From Peret to Rosalía: This Is the Rumba Catalana


Rosalía nods to the gypsy party music of her native Barcelona on her Catalan track ‘Milionària.’

Rosalía sings “Milionària,” one part of her new double track, in her native Catalan. The underlying rhythm of the song’s electronic mix is also made in Barcelona. It’s rumba catalana: Catalan party music.

Peret, one of two musicians (the other was Antonio Gonzalez “El Pascailla”) credited with propagating the sound that emerged from gypsy neighborhoods in the 1960s, once described it as a fusion of gypsy music, Afro-Cuban rhythms and Elvis Presley.

While flamenco delves deep into the soul (although it also has its celebratory side), the rumba catalana’s main message is to dance away your troubles. The genre’s base rhythms, grouped together under the name the ventilador (which translates to “fan” in English), combine percussive slapping and strumming on the guitar. It’s a big band sound that has evolved to embrace elements of reggae, ska, jazz and salsa.

The core rythms of rumba catalana may sound most familiar from the music of Gipsy Kings, French Catalans who took the beat all over with songs like “Bamboleo.” Manu Chao also incorporated the sound in his own musical mestizaje.

Listen to a sampler of Catalan rumba styles here:

Peret featuring Marin, “El Muerto Vivo” 

Younger artists affirmed renewed interest in Peret when they collaborated with the rumba king on the 2009 album De los Cobardes Nunca se ha Escrito Nada (No One’s Ever Written Anything About Cowards), whose title summed up his approach to life. Peret passed away in 2014 at age 79. Here, he was joined by Marina from the quintessential ’90s Barcelona band Ojos de Brujo on his classic "El Muerto Vivo."

El Pescailla, “Strangers in the Night”

Born into a family of fish mongers, the influential Antonio Gonzalez married famed singer Lola Flores. He was well known for his versions of popular American songs, like “Strangers in the Night.”

La Trova Kung Fu, “Calor, Calor””

For Joan Garriga, singer, accordion player and leader of La Trova Kung Fu, dancing in the streets is a fundamental human right.

Gato Perez, “El Ventilador”

The Argentine musician known as Gato Perez (1951-1990), whose father was Catalan, moved to Barcelona as a teen. Rocker and salsero, he combined those genres to create a style of rumba Catalana through which he spoke out about social injustices he saw happening around him.

Txarango, “Una Lluna a L’Aigua”

The wildly popular band Txarango keeps the Catalan party and protest spirit alive with their inclusive, infectious mix.

Patriarcas de la Rumba, “La Que Se Ha Liao”

These godfathers of the Catalan scene include Tío Paló, known as “the James Brown of the rumba”.

La Pegatina, "Gat Rumbero"

Representing a new generation of rumberos, La Pegatina's fusion of energetic styles has been whipping international audiences into what they describe as "punk delerium."

Rosalía, “Milionària”

Catalan purists have criticized Rosalía’s use of slang and “catañol” — mixing Catalan and Spanish (her worst offense, the nitpickers growse, is saying "cumpleanys" — instead of the Catalan "aniversari" to mean birthday). But come on, when else has a music video in Catalan been seen by seven million people in five days?