Estopa, Lord Byron and surprising old ladies

There is something sweet about a music video where the black sheep/oveja negra of the neighbourhood, on his way to meet his mates for bad behaviour, takes time to stop and kiss a tiny old lady outside his apartment block, instead of barrelling past her or knocking her out of the way. The smile on her face is magical.

You don’t need to speak Spanish to appreciate the energy of Fuente de Energia. Singer/songwriter David Muñoz is a poet, so the pattern of sounds will bring you satisfaction. If you have any Spanish at all, you’ll delight in his crisp pronunciation. Like Robert Plant, David uses clarity to lead his listeners all the way through his story song.  Listen out for the word porquería, which is a perfect combination of sound and meaning. Puerco = pig and ería the state of/place of.  If English is your native language, you’ll catch the word pork within it:

Like all the best slang words, porqueria has a marvellously satisfying mouthfeel and a pleasing internal melody. It works so wonderfully in Fuente de Energia because, like a lot of popular swear words or phrases, porquería is also an anapest.  It’s a word that builds up into energy by taking a run. It starts at jogging pace. You hear the first two syllables, marked by the sharp consonants and q, but they are not stressed. So your mind lands on them lightly. The stress is on the rí and you join David in the force of the word right there. Whether you speak Spanish or not, you can feel the vibrancy.

Porqueria, in Fuente de Energia, reverberates against the other anapestic words: energía (energy), alegría (joy), policía (the police), melodía and cacería (hunt). The words are tied tightly together by their rhyme pattern, but not just because they all end in ía. Their rhyme is stronger because it’s internal too. As anapests, these words have a stress pattern of two short sounds followed by a long, stressed sound: por-que-rí-a, me-lo--a etc.

If you’re writing a song in English, you can learn a lot from David Muñoz. Whether you speak Spanish or not, you can hear the rhymes in the song and, because of the anapest stress pattern in some of the most important words (porquería, energía etc), you notice other words – like melancolía because they share the same final syllable rhyme, but not the same internal stress pattern.

Mel-an-co--a takes its stress on the 4th syllable, por-que--a, po-li--a etc take their stress on the 3rd syllable.

It’s important, for the 3D humanity of the song, that you recognise melancholy as possible cause/result/existential background of the oveja negra‘s bad habits and his search for escape in drink, drugs and bad company. If he suffers from melancolía, it’s harder to judge him. It’s a masterstroke, as a songwriter, to introduce a layer of sympathetic backstory into a 3 minute song which, on the face of it, is about a dissolute street drinker.

You notice melancolía because the end-rhyme pattern mirrors energía and all the other words ending in ía. Humans seek patterns in language, and that final ía satisfies one side of the pattern. So melancolía is linked to the ‘hero’ of the song, but, because of its slightly different stress pattern and its placement right at the beginning of the song, before porquería etc have established themselves as a pattern, it doesn’t belong in the strict central narrative line of the song.

Melancolía is a memory, an aside, an extra detail, the kind of excuse your mum might make for your bad behaviour, but the song itself is a clear call for the ‘hero’ to recognise that things will end badly if he keeps relying on drink and bad company as his sole fuente de energía.

Serendipity and songwriting: David’s a poet and the words of his song will have fallen into place for him because he’s used to weighing words. Melancolía is perfectly placed – it follows día as an end-of-line rhyme, so the audience notices it, as the beginning of a rhyme pattern. Melancolía moves out of the main stream of the pattern when energía, policía, porquería, alegría pronounce themselves the dominant force. Melancolía remains in the listener’s mind as a fainter memory, like the memory of a parent, grandmother or neighbourhood for the child/teenager whose melancholy informs/explains/excuses their present vagrant behaviour.

If you’re writing a song in English: think of internal rhymes as well as end rhymes. Your listeners will find your lyrics more satisfying if you do too. Think of the words that you place before or outside the main rhyme pattern of the song. What would you like those words to add to the emotional meaning of your song? Your listeners consider every sound you place before them. Sounds that form a pattern, or break a pattern, are especially noticeable. Use that power.

If you’re singing a song in English, especially a fast rocky song like Fuente de Energia, notice how David never loses control of his voice. He never stops enunciating clearly, no matter how powerfully the guitars and drums kick in around him. As a vocalist, in whatever language, power doesn’t mean shouting. Think of Stairway to Heaven here or Nothing Else Matters here. Power with precision.

I mentioned the little old lady and the kiss at the beginning of Fuente de Energia. You can see the same feeling of connected love on the faces of elderly audience members in the video for Ya No Me Acuerdo, when the Estopa brothers José and David, return to play for neighbours in their parents’ bar, ‘La Española,’ in Cornellà de Llobregat, where they grew up.

In Ya No Me Acuerdo, José lists, in great detail, the many, many things he doesn’t ‘remember’ about his ex-girlfriend. Listen out for all the round, melancholy sounds – acuerdo, cuerpo, beso, olvido, efímero and more, usually at the end of lines, slowing the song:

By the way: why Byron? Because his poem, The Destruction of Sennacherib is driven forward by anapests. He needs their energy so much that he adds the first the to open the poem with an anapest. Ass-y-ri-an alone has its stress in the wrong place for anapest purposes. So Assyrians came down like wolves on the fold wouldn’t have worked. Byron adds an unstressed the before Assyrian and, voilà: anapest, energy and galloping horses:

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.”

© Sing Better English, 2016

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2 thoughts on “Estopa, Lord Byron and surprising old ladies”

  1. This post is like a master class in songwriting, poetry, and sociology! Once again you’ve led me deep beneath the surface to consider the structure of a song, the sound of its words, and the fact that perhaps some of the dissolute street drinkers I’ve known over the years have been, in fact, simply soothing their own melancholy. Maravilloso.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ¡Gracias, mujer! I do think that the choices made by the director of the Estopa video say a lot about Spanish culture. To have cast a tiny old lady actress, to have positioned her just outside the ‘portería’ of the Barcelona apartment block, just as the ‘oveja negra’ steps out into daylight – it’s all conscious decision making on the filmmaker’s part. I can’t imagine the same scene seeming believable in a British pop video, unless it was intended to be heavily ironic.

      To me, as a foreigner, those few seconds of the video, and the fact that they’re dropped in casually, because the filmmaker knows that the young Spanish audience will recognise in themselves the ingrained impulse to ‘saludar’ neighbours of all ages, no matter what mayhem you’re heading off to cause, align entirely with my memory of living in Spain. I find it heartwarming that nobody considered saving money on the old lady or, worse, replacing her with a buxom young woman.

      David Muñoz, of Estopa, is a champion songwriter. Apparently, when he was a schoolboy, he used to get in trouble for doodling poetry in his exercise books. I think you can tell that he has a poetic feeling for language – and such clear enunciation that his words travel first class.

      I think you’ll enjoy this video from one of the groups that inspired the brothers Estopa when they were teenagers:

      Liked by 1 person

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