They may be 10,000 kilometres apart but there are some intriguing connections between the small, island-packed European nation of Croatia and one of the Latin American giants, Mexico
They may be 10,000 kilometres apart but there are some intriguing connections between the small, island-packed European nation of Croatia and one of the Latin American giants, Mexico
Could a Pyrenean principality be a blueprint for an independent Catalonia?
A free and sovereign nation-state, where Catalan is the official language and the euro is the currency.
Whilst that may be a dream for many people across Catalonia – it is the reality for the 80,000 citizens of the principality of Andorra.
Could the tiny mountain nation be a model for a future Catalonia if they region were to break free from Spain?
Andorra is sandwiched between France and Spain, unique in that it is the only country governed by a co-monarchy. One head of state is the president of France and the other is the Bishop of Urgell (a town in Spain just to the south of Andorra).
The heads of state act in concert with the elected government. Winter skiing and summer hiking provide a substantial tourist income.
Andorra has a lot of cultural affinity with Catalonia through music, literature, and dance.
A breakaway Catalonia would have several other similarities.
Like Andorra, it would not be in the European Union, it would use the euro, and, of course, it would be a Catalan-speaking country.
But there are no guarantees that Andorrans would rush to embrace their separatist brethren across the mountains.
They might very well like to see another Catalan-speaking nation.
But Andorra could find itself having to choose between being the first country to recognise an independent Catalonia or preferring the stability of the wider region and hoping that the integrity of Spain is preserved.
There is also the example of the little-known enclave of Llivia.
A part of Spain surrounded by France, Llivia is a relic of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, when Spain ceded a group of villages to France.
But rather than a village, Llivia had been designated a town, and so it remained part of Spain. As every village to the north, south, east and west integrated into France, Llivia was left as an inland island of Spain.
In truth, it is more an island of Catalonia.
The Catalan estelada flag flies from the balconies, Catalan is spoken and it is part of the Catalan province of Gerona. Llivia also voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence in the banned referendum on 1 October.
The enclave offers an intriguing viewpoint of a part of Spain that is already physically separate from the mother country.
And Andorra, too, provides a fascinating and unique example of a Catalanaphone nation-state.
For pro-independence Catalans who have been suffering from nightmares over the last week after their leader fled to Belgium and Spain withdrew some of Catalonia’s devolved powers, they could perhaps settle on a more pleasant dream if they turn their gaze northwards to the Pyrenees and the thoughts of what the future could yet bring.
What’s going on right now in the small, mountainous country on the Adriatic Sea?
“The media in Mexico is tremendously sick but will not die”
The words of YouTuber Chumel Torres, who joined Honduran journalist Graco Pérez for this event at London’s Canning House, the UK-Iberia & UK-Latin America foundation.
Mr Pérez opened in a determined fashion: “a more informed press leads to a more informed population”. He acknowledged that Honduras was a developing country and admitted obstacles to progress.
He said that many reporters practise self-censorship over fears from organised crime, government interference and societal corruption.
He went into detail over the more serious issues facing journalists in Honduras as well, including an “alarming level of violence and lack of protective mechanisms”.
In spite of this, Mr Pérez insisted that press freedom as a whole has been managing to grow through social networks and the space they provide.
Chumel Torres declared early on that he had no journalism background but rather came circuitously into presenting what is his wildly successful online political and cultural satire show, ‘El Pulso de la Republica’.
Alongside what is rapidly becoming regularised violence against reporters, he laid out what he sees as the problems facing the media in Mexico.
Torres noted that “the public sees the press as government puppets” and that the media have “lost their strength”.
His prescribed medicine for the press was the need to “try to be reborn”.
During the question-and-answer session with the audience that followed, Torres touched on the role of the media in the run-up to next year’s general election in Mexico, lamenting threats made against radio, print and TV journalists but finding gold in the dust with a message of hope: “[there’s] a bright path just behind the curtain”.
