Friday, May 27, 2016

Singing For Balearic Independence

It's not easy attempting to explain to the uninitiated what a glosador is and does. Can it be defined as singing? Is it a vaguely melodic monologue? What is he/she going on about? In order to answer the last of these one would need to have a firm grasp of (typically) rural Mallorquín, its various accents and the degree to which it is being spoken/sung with what can seem like an imaginary potato in the mouth. As I, and I expect most of you, do not possess such a tight hold over the local and the variants thereof, then the explanation becomes doubly difficult. Pretty much impossible in fact. And if one tosses in (more than just metaphorically) the barely disguised onanism of the playing of the ximbomba as accompaniment, then all pretence at explanation is superseded by a dropped-jaw question: what the hell's that all about?

Without wishing to seem as though I am pursuing an erotic theme, much of it has to do with oral tradition. Oral, as in spoken (aka sung), was the required medium for a language (Mallorquín) with little or no written tradition. As most of the rural population wouldn't have been proud owners of a pen or other such writing implement, let alone know how to use it, such absence of written tradition was hardly a great surprise. And the same can be said of the reading tradition. Into this communicative vacuum, therefore, came the glosador some time around (at least) the nineteenth century. There were professional glosadors. They would hold contests. They still do. In addition to entertainment, they were engaged in the dissemination of information.

A root of the glosador - possibly - is the troubadour, the wandering minstrel of southern France and northern Spain who, in his original guise, dabbled in lyrics in the "langue d'oc". This tongue is important. It was and is otherwise known as Occitan, closed aligned to Catalan linguistically. The troubadour phenomenon arose in the twelfth century. His popularity was such that one would presume that he wasn't so far behind the invasion ships that arrived off Mallorca in the following century. Is it fanciful to suggest that over time the troubadour in his Mallorcan guise was to morph into the glosador? The meanings are not dissimilar. Troubadour comes from "trobar" - to compose; glosador from "glosar" - to provide a commentary.

Whatever the origins of the glosador there is no doubting the tradition and the obvious linguistic significance. The glosador is thus representative of something distinctly Mallorcan (and Balearic), which may help to explain why a glosador (more than one in fact) is aspiring to become a deputy in Congress on behalf of a newly formed party that goes by the name of Sobirania per a les Illes (sovereignty over the islands).

Mateu Matas, "Xuri", is one of Mallorca's best known glosadors. He is the lead candidate for what he has described as not being a political party. Rather like defining a glosador, it is difficult to therefore know how to define Sobirania if it claims not to be a party. There again, the same used to apply to Podemos.

And it is Podemos who seem to be the principal reason for the emergence of Sobirania. This stems from the decision of Més to ally itself with Podemos, characterised by Sobirania as a Madrid-based party and so, by implication, not a defender of nationalist, island rights. The like-minded in Sobirania have been left to feel like "orphans", deprived of a potential political say because Més, supposedly the voice of nationalism and sovereignty, have got into bed with Podemos.

Sobirania, let's call them Sobs shall we, is a peculiar alliance of one-time right-wingers, hard-left radicals, the odd screwball and glosadors. In the shadows, so it is being said, is one-time and briefly PP president of the Balearics, Cristòfol Soler, who long ago nailed his colours to the Balearic sovereignty movement (i.e. independence). There is also our old friend Jaume Sastre, the hunger-striking teacher, a man with a permanent look of utter misery combined with sheer anger: he's very much an independentist. We also have someone called Loreto Amorós, who is possibly worthy of an entire article. If not, let's just note that she has told her Twitter fans, of whom there are apparently thousands, that she does "topless". Good for her.

Do the Sobs have any chance of gaining a seat in Congress? Absolutely none. Xuri says that in addition to not actually being a party, the Sobs aren't looking to take votes from others. And he may be right, if no one votes for them. But one has to admire his optimism and his defence of islands' rights. You don't get much more Mallorcan (Balearic) than a glosador, and he says that "we are here to sing". So there you have it. It is singing after all.

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