In 1996, the whole world got swept up in Macarena madness. The original flamenco hit composed by the Seville duo known as Los del Río – made up of Antonio Romero and Rafael Ruiz – had already rocketed up the charts in Spain in 1993. But the Bayside Boys’ dance remix, which incorporated female vocals in English, stayed at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks that summer and remained on the charts for 66 weeks.
As the most influential music barometer in the world, it was an amazing feat for the middle-aged crooners, trumped only in 2017 by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee who enlisted Justin Bieber to collaborate in a Spanglish version of Despacito, which topped the US charts for a record-breaking 16 weeks. However, no one can argue that what these two friends from the Seville town of Dos Hermanas achieved was phenomenal.
Speaking just a few words of English and with the internet still in its infancy, Los Del Río revolutionized the world’s largest and most competitive music market with their danceable ditty. The facts speak for themselves. A quarter of a century ago, Macarena was played at the Democratic National Convention with Hillary Clinton clapping along; it was also used by the US women’s gymnastics team at the Atlanta Olympics. Among other surreal achievements, the duo performed it on January 26, 1997, at the Super Bowl before a live audience of more than 70,000 spectators and tens of millions of viewers at home.
Perhaps it all got out of hand? “Not at all,” says Romero. “We never panicked because at that point we’d already had a 30-year-long career and had dealt with many, many difficulties. We started out when we were 14 and, being young, played at both singing and bullfighting. It wasn’t until our fathers died that we said to ourselves: ‘We have no choice but to take this music thing seriously.’ Basically because it was the only thing that gave us money that could help our mothers. That was the biggest sacrifice we could make.”
The duo had other hits in Spain such as Sevilla tiene un color especial or Se te nota en la mirada, but outside of Spain they are considered one-hit wonders. Not that at the age of 73, this ruffles their feathers. As Romero points out, “becoming number one on five continents is tremendously difficult. It’s not the norm. Just as Spain has only won the World Cup once, we have fortunately been able to be the world champions in terms of music. We are always being asked when we are going to compose another Macarena, to which we reply that we have already done it. Let others have a go. What we have to do now is to live and enjoy ourselves.”
While it is the anniversary of the song’s remix, it is worth remembering that the original was released on the duo’s 1993 album A mí me gusta. The catchy lyrics came to Romero when he and Ruiz were invited to a party at the end of 1992 by the businessman Gustavo Cisneros in Caracas, Venezuela, where they rubbed shoulders with the Venezuelan president at the time, Carlos Andrés Pérez, and a local flamenco dancer named Diana Patricia Cubillán Herrera.
“The young woman [Patricia Cubillán] started dancing and I told her: ‘Dale a tu cuerpo alegría, Magdalena, que tu cuerpo es pa’ darle alegría y cosa buena’ – put some joy in your body Magdalena, as your body is made to be given joy and good things.’ That’s what inspired me to write it,” says Romero. “But since I have a daughter named Esperanza Macarena, I decided to change Magdalena to Macarena.”
According to Ruiz, “She [Patricia Cubillán] has done very well out of it because, being our muse, she has been able to tell everyone that she is the real Macarena. Far from hiding her identity, we have been very open about it. We think it’s great that she has taken advantage of what happened that day to open her own dance school and get a role in a soap opera. It brings back some wonderful memories. We just hope she is doing well in Venezuela because she and her family are a delight.”
Another remix was done in the 1990s by the Spanish duo Fangoria, comprised of Alaska and Nacho Canut, before the song’s US success. They claimed they were due money and took the matter through the courts as far as Strasbourg. “When Macarena hit the big time, everyone wanted to get on board,” says Ruiz. Decades later, the Fangoria issue continues to be one they prefer not to discuss. Meanwhile, Alaska had this to say in a 2013 Vanity Fair interview: “Macarena triumphed in Spain in 1993. As Fangoria, we did a remix and that remix triumphed again in Spain. Then in Miami, suddenly, they used our remix and added some vocals. It’s not that it was a whole other remix; it was ours! That went to the European courts, but it was thrown out, so there’s nothing to be done.”
Los del Río, however, have stressed that there is no animosity towards Fangoria. While talking about the issue in 2017 on the Bertín Osborne talk show, they insisted, “We adore Alaska!”
