When Spain finally emerged from one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe in mid-June, music lovers wanted nothing more than to experience a live concert outside the confines of their homes.
Before Barcelona´s lockdown, only a few locals had heard about the jazz musician Alex Torrent. Those who had heard of him knew him as that “cool guy with the comb in his afro” who plays a mean sax on the streets of the citysometimes even in his pajamas.
Then in March, when videos circulated across the globe of an impromptu balcony performance by the Colombian-born and Sweden-raised saxophonist, and when Spain was at its vertiginous peak of Covid-19 related deaths, the world suddenly took notice of a rising young star acting as a necessary ray of light in such dark times.
Torrent´s renditions of Celine Dion´s “My Heart Will Go On” and Leonard Cohen´s “Hallelujah” were not only spontaneously performed with a neighbor friend on his piano, but recorded and shared by grateful strangers for whom his uplifting music had struck a deep chord.
BeLatina interviewed Torrent at the height of his viral exposure back in March, and since then his newfound fame has had his phone ringing off the hook.
On June 19th, when Barcelona had lifted its long-awaited restrictions Casa Seat invited the man who charmed the world with his soulful sax to perform at its new and posh location, 一 albeit with a limited number of people, masks, hand sanitizers, and proper social distancing.
“It was an amazing feeling after the lockdown to play from a very high balcony above the convention center that overlooked the entire Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona,” Torrent told BeLatina in July from Sofia, Bulgaria, where he was on set for a shoot with Philips. “But it was different in that you are performing in front of a sea of face masks.”
One can understand Torrent´s feelings of strange masked detachment. For musicians, it is essential to see the faces of their audience; to catch a smile, a gesture of deep thought, concentration, and hopefully appreciation. But in these times, performers have to rely on the language of eye expressions for feedback and human connection.
“I’m playing more now than I did before the lockdown due to the videos’ exposure. Since the quarantine finished I have played multiple times in Sitges and in VilaNova, towns just outside of Barcelona and there are lots more lined up. So I am doing my best to keep it up,” adds Torrent.
Torrent remembers the surreal feeling when, during the lockdown, cops used to stop below his balcony on the street to listen to his saxophone and take photos. Now that everything is back to “normal,” cops have gone back to stop him from playing in the streets, threatening with 800€ fines.
Despite the contrasts in behavior by the authorities, Torrent has been one of the few lucky artists in this country of romantics that has seen its art and cultural centers cancel major events and programming.
For example, Spain´s flamenco art is in serious danger due to its lack of international tourists who usually pack small venues to see live performances in intimate settings. But reopening flamenco venues around the country with strict restrictions that demand 1.5 meters between guests is unthinkable, and the sector is suffering great losses.
According to Voice of America the flamenco industry employs 90% of the country’s 3,500 professional performers. The entire tradition of flamenco may be in danger if the government does not intervene.
Though people want to keep seeing live music, there is a renewed feeling of paranoia brewing as the steamy month of August sets in. After a summer of masked faces at beaches and nightclubs with reduced capacity, the recent surge of COVID-19 cases has caused the country to fear another lockdown might be just around the corner.
As the music fades: Spain´s second imminent lockdown
Spanish health authorities warned during the last week of July that some young people are being admitted into intensive care with “acute cases” of Covid-19, and not just older patients as seen during the peak of the crisis last March. The warning was issued by Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, who called on Spain’s youth to take care of themselves and properly assess the risks they are facing.
El País newspaper reported that social interaction by young people, who are seen as “less careful” about protecting themselves, has become one of the sources of the new surge in coronavirus cases, and some regional governments have closed nightlife venues in a bid to curb contagion.
The music scene is undeniably in danger. The data collected by the Ministry of Health indicates that 34% of outbreaks occur in the social sphere, “in family gatherings, private parties, and leisure-related activities,” as indicated by the head of the department, Salvador Illa.
The United Kingdom now requires Spanish visitors to quarantine for two weeks upon their arrival, and France has issued travel advisory warnings about Catalonia and is still considering closing its borders to neighboring Spain if the outbreak numbers continue to rise.
According to the latest balance of the Ministry of Health, the active outbreaks of coronavirus in Spain amount to 483, with 5,700 people infected. The country´s health minister acknowledged “there is still community transmission, which in some places has exceeded expectations, as in some parts of Catalonia and Aragon.”
In a moment of uncertainty like the one Spain is currently experiencing, Torrent has chosen to focus simply on what the first quarantine taught him: the importance of music in our lives.
“Music is pure magic and it connects us all in a beautiful way. To get to be a part of something so big, beautiful and magical always fills my heart with joy. I have two tattoos on my lower arms that say: ‘Music is life, life is music,’ and ‘Without music life would be a mistake,’ and it’s so beautiful to see and feel that manifested in other people as well as myself.”
What´s clear is that Torrent´s neighbors will be the luckiest people in the city if there is another lockdown in Barcelona. Who wouldn’t mind free concerts by one of the newest sensations in the jazz world?