Graco Pérez said that the media can build up wider networks of trust and influence but must do so whilst understanding the need for meticulous research and extreme caution. He admitted that the environment online, on mobile and in print is still volatile in many parts of Honduras when it comes to threats to reporters.
This blog pondered the rise of citizen journalism and the immediate coverage of breaking news offered by the public through their phones.
The room agreed with the notion that the “internet never forgets” and both speakers agreed that millennials are pushing the pace and breadth of news and the different platforms for consumption.
The two speakers didn’t think that traditional media should worry too much about the explosion in citizen journalism and that there would still be the need for questions, analysis and follow-up enquiries by ‘traditional’ journalists.
Chumel Torres had the last word, calling for a return to what he called “scorpion journalism” – achieved through: regaining trust; rethinking how you are working and what you are working on; and challenging yourself as well as challenging power.
While playing openly on the world stage, Russia holds onto a more subtle influence in Europe
Vladimir Putin has been holding court on the international scene in recent months.
Laughing off US investigations into election meddling, championing the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s civil war efforts, and reining in Western powers’ determined punishment of North Korea.
It waves its veto whenever a Syria resolution is brought before the United Nations, and only gives the green light to sanctions on North Korea that ensure the secretive state does hold onto some wriggle room.
But as all this global drama plays out, Russia also has ongoing geopolitical interests in hidden corners of Europe.
Moldova sits on the shoulder of Romania, jutting into Ukraine. It is an often-overlooked nation – except, perhaps, by European football fans on unique away-days.
It is the poorest country in the region. Economic output last year was $6.8bn, according to the World Bank. Comparable in population size, income status and geography, Albania saw GDP of $11bn, with a much higher life expectancy.
Moldova also has a breakaway, Russian-leaning region.
Transnistria comprises a sliver of land to the east of the River Dniper up to the nearby border with Ukraine.
It has declared independence but is only recognised by other breakaway, Russophile regions, namely Abkhazia and South Ossetia (both parts of Georgia now controlled by Moscow).
Russian is the local lingo, the hammer and sickle is on the flag and citizens buy their shopping with a version of the ruble.
So could Transnistria rejoin the Moscow motherland?
It is not without precedent.
The Russian state of Tuva, now an integral part of the country, is a southern province off the south-east border with Mongolia. And in 1944 it requested incorporation into the Soviet Union. Tuvans enjoyed a 23-year-long independence before calling off their self-governing statehood.
But if Transnistria were to re-incorporate into Russia, then it would be cut off from the mainland. It would be stranded in Europe, surrounded by independent countries wary of Russia.
That, too, would not be anything new.
Nestled between Poland and Lithuania, Kaliningrad is a constituent part of Russia, but an exclave with no direct land connection to the mainland.
Annexed by the Soviet Union after World War Two, when the USSR broke up in 1989, the former Communist Poland and the former Soviet Lithuania declared independence, encircling Kaliningrad, which remained part of Russia.
It may have lost a number of its territories when the Soviet Union collapsed, but there remain several pockets of peoples across Europe who want to break free of their European Union-leaning governments and look to Moscow for their futures.
And if we are looking for a sad illustration of when these disputes turn to war, then there is also an example for this: the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, where Russophile rebels are fighting the government in the east of the country.
She first came to prominence in 1997, as her band Smoke City’s ‘Underwater Love’ reached #4 in the UK charts. Now, 20 years on, Nina Miranda is finally releasing her first solo album.
After a period as lead singer with the groups Zeep and Shrift and numerous collaboration projects, including with Seu Jorge, Basement Jaxx and Gilles Peterson, the Anglo-Brazilian artist is striking out alone, bringing together her fusion of genres, languages and international influences. Her father is from Rio de Janeiro and her mother was born in Iran and the two met in Paris – this global background impacts positively through Miranda’s free-flowing and improvisational style.
