Pele once said that an African nation would win the World Cup by 2000. He was laughed out of the room. Zinedine Zidane, on the other hand, once said that soon, Spain would start winning, and when they did, they wouldn’t stop. How unerringly right he was.
There was almost a sense of inevitability about Spain’s victory. They were clearly the most talented side in the competition, were on an absolute roll going into the finals, and have such an embarrassment of riches at their disposal that players as good as Fernando Torres, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Juan Manuel Mata, Jesus Navas, and Victor Valdes – all of them star players for their clubs – couldn’t get into the first eleven. And yet, any idea that this was somehow a disappointing finish to the tournament were ended instantly when the realisation that Spain had won sunk in. This is Spain, the biggest under-achiever in football. A country on the verge of political meltdown. A bunch of (mostly) immensely likeable footballers. And when Iniesta scored the winning goal and tore off his shirt to reveal a tribute to Dani Jarque, the Espanyol captain who died suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this year, it became clear that this wasn’t just fate, it was right. Enjoy it, Spain, and keep on enjoying it – it’s completely deserved.
Plenty of people assume that they are au fait with traditional Spanish music, but they may be surprised to learn exactly what they have wrong. Flamenco? Sure, but only in Andalusia and the middle-class parts of Castille. Fandango? Again, only in Andalusia and the Basque country. Rumba? Purely in Catalonia. Salsa? Wrong continent, bro. Think it’s predominantly based around the guitar? Sometimes, but not in the Basque, Galicia, or Aragon regions, where percussion and pipe instruments reign. Even if you assume that such a Catholic country will have a deep history of church music, you’d only be half-right – there is a much deeper Muslim influence than in any of their neighbouring countries (including, perhaps surprisingly, France). The complicated truth is that Spain is so strongly subdivided into its regions that each has a distinct, separate folk heritage, with some genres like the traditional dance jota having to be split into Aragonese and Castillan variants. This is a composition which includes both, starting in Castillan territory (downbeat, lyrical) before moving into Aragon (light-hearted, fleet-fotted, complex).
The composer of that work, Francisco Tarrega, is a collosus in the history of classical guitar, and many of the earliest important composers for the instrument were also Spanish. It’s an instrument that’s tended to have a special place in Spanish culture, having once been seen as an instrument unique to the country, so it should be no surprise that Spain has a thriving rock scene with plenty of hidden delights for those willing to search. Alt rockers Los Planetas and nuevo flamenco duo Camaron de la Isla and Paco de Lucia are probably the most famous ones, but here I’m going to shine light on probably the best third-wave ska album ever – the 1985 self-titled debut record by Kortatu. That’s right, kids – third-wave ska in 1985. Now that’s not something you expected to find in Spain, is it? Kortatu’s Basque vision of left-wing revolution made them a kind of Spanish Rage Against the Machine, especially as they later expanded into hardcore and hip-hop, split up, and formed the rap group Negu Gorriak – but not before leaving a new wave of Basque bands in their wake. Their debut album boasts covers of “Chatty Chatty” by Toots and the Maytals and “Jimmy Jazz” by The Clash, both of which stand up favourably against the originals, but this one’s an original composition. For extra fun, it’s a live version too.
To finish, here’s something that goes at least a little way to finish on a global note. (Unfortunately, my plan to end with “Ode to Joy” after a German victory was scuppered….) Georges Bizet’s Carmen – mentioned in the France entry – might be nominally a French work, but it has always struck me as an almost pan-European composition, using an Italian form to tell a story set in Spain, all with a good dollop of English humour. Indeed, when it premièred, the French hated it – it wasn’t until it reached Vienna that it found popularity, before becoming a beloved, important work in Germany, Italy, and Spain. Spain’s most prodigal violinist was obviously listening, at least – Pablo de Sarasate’s most popular composition is his Carmen Fantasy. Here is it being played by another great violin virtuoso, the Israeli-American Itzhak Perlman – just to nail home a couple more countries.
Iai’s team of the tournament: