Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Re-Birth Of Mallorcan Swing

This coming Friday, there is to be a musical "night" in the small town of Porreres prior to the weekend's fair. It will be a night of swing, and it will come as part of what has seemed like a whole year of swing. Wherever there has been a fiesta or fair of whatever description, there has been a swing band of some description.

When consideration is given to matters of a musical nature in Mallorca, it generally turns to the traditional - the folk music - or to the classical, and so the festivals of summer and the symphony orchestra. Other forms of music tend to be sidelined, in official circles at any rate. There is a vibrant club scene, in Magalluf in particular, but this isn't on the official agenda. Nor is rock or pop.

Jazz, in its various guises, does have greater official recognition, and a reason why may lie with the fact that it, through swing music, does have a place in the Majorcan music tradition. It is clearly not as old a one as the folk music, but its roots in local culture go back to the twenties and thirties.

Through this year, there have been exhibitions and celebrations devoted to Mallorca's Duke of Swing, Bonet de San Pedro, about whom I wrote in May when a two-month exhibition at Palma's La Misericordia was opening. He, unquestionably, was one of the most influential of the island's swing musicians, and one of the bands with which he was involved was once described as being one of Spain's greatest jazz orchestras. They were Los Trashumantes, whose work is now included in Spain's national music library. One of the recordings, from 1942, is a strange foxtrot, but then some of the music from that era - prior to and into the war years - is a bit strange.

Predominantly, it was a mix that drew on foxtrot, rumba, tango and bolero, mostly all of it imported from southern America and then given local treatment and more up-to-date modification as the island's musicians were exposed to the likes of Django Reinhardt, Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong, to say nothing of, a while later, Frank Sinatra.

Bonet was one of a handful of musicians who were key to the developments of the thirties and forties. Others were Miquel Vicens, Ernest Felani and Juanito Coll, all of whom were part of Los Trashumantes. At times of war, in Mallorca's case the Civil War, music can lift the spirits, and it was Los Trashumantes who did this. As has been written of them and of Bonet, while there was the horror that was the war, on stages would be the smiling faces of this swing band under glittery lights.

Following the war, there was a chance for greater fame, and so the mainland - Barcelona in particular - beckoned. Bonet was to go on to become one of Spain's most popular performers, and while he appeared in some frankly dreadful kitsch and camp television variety shows, he never totally abandoned his Mallorcan swing roots. In 1971, for example, there was an event that has gone down in the annals of the island's music history. It was the reunion of Los Trashumantes, who appeared with other groups - of different styles - but no less famous in Mallorca's popular music past: Los Javaloyas and Los Valldemossa.

Bonet also came back to the island to form his final combo - the Swing Group Balear - in the 1980s. The lineage of swing music was, therefore, retained, but when Bonet died in 2002, it seemed as though it was firmly something of the past. However, any music tradition is capable of being revived, and this is what seems to have occurred in the past couple of years. It has been a revival apparently separate to this year's exhibitions and memories of Bonet (there are likely to be more in 2017 to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth), and as to the precise reasons for this revival, they're difficult to identify.

Whatever they were, they have spawned a vast and new popularisation of swing music and have produced bands whose names are readily recognisable with the music. The Porreres Night of Swing will feature Swing and Shout and Long Time No Swing. There are others, such as Monkey Doo, whose names do not make their style of music so instantly obvious. But what they share is a legacy that goes back to the 1920s and to the days when swing first started to emerge and to be turned, eventually, into a Mallorcan musical tradition.

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