Freedom of Movement swirls from place to place, crossing stylistic boundaries that you can be sure would leave many mainstream record companies confused (it was recorded in a studio space above her flat with deliberately open windows letting in all the hubbub of London life). That said, she has produced a work she can finally call her own, working with members of Ibibio Sound Machine and Chris Franck, who she first joined forces with all those years ago back with Smoke City.
It is an album of dizzying stimuli and a proud marker of the creative spirit that pulses through the artist. If you like bossa nova and indie, tropicália and chill pop, vapourwave and electronica, then this album, with its animals, seas and sultry moods should be for you.
I had a quick cup of coffee with the Anglo-Brazilian artist before she rushed off to Glastonbury (where she teamed up with Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré).
Nina, this is your first solo album – what are the main messages that you hope the listener takes away from it?
Well it’s called Freedom of Movement so I would say that is one of the main messages, along with the importance of fusion, open possibilities, and the joy of collaboration. That said, it’s good after all these years to be steering my own ship now.
Steering your own ship – does that mean that with your previous work with Smoke City in the 1990s and then Zeep and Shrift afterwards you were not totally in control? Or have as much say as you would have liked?
Smoke City worked on compromise. And we wanted to hold onto our connection to the underground. We had three members and sometimes two of them would get together and work on something and the third member would come in and hear it and choose to change parts of it. Or someone else wouldn’t like another member’s suggestions. It was the blend that was important.
Let’s look back to your Smoke City days then. How is the Nina Miranda of 2017 different from the Nina Miranda of 1997 and the “Underwater Love” era?
I hardly recognise myself in the videos from then! When I watch them it looks like a girl in some kind of dream. My work now stills holds the essence of 1997, there’s still the importance of collaboration running through it. I guess perhaps there’s more personal originality now, as an artist – not simply a singer.
And looking the other way… which direction would like to see your career take in another ten years?
I’d like to play an instrument, I reckon. Maybe write a musical and act in it, co-direct it as well. But maybe that’s just the Brazilian side of me dreaming, rather than the British reality!
That’s one part of your music that really stands out – the fusion of the genres and national themes. Which has been a greater influence on your music: the Brazilian or British side?
The Brazilian side keeps me connected with the music and feelings in Brazil. There’s a flow and improvisation that comes with working with Brazilian musicians. There’s a certain feel. You understand that you are working with humans, not musicians.
“Amazonia Amor” on your new record really takes you to Brazil. You get a sense of an electronic rainforest at times.
It’s the birds and the landscape, and there are horses too. I find the animal aspect therapeutic and mixing up the sounds of the rainforest means that you can accentuate the reality. You might also hear birdsong on other tracks – they are the actual birds singing in my garden in London because we recorded this in a studio with all the windows open! Even the pock-pock of tennis balls from a nearby court are on the album.
And the track Silken Horse..?
Exactly. I wanted the feel of nature, so the beat of the hooves and the sense of a living, breathing horse to come through on that one. Natural images and artistic licence working together.
How do you think Brazilian music and British music interact with each other? What can they learn from one another?
Brazilian music is often set around dealing with themes of love, happiness and the struggle. It has a certain exoticism for Britons: samba, bossa nova, tropicália… but that said, back in Brazil, there’s a real love for bands such as The Cure, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. I mean, for Brazilians, KISS were pretty exotic themselves, with their dress and performances. So there’s a mutual exoticism for the other.
In “Whole of London”, you sing a lot about ‘wandering’. With your dual-national heritage, how true is that of how you feel at this stage in your life?
That’s how I feel when I’m cooped up in one city for too long. So in fact, it’s the other way round. I get tired of wandering the same streets of one city, not tired of wandering the world. The same goes for if I’m confined with one particular group of people – I enjoy mixing it up.
Which festival or musical genre would you feel most at home with, if you had to stay somewhere for a while, listening to the same music?
WOMAD is for me the festival that I connect with most. My music plays with people; it tickles them, slaps them and pinches them. The fusion of different images. I like festivals because of the mix of music and people, coming together in huge numbers to listen to a particular artist. I’m quite outspoken and I have to be careful – demonstrations can have a similar vibe to festivals, the collective chanting or singing, a togetherness.
Picking up on that point, how important or not do you think the role of music is in political protest?
It’s so important. It’s easy to be seduced by the mainstream and not wanting to offend people but, as I said, I’m outspoken and I feel that as artists, we have the platform to express ourselves and we should use it.
Now let’s try some quickfire questions…
Gin & tonic or caipirinha? Gin during the day but caipirinhas at night!
Feijoada or roast beef? That’s easy – feijoada.
Nelson’s Column or Christ the Redeemer? Christ the Redeemer – when the time comes I think it would be a poignant place to have your ashes scattered, looking down on the city and out to sea.
Bossa nova or Brit pop? Can I say tropicália instead?
Nina Miranda’s Freedom of Movement is released by Six Degrees Records and available from Bandcamp, Amazon UK, Amazon US and iTunes.
This article first appeared on Sounds and Colours.
In the first round of Ecuador’s presidential election no one candidate won outright with more than 40% of the vote. The country is looking for a successor to Rafael Correa and will hold a run-off in April. Here’s my preview video:
En la primera ronda de la elección presidencial en Ecuador nadie ganó con más de 40% del voto. El pais busca quien va a reemplazar a Rafael Correa y llevará a cabo una segunda ronda en abril. Aquí está el avance mío:
An insight into the world of street art – and a chance meeting with a major artist
Jay Kaes, Thierry Noir, Stik. Caravaggio, Hockney, Bosch. When it comes to artists, there are those that are world-famous and others who are less well-known. No doubt more people have heard of the second trio above – I certainly had before a recent walking tour of East London’s top street-art destinations.
There were two major distinctions within this branch of art that we had to understand: graffiti, which usually takes the form of hard-to-read tags carrying information of ownership, design and belonging; and street art, which offers more easily decipherable messages (at first glance) and may take the form of sculpture, installation or even painted chewing gum, rather than just simply a colourful mural.
There is another division between pieces: legal (and some of those are commissioned) or illegal. But here, as in other areas of street art and graffiti, you can find a blurring of the lines and varying interpretations. You may have an expansive piece painted on the side wall of a bar at the owner’s request (as we saw with a Jay Kaes work) that is legal and intricate. Then you see that it has been tagged with scribbly names by graffiti artists. At first glance, this is a legal work that has subsequently daubed with ruinous name-tags. An ‘illegal’ tag of a legal piece.
But what are the taggers saying? Hello? We don’t like this work? Or are they appreciating its quality and trying to cash in on the art-tourists, who, like us, will now also see the tag when we come to look at the original work? Are they suggesting that they would like to see something different in its place? The world of street art is transient and new pieces go up, are overhauled and challenged regularly. The fact that there were graffiti tags on this legal piece of wild-style street art shows that there are layers to the attitudes surrounding street art that cannot be easily categorised.
Of course, as in classic art, there are also layers to the lives of the artists themselves.
One of the major pieces we saw was near Old Street station by an artist called Tizer. He is an Australian who went through problems in his childhood and had found strength in his new family of fellow artists.
A riot of colour, his work often takes the form of his name creating another shape or design simply through the font and size of the letters. The Old Street work was the letters TIZER forming the chassis of a spacecraft that had a human inside, lending it an air of a self-portrait.
It was a fascinating lesson of learning to move through other streets in this area of London and see Conor Harrington’s blurred monochrome people, Invader’s pixellation-style video game creatures and Kai’s grey-framed political messages glued onto walls.
We did not meet any of the artists on that walkabout and we did not expect to do so.
The following day I travelled back to Wokingham, the town where my parents work, about 35 miles outside London. There is a long stretch of hoarding near a roundabout not far from the railway station that the council had put in place around a now-demolished building.
Over the last couple of years, at organised ‘Paint Jams’, the wooden boards have played host to a multitude of artworks by many local painters, with a mix of wild-style, graffiti and political cartoons.
