6. Urban traditions


Studies of Ibiza and Formentera musical traditions have focussed on the countryside and the genres of the pagesos: little work, if any at all, has been done on songs from Dalt Vila and the Marina, or on the type of songs described by the American writer Elliot Paul in the small town of Santa Eulària. These songs might be learned or adapted from those sung by sailors, for example: boats did not come often until the last third of the twentieth century, and people would run down to the port as soon as the news came that one was arriving. The radio appeared in the mid-to-late 1950s, and quickly became part of daily life. In the steep, narrow streets of Dalt Vila, the Marina area near the port, and the few streets of Santa Eulària, houses were, of course, close to each other, unlike the dispersed cases pageses of the countryside, and more informal collective singing took place. One of the popular songs of the time was sung to the melody of the romance Catalina Marí sang for us, “Ses al.lotes de Dalt Vila” (“The Girls of Dalt Vila”). E. Bonet recalls that this song was sung by both women and men: when sung by men in bars, the words were often altered to a somewhat  bawdier version, finally ending up presented as a children´s song (10). The name of the song appears in Lomax’s collection as an instrumental piece on the reclam de xeremies, but with a different melody, and the melody is also used, with variants, for other song lyrics, as explained in the preceding section.

7. Uc


Not a song genre, but part of the expressive vocal repertoire, is the uc, the long, drawn-out shrill cry of which parallels exist in most regions of Spain. In the Pityusans,  the uc also served as a means of communication, and people knew and recognized  the style of each extended family and often of each individual. It is also used as a verb, including in song texts: one, which appears to date from the fairly early 20th century, encourages the young men to try out their ucs:  “Ucau, germans!” The  song begins, “Cantarem sa cantarella”, que tots junts hem practicada”, “let’s sing the song, we’ve all practiced together” (Macabich 169; 202-3). It is not clear whether this refers to singing a song in unison, or to walking along the road to what was essentially a life contest only one of them could win – the festeig - , and practicing their individual uc’s, sequentially or even at the same time. The song text also refers to the girl being courted responding with a different type of uc, in a low voice, “molt fluixet, sa donzella… li respon…/amb un uc per petit sia” (“very quietly, the girl….answers him…with a very little uc”) . The song ends with a suggestion that, while upper social class people from the city disdain the uc, any of them who lived in the countryside for a year “ucaría més i més fort, ell tot sol, que tota la pagesia” (“would cry out ucs more and more loudly, by himself, than all the country people”)(Macabich 229).  Today the uc is usually relegated to local dance occasions, where it is performed as a contest, with prizes. The contestants often use microphones, which is totally incongruous with the function of the uc as a loud communication sound heard from far away,

8. Choirs, Music of the Church


While choirs, both secular and Church-related, flourish in th Pityusan Islands, they are outside the scope of these notes (for choirs, see Torres Planells, and for Church music, Torres i Peters). The flute and tabor, with castanets and struck sword, form part of the liturgy for certain Masses, especially Christmas. A very old chant genre survives in a rare field recording of  a man in his nineties, who appears to be the only person in Ibiza who still sings parts of the long-disappeared Missa Pagesa. Entirely different from other Pityusan vocal genres, the winding melody and intricate vocal ornaments are more similar to, for example, Mallorcan agricultural work songs, a style often ascribed to Jewish or to “Moorish” influence (11).

9. Instrumental music


The traditional instruments of the Pityusan Islands are few: the three-holed flute and tabor played by a sonador; the small single or double cane clarinet xeremia or reclam de xeremies, large castanets (castanyoles), the struck sword, espasí; and the bimbau or Jews’ harp., as well as small instruments made by children from pieces of cane, nutshells, etc. The xeremies and the bimbau have traditionally been shepherds’ instruments. Toni Planas, an elderly sonador in Ibiza sometimes  plays two three-holed flutes together, without the drum, but it is unclear whether this is a lonely survival of ancient practice, or an individual whim. All these instruments have traditionally been played by men only, except the small tabor when used to accompany singing, in which case women play it as well. Women shepherds sometimes also played the xeremies. The large conch shell, the corn, is not used as an instrument, but was played by fishermen to signal their approach to shore with the day’s catch. Today it has joined the uc in being relegated to contests, and, as incongruously as the uc, with contestants using a microphone. The bells of the Cathedral in Dalt Vila should also be mentioned; they play specific melodies for determined occasions (Torres Peters 13-14).

Maria Ribas with drum

Ibiza, July 1952.


Reclam de xeremies.

Photo by Judith Cohen, used with permission.

S´Esbrunyida/The Dusted-Off One
Josep Tur Bonet, “En Roquetes”
Sant Josep, Ibiza, July 20, 1952.

This is “En Roquetes”’own name for this tune, which he likes to play at the beginning and end of a series of melodies: the “dusted-off” or polished object of the title is the instrument itself.

Instruments found in Mallorca and Menorca, such as stringed instruments, bagpipes, and the friction drum, ximbomba, are not traditionally found in the Pityusans, although the American writer Elliot Paul describes men playing accordion, violin, and other instruments in the town of Santa Eulària in the 1930s.  During the early 20th century various types of peninsular Spanish music were adopted. Elliot Paul’s book, about life in Santa Eulària in the early 1930s, makes several references to men playing accordions, guitars, and trumpets; decades earlier, Navarro observes that there are few guitars to be found in Ibiza and fewer still guitarists – but, clearly, there were some at the time, during the late nineteenth century (Navarro:45). Until the mid-twentieth century, sailors accompanied their singing on the guitar on August 15, the Assumption (Torres i Peters 2004, p.3.)  Although Flitch describes a blind ballad singer whose guitar was “always hanging by his side” (182), he remarks that the Ibizans “never naturalized the guitar” (188).  The ballroom dances he observed (46) are found today, in community centres today feature weekly dance evenings, with an accordionist playing pasodobles and other popular dance melodies. We were able to find only one man who still plays the accordion in Ibiza, and he is elderly and suffering from health problems which do not permit him to do very much with it. The main folk groups, UC and Aires de Formentera, have experimented not only with new instruments and styles, but as well, especially in the case of UC, compose new melodies for words to older songs. Gypsy musicians in recent years have begun to establish a presence; one such group refers to themselves as “gitano pagès” (interview, Xupendi, February 2004). Choirs and wind bands have played an important role in island musical life since the mid-nineteenth century, as they have in most of mainland Spain. In recent decades,  hippie, discothèque and tourist cultures and the more recent, annual “medieval fair”, have brought a wide variety of instruments and musical styles to the islands.