One of the very few advantages of self-isolation is the chance to listen to music. Lots of music. And to seek out things you’ve never listened to before. My friend Paul, who lives in Lisbon, has always been a keen student of the obscure, much happier with Portuguese fado or Herzogovinan root music than the plain old Beatles and Stones. He texted me yesterday to ask: “Did we ever discuss the extremeña singer Bebe? Her first album Pafuera Telarañas is very cool.”
Well, no I don’t think so, but as it happens I was a little bit familiar with her work. When we went on our immersive Spanish language course in Valladolid a few months back we spent an afternoon digging into the lyrics of the meaningful female pop of Rosalía, Rozalén and Bebe. All very good stuff.
Unless I misunderstood, our teacher seemed to suggest that Rosalía’s flamenco/rap fusion is up there with Cervantes and Velázquez in the pantheon of great Spanish art, while Rozalén and Bebe tackle issues like domestic violence and self esteem in ways that rarely seem to trouble the British charts.
But the big thing about Bebe, real name María Nieves Rebolledo Vila, is that she’s from Extremadura. Actually, she was born in Valencia but moved to Zafra at an early age. Her parents were members of the folk band Surberina, of which I can't find any trace on the internet. Maybe they are self-isolation month two.
Bebe’s first album Pafuera Telarañas is indeed very cool. It came out in 2004 and was a big hit in Latin America where she won a grammy for best new artist. The slangy title means: Out with the cobwebs. She sings with an Extremaduran accent.
Cool, but then she waited a full Stone Roses-ish five years before releasing her next album, simply entitled Y, or And. This in a time before Ed Sheeran. Cool. Then her difficult third album Un Pokito de Rocanrol, A little bit of rock ‘n’ roll, followed by the Dylanesque Cambio de Piel, Changing my skin.
I’ve been listening to these records all day, and in a way you can only say about a very few artists—ok, Van Morrison—I don’t think there’s a bad track. The videos, punky and pierced, also evoke Extremadura, with plenty of big landscapes and wildlife.
It’s been a long time since her last record in 2015, and frankly, as a fan, I’d like to hear some new stuff. But, for the moment, she seems to have other fish to fry. It’s just been announced that she is to play a crop-haired, horse-riding, 19th century bandolera in a new TV drama entitled Libertad. The producer describes it as “a universe populated by characters who live outside any norm in a territory of adventure, passion and intrigue.” Presumably not confined to their living room.