I was walking past this hoarding the day after the street-art tour and came across two artists working on new designs. One of them was creating something very like the piece I had seen yesterday by Tizer. I wandered over and spoke to him. An Aussie accent purred back: “Yeah, that’s me. I’m Tizer.”
It was a ludicrous coincidence to learn about him and his work in London on one day and then the very next day see him spraying a new piece live in a little commuter town in middle-class Berkshire. He had never been to Wokingham before but had heard about the Paint Jam and had been shown the hoardings by his friend Bonzai, who was also there working that day. I listed all the names I could remember from yesterday, most of whom he knew and some of whom, like Spaniard Jay Kaes, were actually part of his crew.
What also struck me was that, for the most part, these artists are not angry teenagers trying to deface public buildings for no particular reason. These are grown women and men, like Bonzai and Tizer, working in the art world. They do not have the luxury backing of a commission from a gallery but theirs is a genre borne of the rain and the sunshine. It is here that they are engaging with people and the architecture that we create: designing intricate works of art; colourful, cryptic messages; and wild explosions of deep light. They are glueing, draping and tying and they are working for a meagre living.
These works of art breathe life into forgotten walls, alleys and corners. And while they may not always be legal pieces, they are always thought-through, and there is sizeable effort and creation behind them that cannot and ought not to be belittled and criticised as readily as others laud and salute those branches of the visual arts that are seen as historically as being more traditional.
Hungary makes headlines – from tech battles to major humanitarian stories
Waiting outside a Budapest café in the pouring rain, the option of walking to the sports hall for a football match was hardly attractive. There were no local taxis to be seen so my friends and I thought about requesting an Uber.
I am not a regular Uber-user but I have bought into its disruptive effect on the economy. It has become the world’s most valuable start-up company and has spread to cities around the globe. Surely Uber would be alive and well in an EU country such as Hungary?
As it happens, this blog was witness to what were the twilight days of the ride-hailing app. We would have been some of the final, legal passengers that Uber drivers could carry.
Hungary has a long list of requirements legislating so-called ‘dispatcher services’ and the cabbies’ beef was that Uber did not have to adhere to these rules. Under a new law, internet access to services classed as illegal dispatchers can be blocked.
The head of Uber in the country told the media that its drivers had taxi permits. He said that operations would continue while Uber sought dialogue with the government.
Our driver, taking us over the river from Pest to Buda, railed against the government’s handling of the taxi sector and about corruption among the political class as a whole.
He threw a dismissive hand gesture when I mentioned Viktor Orban, the forthright prime minister whose government is overseeing the introduction of the new law on taxi permits. For the driver, officially branded cabs and his bruised Ford Focus should have been able to work together in the ride-hailing economy.
Hungary is far from the first country to fall out with Uber, and it will not be the last. But its vocal dislike of the American tech start-up does fit with a defensive nationalism that threads through the Orban administration.
The landlocked nation has also been making the headlines when it comes to the refugee crisis in Europe. Last year, Budapest sanctioned the construction of a wire fence along the border with Serbia and the prime minister floated the idea of a referendum on how many non-Hungarians should be allowed to settle in the country.
It is hemmed in, coast-less, by seven nations and split down the middle by the continent’s famous River Danube. Rich in history with a distinct culture and a strange, isolated language, Hungary sits on the cross-roads of the Teutonic, Slavic and Balkan regions, bordering European giants like Ukraine and minnows such as Slovenia.
And it is that linking, bridge-nation position that has seen it become a transit point for hundreds of thousands of refugees coming up through the Balkan states from Turkey.
Charting the right path for a country is hard enough for MPs from any state. For Hungary right now, the Orban government is going to be judged on how it deals with major issues such as the humanitarian crisis stemming from the refugee situation and minor ones (which can be more nuanced and city-focused) such as the furore over Uber.
Just like the pilots driving their vessels under the chain bridge over the Danube in Budapest, skilful navigation by the government is required.