Spain's best hip hop artists celebrated the 400th anniversary of the publication of Don Quijote de la Mancha.
[Photo by SNEO Mestizaje Projects.]
I wrote this piece in 2005, and now that I've looked again at the videos, I remember what a surprising night it was.
I was skeptical. An almost infinite number of events are being held this year in Spain for the 400th anniversary of the publication of the novel Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. Now, the immortal text was going to be performed as rap. Spanish National Radio 3, the National Library of Spain, and the Province of Castilla-La Mancha had teamed up to create "Quijote Hip Hop."
I wasn't sure librarians and politicians were hip people, although the line-up of performers included top names: La Excepción, Zenit, Artes, and Korazón Crudo, the DJ Zeta, the graffiti artist Soso33, and the Dani Pannullo Dancetheatre Co. They planned to turn the novel into urban poetry.
In an interview on the day of the event, the director of Spanish National Radio, Pedro Piqueras, declared that the show was "the most recent madness that Radio 3 has gotten involved in, mixing a universal classic with the new ways that today's youth speak, dance and express themselves."
Everyone wants to be mad these days. It's the quixotic thing to do.
The debut on Friday night, June 17, at the steps of the National Library was free, and my husband and I went. We arrived at sunset, 10:15 p.m. The garden in front of the library was packed. We found a spot on the crowded sidewalk behind the high iron fence. Slowly, the street behind us and finally the median strip filled with people, mostly young, but a number with gray hair and a few parents with small children.
Soon, a relaxed and friendly producer mounted the library's majestic steps and explained the work, adding that some of the weird sounds in the music they were about to hear were by instruments from the age of Cervantes, such as a forerunner of the violin. He invited the audience to return during the daytime to see the library's historic exhibit about El Quixote, "Biography of a Book."
The statues of Saint Isidoro and King Alfonso the Wise towered over him in the staircase. The statue of Cervantes stood near the door in a spotlight. Panels by the entrance would display a light show. It was a hot night, and women fanned themselves.
Then fog billowed from the velvet curtains in the ornate formal entrance to the library. Music began. Zenit, a young man dressed in loose, black clothing walked out and declaimed:
En un lugar de La Mancha cuyo nombre recordar no quiero
dió comienzo aquesta historia del hidalgo
de antigua adarga, flaco rocín y corredor galgo
convertido en andante caballero.
Retales de viejos metales fueron su armadura
y un equino lleno ya de males su cabalgadura,
llano el escudero compañero de aventuras
y una moza labradora el objeto de sus locuras....
...el más famoso caballero andante por doquier,
más que Belianis de Grecia, más que Amadís de Gaula.
Aquí les dejo con esta versión rap que estos MCs han hecho de la andadura
de el Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha, el Caballero de la Triste Figura.
(In a place in La Mancha whose name I don't want to remember / arose this story of a nobleman / with an old shield, a skinny nag and a racing greyhound / changed into a knight-errant. / Scraps of old metal served as armor / and a horse already sick as his steed / a simpleton squire as companion for his adventures / and a farm girl as the object of his madness... / ... the most famous knight-errant anywhere, / more than Belianis of Greece, more than Amadis of Gaul. / Here I bring you this rap version that these MCs have made about the deeds / of the Ingenious Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, the Knight of the Woeful Countenance.)
Watch it here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPRa_JyEe7M - professional video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFddRFUies8&feature=related - fan video.
The audience cheered and applauded. They were fans of the performers. As the hour-long performance went on, a few danced, but not many. They were too busy listening.
I can't exaggerate the importance of Don Quijote in Spain — like Shakespeare in English-language culture, maybe even more. The rappers and the entire crew took their task seriously.
It worked. There was a match. Hip hop is all about words, and a book is nothing but words. Spanish language has the innate rhythm and easy rhyme to make the verses fall naturally. The assertive nature of hip hop mirrored the depth of the novel. As Korazón Crudo said: "Four hundred years and still the same / it's the essence of a human being. . . . Beauty and love have meaning. ... Passion isn't crazy."
The hip hop artists also proclaimed the importance of books, praised literature and culture, and proudly cited the portions of the text that their songs encompassed.
The encore, delivered by Korazón Crudo, reprised Chapter 3.
The words to the raps here: