Performance and Ethnicity in Contemporary Spain: Agency and Resistance (1990 to the present day).

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Modern Languages and Cultures


In the last fifteen years, Spain has experienced an influx of migrants and the establishment of diasporic communities on a scale comparable to the cases of Britain, France and Germany in the middle of the twentieth century. What was a nation of emigration - to Latin America a century ago, to central Europe in the 1950s - has become a place to which many people from across the globe come in search of work and refuge. In addition to those from former colonies, there are now large numbers of people from North and sub-Saharan Africa, China and Pakistan who have settled in Spain. The increasing prominence of these diaspora in everyday life, their impact on the body politic, and the direct exposure of native Spaniards to their cultures have triggered debate in public and private about the Spanish nation and the singularly white, European (and Catholic) ethnicity that is, according to some, indigenous to its territory.

Because the establishment of sizeable diasporic communities in Spain occurred only recently, the impact on cultural production in Spain of residents of foreign origin has been slight. Nevertheless, an increasing number of films, plays, novels, songs and other artworks are now being produced by these groups or involve them in some way in order to explore issues stemming from their presence in Spain. In parallel, scholarly studies have appeared on the artistic representation of non-white people in contemporary Spanish culture and of issues such as immigration and multiculturalism.

This existing literature is limited in scope in that it examines only individual genres. My project, of which the AHRC Fellowship will form part, is more inclusive in its cross-disciplinary focus on performance and the meanings inscribed on the performer's body. Its preliminary studies include analyses of how the 'fact' (as Fanon described it) of blackness of actors of African origin in Spain affects the roles in which they are cast, and of performances by 'white' Spanish actors in blackface.

The Fellowship will build upon this initial research by exploring how members of the African diaspora in Spain can, by means of performance, assume agency and implement strategies of resistance in the face of political subjugation and discrimination on account of the colour of their skin. This will result in two academic articles, the publication of interviews with performers and a series of theatre workshops.

In the first part of the Fellowship, I will examine the work of two rap musicians of the African diaspora: Frank T (Tshimini Nsombolay), born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and El Chojín (Domingo Edjang Moreno), son of a Guinean father and Spanish mother. These rappers routinely comment in their songs and their prose writings on their own hybrid identities and on the issue of racial prejudice more generally. The planned article will analyse not only studio recordings of their songs, but also how these two rap musicians exploit live performance and its potential for direct interaction with audiences to raise awareness of and provoke debate on 'race' and ethnic difference. To this end, interviews with these musicians will be arranged following initial research on the topic.

The second part of the Fellowship will initially run parallel to the first part. From September, I will organise and run a series of weekly workshops as a volunteer at the Centro Hispano Africano in Madrid, a social centre founded to provide migrants from sub-Saharan Africa with personal, professional and legal assistance and to facilitate integration and intercultural exchange. Over the course of the workshops, I will introduce participants to techniques of Theatre of the Oppressed and encourage them to reflect on and explore through performance some of the problems that affect directly their everyday lives as Africans in Spain. The impact of these theatre activities on participants will be determined by means of questionnaires and discussion sessions.

Planned Impact

Both of the component projects of the Fellowship will benefit directly the African community in Spain, especially that in Madrid. The study of rap musicians Frank T and El Chojín will raise their international reputation by bringing their recorded output, live performances and role as spokesmen for a generation of people of African origin in Spain to the attention of specialists in contemporary Hispanic culture and society as well as scholars of contemporary popular music in the English-speaking world. This will be accomplished by the publication of my analysis and of my interviews with them in journals to which academic institutions in the USA, UK and Spain subscribe. The series of theatre workshops that I will run at the Centro Hispano Africano in Madrid, it is intended, will strengthen participants' awareness that they can respond constructively to discrimination and will provide users of the centre with a set of theatrical tools that can be employed in order to present and reflect collaboratively upon possible actions to be taken if they experience prejudice.

By acknowledging and supporting the agency of those marginalised on account of the colour of their skin in Spain, the two parts of the Fellowship will also impact indirectly on the Spanish society of which these communities form part, aiding cooperation between diaspora and the indigenous population and integration of these two groups without compromising the former's ethnic identity. I will publish my description and assessment of the value of the workshops and those obstacles to progress encountered during the series in a journal read by academics and practitioners in Spain for future reference by those working in the broader field of Theatre for Development.


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Description Rap music (in both recorded form and live performance) was the first forum in which Spanish residents of immigrant origin were able to speak for themselves about their lives and particularly the racism they experience(d). This commenced in the mid-90s, some 5 years before the immigration boom and well before other more culturally prestigious forms of cultural production (film, theatre) began to be employed by immigrants to raise issues affecting them. (In theatre, it's debatable whether this has happened at all).
Rap music in Spain produced by musicians of African origin differs from that produced by African-Americans on account of their different roots. The frequent collaborations between musicians from Equatorial Guinea (the sole Spanish colony in sub-Saharan Africa until independence in 1968) exemplify the much closer connections between Afro-Spanish rappers and Africa. This is a very different dynamic from what Paul Gilroy identifies in his The Black Atlantic (1993), and has enabled me to challenge the assumptions of this canonical postcolonial text.
I was able to develop further my interest in Spanish popular music and artists of immigrant origin in further publications on a rapper born in the Dominican Republic (who draws on Caribbean sounds) and a singer born to Equatorial Guinean parents (who performs flamence and Latin jazz). These studies have allowed me to nuance my study of how people of immigrant origin can use both lyrics and musical styles/samples to draw attention to social issues and to declare their belonging to an international community on account of their marginalization in their country of residence, frequently because of the colour of their skin.
Exploitation Route Emboldened by the success of my talks to schools and schoolteachers on rap and immigration, I expressed my interest in forming part of the Steering Groups set up by Michael Gove to review the teaching of modern languages in schools. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful (something about which I was very disappointed, especially on discovering whom they organisers had accepted onto the Steering Groups).
The next step of the European Popular Musics Research Group that I founded with Isabelle Marc (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) is to request funding to create an international network of modern linguists working on transcultural elements of youth culture. Activities will include working with schoolteachers and schools in Yorkshire to enable them to inspire and teach students of modern languages more successfully.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description This award led directly to the live concert by Spanish rapper El Chojín at Leeds University Union on 16 October 2014, attended by some 400 university students, school students between the ages of 14 and 18, local fans of hip-hop, and Spanish fans of the artist in and around West Yorkshire.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Leverhulme Visiting Fellowship
Amount £20,790 (GBP)
Funding ID RG.SPLA.100454 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2014 
End 01/2015
Description European Popular Musics Research Group 
Organisation Complutense University of Madrid
Country Spain 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I created this research group in 2011 with a colleague from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Isabelle Marc), with whom I have convened the group since then. I have co-organised with Isabelle a 1-day symposium and a 2-day conference at University of Leeds on European Popular Music Studies and the Singer-Songwriter in Europe respectively. Both events were funded by University of Leeds. At both events, I contributed papers on Spanish hip-hop. The former event enables us to edit together a special issue of the Journal of European Popular Culture, and we have just signed a contract with Ashgate to publish our joint-edited book on the latter topic. University of Leeds' website hosts the webpage we created for our research group.
Collaborator Contribution Universidad Complutense de Madrid has enabled Isabelle Marc to travel to Leeds to take up a Leverhulme Trust Visiting Fellowship, which I secured for her in early 2013.
Impact Special issue of Journal of European Popular Culture: 'European Popular Musics: A Polycentric Dialogue' (4.1, 2013). Edited book: 'The Singer-Songwriter in Europe: Paradigms, Politics and Place' (Ashgate, 2016). Live concert by El Chojín, Mine, Leeds University Union (16 October 2014). Live concert by Pendentif, Mine, Leeds, University Union (6 November 2014). International workshop: 'Continental Popular Music and Cultural Policies in Contemporary Britain' (6 November 2014).
Start Year 2011
Description Spanish Rap Concert: El Chojín 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I organised a live concert by a Spanish rap artist. This was attended by 120+ school students of Spanish between 14-18 years of age from schools in Leeds and Bradford, 70+ undergraduates of Spanish from universities in Yorkshire, and 90+ members of the general public, including numerous members of the Spanish-speaking community across the north of England.
This event was preceded by a series of schools events on how rap engages with questions of race and immigration in Spain (a prominent A2 topic).
The event also gave schoolchildren the opportunity to experience university social life.

This event only took place on 16 October 2014. We expect its impact to include: a rise in numbers of GCSE students continuing to study the topic at A-level in West Yorkshire; a rise in the number of A-level students enrolling on Spanish degree programmes across the UK; the creation of classroom activities by school teachers based on the music and lyrics of El Chojín and other Afro-Spanish rappers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Talks to newly qualified schoolteachers of Spanish 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Since 2012, I have delivered talks in London, Manchester and Birmingham for the Prince's Trust on rap, race and immigration in Spain. These are attended by newly-qualified (and in one case, experienced) teachers of Spanish at local schools. My talk is followed by discussion as regards how the information I provide can be used in the classroom with students 14-18 years of age to teach about Spanish language, culture and society.

Teachers readily embrace the content of my talk: rap music is popular with young people, the experiences of the Afro-Spanish rappers I speak about are real-life experiences (rather than inventions for a textbook), and the topics they touch upon in their work are easily incorporated into the syllabus (e.g. A2 topic of race and immigration).
The popularity with school students of the results of this talk was proved by the assistance of numerous young people at the live concert by El Chojín on 16
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015