Catalan trap music: when a global phenomenon becomes local

Trap music in Catalonia is thriving and taking over the line-ups at major Catalan festivals such as Primavera Sound

Bad Gyal in Sónar festival 2019.
Bad Gyal in Sónar festival 2019.Juan Barbosa

I cada dia es igual AKA es al mateix, [Every day is the same AKA it’s the same]

sempre estem parduts, [we are always lost]

amun i avall, buscant l'ingrés, [looking up-and-down for the entry]

i es ca tu ja u sas no som com als damés [because you know we are not like the others]

These lyrics come from the song Bandulés by Bad Gyal, Lil Guiu and P.A.W.N who are some of the most popular exponents of so-called “Catalan trap.” The trap music style is reemerging with the new element of being sung in Catalan, a language spoken by 7.3 million people around the world. Catalan trap is putting music from Spain on a global map.

Their rhythm and words can now be heard in any club in the country and this year it has taken a step forward. Major labels and festivals are taking a chance on the local trap scene and now Catalan trap is on the line-up of major Spanish festivals such as Primavera Sound and Sónar.

Catalan trap is putting music from Spain on a global map

The pioneer of this music genre in Catalonia, Yung Beef, curated an entire stage dedicated to the urban style for this year's Primavera Sound festival. It was the first time in the 19 years of the festival that an artist had worked so closely with the art direction.

Some other Catalan festivals that used to offer pop-rock music are now starting to consider trap music for their line-ups. This is what happened at the Anòlia festival, in Igualada (Barcelona). This year, there were performances by Lil Dami (25-years-old from Terrassa) and Joina (23-years-old from Biure), two young up-and-coming Catalan trap stars. Igualada city councilor Pere Camps said that they “have decided to incorporate this genre because it’s gaining importance”.

Trap is now becoming mainstream in Catalonia. Not only have artists signed with some of the most important record labels, but their songs are also starting to be played on the radio. Artists like Lil Dami have also surrounded themselves with friends and producers like Sr. Chen (aged 30 and from Rubí) to make music in the Afro beats genre - a combination of West African musical styles and American funk and jazz.

In recent months, some artists have managed to mix the trap sound with the Catalan culture. Lil Dami has used inspiration from the historic Catalan music group ‘Manel’ to create his song “La dels Manel,” which puts the essence of Catalan culture to a trap rhythm.

In this urban style there is also a new space for young musicians, such as the band Tixin’ Pixin.’ Joan Marc and Pere, members of the band, say that trap lyrics are “easy and people can learn them easily too.'' Regarding the Catalan language used, they said that “we don’t look for different expressions, they come automatically, and we adapt them to our vocabulary”. They add that “it’s a way to make the Catalan language public both inside and outside of Catalonia”.

A matter of language

These groups have created their own particular slang: words such as ‘Nai,’ the Barcelona pronunciation of ‘noi’ [meaning boy in Catalan], and ‘la Blanca’ [meaning the White] - a metaphor that famous Catalan trap artists use for cocaine.

Xavier Rull, doctor in Catalan Philology at the Rovira and Virgili University in Tarragona, explains that “the Catalan phonetic, which has a Latin base, but is also highly influenced by the Germanic languages [is] really adaptable to the trap and hip-hop rhythms, [as their] final occlusive sounds similar to English ones”. An occlusive is a consonant sound produced by blocking (occluding) airflow in the vocal tract, for example, the last ‘m’ in mom.

Rull also says that the slang that Catalan trappers have created is “loyal to the youth slang” that you can find in the park. This specific language is full of British anglicisms like ‘beat’ and ‘shawty’ plus “words of Spanish origin and ones that are rooted in Catalan,” like ‘pillar’ [to hook up]. Their lyrics also include “urban pronunciation modifications”, like “naia” for ‘noia’ [meaning girl] and “stic” for ‘estic’ [meaning ‘I am’].

In Rull’s opinion, in Catalan trap it “is not important to take care of the use of the language” but the meaning of the lyrics. “The message is crucial,” he says.

Beyond trap

There is now an opening in the music industry that Catalan trap has been able to fill. According to Sr. Chen: “It has created a space. Now there are a lot of people making music in Catalan.” In fact, this change in public preferences has made it possible for new styles and ideas to come out.

Groups such as Siderland are also incorporating electronic elements in their songs to make the Catalan sound feel global while other groups are adding urban elements into their style to renovate their music. For example, in their last album Fans del Sol, the band ‘Oques Grasses’ mixed wind instruments with electronic sounds.

Now the underground worlds of reggaeton, dancehall and trap are blowing up in Spain and gaining a big audience in other countries. These mixtures of sounds are thriving with today's generation and Catalan trap artists are taking advantage of the current boom.

This shift in sound had already begun in other countries and has just recently hit Spain. The Spanish rapper C. Tangana said in an interview with DJ and journalist Kate Hutchinson that “three years ago no urban music was on the radio” in Spain. Nowadays, it's quite the opposite.

The Catalan artist with the biggest international impact has been Rosalía, the Barcelona-born star’s flamenco pop sounds have made her a global star, and she performed at Coachella this year. The singer told The New York Times that “Spain is having a big moment,” and that it was only a matter of time before people noticed the talent coming from her country. She believes that there is “a new generation” of artists gaining fame and that includes the likes of Bad Gyal, one of the well-known Catalan trap rappers.

The 22-year-old singer, born in Alba Farelo, has become the face of Catalan urban music. She has reached an international audience through her music, which includes lyrics in Spanish, Catalan and English. This dual identity between Catalonia and Spain that Bad Gyal represents has worked in her favor, gaining her more than 500,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, the majority coming from Madrid and even more than 18,000 in Mexico City.

The lyrics of success

One Bad Gyal’s most famous songs, ‘PAI,’ which helped ignite her career, is a cover of the Grammy winning song “Work” by Rihanna. The difference being that Bad Gyal stuck to her own roots and made a version completely in Catalan.

If there was a doubt about if Catalan trap worked, the number of views on her video provides the answer. The YouTube video with over two million views and the high expectations behind the release of Bad Gyal’s new album shows just the beginning of what Catalan trap could grow to be.

Alba Farelo, Sr. Chen and Tixin’ Pixin’, are examples of young artists and producers making their way into the mainstream sound with their street, soundcloud and club culture. Apart from the Catalan introduction that comes with this music style, this culture also includes themes of female empowerment. This comes from the women who want to make their mark in a male-dominated industry where misogynistic lyrics have plagued the genre for many years.

An Elpais.cat project

Since November 2016, the Catalan edition of EL PAÍS, Elpais.cat, has been publishing a selection of news stories in English.

The texts are prepared by journalism students at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), who adapt content from EL PAÍS, adding extra information and background to these stories so that they can be understood in a global context.

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