of them ended up winning, but it was enough to spark my curiosity. Who were these groups?

Los or Els Valldemossa became the biggest name among the Mallorcan music acts  and, as mentioned, a version of the group still exists. They are a group with a history which goes beyond achievements, as it is a history which reflects changes in Mallorcan and Spanish society. From folk roots, they became part of the superficial and happy-happy pop music of Spain in the 1960s, the type of music that the Franco regime wanted in order to portray a happy-happy country and to be welcoming to tourists. Their name was in Castilian because it had to be. But as things changed politically, they rediscovered not just their Catalan name but also their Mallorcan-Catalan folk music. They may just have been the most symbolically important music act of the second half of the twentieth century.

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