A musician in two different places - playing double bass for the Ciutat de Granollers cobla and a member of the Havaneres Els Faroners de Calella - Josep Barri has had a dual experience of the devastating effects that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the culture sector. “Only the members of the great orchestras are professionally dedicated to music, because the rest of us combine work with performances during the weekend and the holidays”, he explains, before adding that concerts are a good source of side income and this year has been catastrophic in that respect. In addition, he lost his job just prior to going into confinement in March, so he had hoped to keep up his income with the summer “gigs”. Obviously, that was not to be. “We estimated we would do about eighty performanceslast year, and we didn’t even reach twenty-five,” he says.
However, Barri considers himself lucky enough in such a bleak situation, because he has been able to do a few performances, all small format, at various venues in Calella “when they were still open”, and the havaneres group was also able to do a larger concert in Mataró and another in Calella during the town’s main festival, one of the few that risked maintaining the popular celebration during of the avalanche of cancellations by most Catalan towns. “The town councils did what they could, but there has not been a common criterion, so each case was different, sardanes concerts without dancing being allowed in Calella, dancing allowed in Sant Pol and Pineda completely postponed“, he recalls.
For Barri, it is clear that this forced cessation of cultural activity - “the people of culture are always the first to get hit”- would mean the end for many musical groups that had been confident of a productive season. “And we also have to take into account the age of the musicians: for many, stopping like this means they will definitely give up the instrument.”
For this musician, the zeal that the administrations have shown in cancelling cultural activities “is not justified in any way”. “Culture is safe is not just a slogan, it’s true, because any concert, play or performance that has been put on since the restrictions came into place has scrupulously followed the disinfection measures, capacity control and distances requested. But it seems that this wasn’t enough and that, unfortunately, it would mean death for a large part of the sector “, he says, insisting that” in any crisis, the first thing that is cut is the culture budget; we are the ugly sister, the easy relative when they have to make cuts“.
Barri regrets that, on social media in particular, “where people talk loudly”, there is encouragement for the sterile and misleading debate that justifies reducing spending on culture to spend more money on other priorities. “And it shouldn’t be like that, because culture also has a social aim, it’s food for the soul, and we just have to remember that during the total lockdown, there were a lot of people who, day in day out, dedicated themselves to making music from their balconies to encourage neighbours and make the lockdown less difficult”, he recalls.
Barri laments the fact that the pandemic has come at a time when traditional music was experiencing a sweet moment. “In the two bands I play in, we were convinced that we would have more performances than the previous year in 2020; in the case of the cobla, because we’d started a sardanes project with schools, and in the group of havaneras, we were working on a large-format concert that included more groups and the participation of people from the lyrical world“, adding that ”everything is still up in the air” for 2021.
For this musician, the short-term future of Catalan traditional music does not look too promising, especially for smaller groups, because when they are again able to start organising events, “there will be no money for everyone, and the administrations will be more reluctant to spend, and also because there will be fewer bands, since many will not have been able to overcome the crisis, and will have had to look for work in other less precarious jobs”.
Barri, who began a new job last September, maintains that it did not occur to him to abandon his instrument permanently. “The cobla is continuing and so is the havaneres group, and the double bass and I will go where we are called to as far as possible and as long as there is a will and, above all, a chance to continue,” he concludes.