A Brief History of Spanish Balearic

There’s endless rhapsodizing about the storied history of “Balearic” music: the sound refined at venues like Amnesia and Café del Mar in the ‘80s, the unconstrained, magpie-eyed attitude that saw DJs blending gentle ambient, sensuous pop music, cod reggae, kosmiche, and whatever else made sense to soundtrack the idyllic summer evenings. These playlists formed a canon of their own, but the approach extended far beyond the island, igniting three decades of retrospective searching for records that fit the Balearic mold. 

But what about the musicians of the Balearic islands themselves? We’ve witnessed the critical reevaluation of Mallorcan musician Joan Biblioni, whose contemporaneous jazz-fusion and boogie experiments align perfectly with the music that soundtracked neighbouring Ibiza. But the well of Spanish music with a Balearic tinge is both deep and diverse. Over the last decade, Venezuelan record collector and DJ Trujillo has been travelling back and forth between Berlin and Spain, delving further into Spain’s musical history and turning out record stores and rastros all across the country. His new compilation Ritmo Fantasía is a stunning triple-LP that collects 21 standouts from the era, and traces the Balearic sound across  diverse strains of boogie, synth pop, and the inchoate sounds of Balearic house. 

He’s eminently suited to give us a primer on Spanish Balearica. The accompanying mix collates his selections from Ritmo Fantasía, and he’s written about five favourites from the compilation, touching on his history with the sound and how he hopes to redefine what “Balearic” means in light of the wellspring of creativity in Spain.

Ritmo Fantasía: Balearic Spanish Synth​-​Pop, Boogie and House (1982​-​1992) is out now on Soundway Records.

Where does your love for Balearic Spanish music stem from?

As a Venezuelan born to Spanish parents, I grew up surrounded by a mix of both cultures. I remember as a kid sitting in my grandad’s library room listening to a classic Spanish guitar LP together. I can relate also to the Balearic word as a lifestyle concept, as the tropical version of the Mediterranean. So for me, there’s definitely a link there. Since I moved to Europe about ten years ago, I’ve been frequenting Spain yearly as I have family there, and I’ve been dedicating time to investigating the Spanish music history, and discovering some of these forgotten musical gems in record stores and markets, scattered across the country. It came to the point that I realized I had enough material to put it all together and historically document an era that was as diverse as it was overlooked. So I got in contact with Soundway Records and proposed to them the idea of a compilation about the Spanish side of the Balearic sound, perhaps the Balearic genre has mainly British and American influences.

What marks out a Balearic Spanish record, compared to the rest of the genre?

I would say that any record made in Spain that represents the mix of styles from the country would fit into Balearic Spanish. It’s more than a style or genre – the Balearic sound is a natural, completely unprejudiced way of playing luminous and sensual music, a musical state of mind. For me, it’s about helping redefine the term ‘Balearic’ to include Spanish music, which in the 80s and 90s was a label used by foreigners for mainly foreign music played in the Balearic islands. How can you speak about Balearic music and not have some Spanish musical references in it?

What Balearic Spanish record has left the biggest impression on you as a DJ, and why?

Any of the tracks from the records included in the Ritmo Fantasía compilation are for me equally important. They all gave me the impression and the character of the sound I was looking for. So in that sense, I would say that Ritmo Fantasía is the record that is defining this sound!

Marengo – Puente De Esperanza

‘Puente de Esperanza’ is a beautiful synth-pop Balearic-infused track, where drum machines are put through Art of Noise’s Moments In Love movements, beneath a delicious duet, driven to distraction by desire. It was composed in 1986 by Juan Medina alias Marengo, originally from the port town of Marbella in the south of Spain. He was a simple guy with a big dream, inspired by the true love of his life, his wife Carmen. Juan also produced an independent video clip for the track, filmed on his favorite beach there, and which reflected on his greatest passions by the time: Music, love, and horses.

Juan sadly passed away some moons ago but he would be so proud of knowing that his track is finally getting the recognition that always deserved! I wonder how this track was totally overlooked by the time – Marengo didn’t promote it much then, and the track just passed unnoticed.

This is the opening track of my new compilation called Ritmo Fantasía, about Balearic-influenced music made in Spain during the 80s and 90s, and which is out on Soundway Records. As an homage to Marengo and to celebrate the launch of the compilation, Soundway in association with the Spanish film company Binalogue, made a modern reinterpretation of his original video clip directed by the young and talented director Denise Moreno.

Ma Ritter – Flamenco Rap (In the Land Of The Dreams)

This song was written at a time of great cultural cross-pollination in Spain, especially with the influence of the new pop and rap sounds coming from America. The producer and engineer of the track was nothing less than the legendary Josep Jobell (Ma Ritter’s lover at the time). They wanted to create a fusion that reflected an imagined paradise country of sun, flowers, sea, and music, mixing cultures, languages, and styles… Flamenco, pop, funk, jazz, and rap. It was an accurate snapshot of where they were emotionally at the time and a very innovative sound in the country by the time.

Nsue – Rebelde Silueta

The slightly jazzier house of Rebelde Silueta by Nsue is for me a standout in the Balearic Spanish sound, but with the raw and urban elements from Madrid. It works massively on the dance floor! Produced by Madrid’s based veteran producer Ram-J aka José Velarde, who draws on Chicago with a distinctly European exuberance, this 12” came out in 1990 on the Spanish dance label Quality Madrid. As José himself described it: “The track was made in a Balearic house style, in the small studio that I had at the time. By then the music gear was very expensive, so my resources were very limited. Those were wonderful times for me, discovering my love for creating music!”

Bianca – Tabu (Caribbean Dub)

In between pop, jazz, funk, and flamenco, a whole new electronic scene in Spain was cooking, led by the dance-oriented labels Quality from Madrid and Blanco y Negro from Barcelona. The latter also created a sub-label in the early 90s called Konga Music, which was focused on dance music with tropical influences, and which released the Tabu EP by Bianca, recorded and produced by studio wizard Joaquim “Quim Quer”.

He was Blanco y Negro’s superstar producer and a real institution by the time recording pop dance music in Spain. Tabu is pure madness with a heavy TR-909 beat to back the tune’s mix of tropical marimba and Ennio Morricone spaghetti western whistles, its large arms aloft keyboard breakdown. For me, this track proves that there were also some great house productions happening in Spain, at the same level as UK, Italy or France.

Cerlebre – Costa Verde

Costa Verde is cocktail-hour, big band, breezy jazz-funk. Thunder-thumbed bass is layered with virtuoso electric guitar and a sweet female chorus. The band Cuélebre was formed in the region of Asturias, on the north coast of Spain -not so Balearic- but I can recall they were definitely enjoying some sunny days at the Costa Verde area and get inspired to compose their Balearic version of it!

The track was written by local legend, now-deceased pianist Nacho “El Cappo” Fernandez, whose exceptional musical talent can be felt in his standout performance in the track. Definitely a very unique song in the Spanish Balearic spectrum from the 80s.

Ritmo Fantasía: Balearic Spanish Synth​-​Pop, Boogie and House (1982​-​1992) is out now on Soundway Records.

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