Sad or vital; rural or urban; acoustic or electric. Blues is the most influent music gender in the development of popular music on the 20th century, and one of the most important social and aesthetic movements of our time. From the Black Africa to the New World, from Louisiana to Chicago, and through radio waves across the globe, this inspired fusion of traditional sounds and rhythms originally derived from the standard Blue Note ended up becoming “a universal communication code”, says Richard White. White, an American plastic artist and guitarist, runs the International Blues Music Festival of Tarragona, an event designed to spread the city’s melancholic beauty.
Tarragona, melting pot for a number of civilisations throughout history, is the perfect port to understand the cultural fusion around the Mediterranean area. On the other hand, blues also suggests a journey to the essence of the United States of America, the most influential country in the world. These are two different points of view, at both sides of the Atlantic, around the identity of the contemporary world that juxtapose creating harmony at the International Blues Music Festival of Tarragona. By means of a simple structure, formed by 12 bars, “blues lets you go deeper into human condition”, explains White. The style that made B.B. King or Muddy Water rise to fame evokes several different moods, connecting millions of people, as well as the nostalgic character of a city with a glorious past.
Richard White, who was born in Philadelphia, in the northeast of the USA, felt the pentatonic sting of blues at the age of six, while still at school. From then on, it became his passion. He lived in the birthplace of the gender, New Orleans, and had the opportunity to meet living legends such as the producer Casimo Matassis, engineer of the blues sound who worked with Fats Domino, Little Richard or Doctor John, among others. “These are crucial characters in the history of music, although they don’t live in an extravagant way, like other stars”, he states.
He came to Tarragona by coincidence, back in the 90s, because his brother, an archaeologist, had met his girlfriend in the city. “I remember it as a quiet place, too quiet, yet quite chaotic at the same time. You wouldn’t see those many tourists as you do nowadays. It was pretty messy due to the construction of a parking lot under Plaça de la Font. I didn’t like it at all the first time, that’s for sure”, he says. Richard used to live in Deià back then, in the north of Majorca, and was part of a healthy local artistic community. It was not until the beginning of last decade, after moving back to his home in Philadelphia, that Richard decided to return to Tarragona.
This time though, he came back stay. “I met Pilar Delafuente, my partner. I had no clue back then about the Catalan identity nor the city’s personality. I thought it was all sangria and bullfighting in Spain. Pilar is a woman very fond of Tarragona [the daughter of Daniel Delafuente, a historic Diari de Tarragona journalist], and thanks to her, I went through a quick immersion”, explains White, who has become a member of the Parta Alta artistic circle and the Associació Tallers 03.
Blues is in the middle of an emergent process in Europe, and Barcelona is a Mecca of this music gender. By making the most of the public interest for this new music style, the International Blues Music Festival is pushing on “opening new doors” in the city. The event tries to play a sort of pollinating role by means of a modest yet high-quality programme. “We want people from abroad to add exciting values to the city, so that Tarragona is then projected internationally through them”, says White.
The festival, due from the 6th until the 9th of November this year, provides an overview to several versions of the same style. From the Hawaiian rhythms by Pascal Mesnier, who will be performing on Saturday at 8.30pm in Teatre Magatzem, to a jazz blues repertoire by Stromboli Jazz Band that will work as the opening for the festival on Thursday at 8pm. White himself, a member of Pig Fat, will perform as a lead-in artist for Blas Picón and the Junk Express on Friday at 10pm in Cafè Metropol. You can check the official programme on the festival’s Facebook page.