Whatever the truth of the matter, the remix that the Bayside Boys put out as theirs flung the doors wide open to success on the other side of the pond. Producers Mike Triay and Carlos de Yarza recorded the version in 1995 with the help of vocalist Patty Alfaro. Initially, it failed to gain the approval of Los del Riós’ record label, BMG/Ariola, which even threatened to sue them. However, since it was played incessantly on radio stations like Power 96 or New York’s WKTU, the label came round, realizing it was media coverage that it couldn’t afford to forego, though the small print on the contract is completely unknown.
Even more surreal is the fact that Macarena could have become an even bigger hit than it was. Or, at least, it was on the cards when Michael Jackson expressed an interest in recording a new version with Los del Río. “He was crazy about our song and used to play it before starting his shows to warm up his audience,” says Romero. “His lawyer contacted us and told us that Miguel, as he called him, really wanted to work with us. He told us that he was on medical treatment and that when he recovered we would take things forward. That was six or eight months before he went into decline and left us. He was very excited about it, but it wasn’t to be.”
In 2016, Los del Río collaborated with the band Gente de Zona with Más Macarena. And, incredible as it may seem, in 2019 they received a call from the American rapper Tyga asking them to collaborate in the viral Ayy Macarena, which has more than 150 million views on YouTube. Romero believes Michael Jackson might have had a hand in this. “Look, I think that wherever Miguel is, as his lawyer said, he had something to do with it, like ‘maybe not with me, but certainly with someone else,’” he says.
Much has been written about whether Los del Río are millionaires thanks to the fact they came up with the flagship version of Macarena. They continue to earn an unknown amount in royalties and songwriter’s rights. When questioned about it, they attempt a graceful brush-off. But, eventually, they address the issue. “Why don’t you contact the publisher?” says Romero. “As the songwriter, they demanded that I give them 50% to sell it and boost its popularity. What should be on the table is how many people have benefited from Macarena independently of us. I don’t mean we are about to cry and feel sorry for ourselves. We have been given what I think we deserve, but that doesn’t mean that it reflects the actual reality.”
At this point, Ruiz intervenes: “Besides all that, Antonio split the proceeds 50-50 with me,” he says. “And for the first two years, we had to pay over half of the profits in taxes.”
According to Romero, “what makes us wealthy is not Macarena, it’s our families. We have wonderful children and lovely grandchildren who are already starting to come out and sing better than we do. Humility in life is what always triumphs. There is nothing more important or rich than being humble. We have learned that from our parents, who were hard workers. Regardless of how much time has gone by, we continue to have fun singing, and we do it with the same desire we had at the start – to make the world a happier place.”
Macarena is still very much alive and kicking. As if further proof were needed, Los del Río have teamed up with Airbnb and, this August, will take on the role of hosts at a rental villa in Utrera, a city in the southern province of Seville. The first four guests, who confirmed their reservation this week, will not only be welcomed by these legendary artists, they will also have access to a private karaoke room full of Spanish guitars and will even get tips from the duo on how to perfect the choreography of the famous song. “We’re also going to teach them how to make a good gazpacho,” says Romero.
“The house is not our property,” he adds. “It belongs to some friends with whom we often do a house exchange. We still don’t know who will be coming, but I assure you that they will get a very special welcome. They’re going to have a wonderful time!” It goes without saying that Macarena will be part of the experience, though guests will have to wait and see which version is rolled out.
English version by Heather Galloway.
Paschal Donohoe plans bank levy extension but lower haul
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will continue the Irish banking levy beyond its scheduled conclusion date at the end of this year, but plans to lower the targeted annual haul from the current €150 million as overseas lenders Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland retreat from the market, according to sources.
Reducing the industry overall levy target will avoid the remaining three banks facing higher levy bills at a time when the Government is seeking to lower its stakes in the bailed-out lenders.
AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB paid a combined €93 million levy in each of the last two years, according to their latest annual reports. A decision on the new targeted yield, currently linked to deposit interest retention tax (DIRT) collected by banks on customers’ savings, will be announced at the unveiling of Budget 2022 on October 12th.
Originally introduced in 2014 by then minister for finance Michael Noonan for three years to ensure banks made a “contribution” to a recovering economy after the sector’s multibillion-euro taxpayer bailout, the annual banking levy has since been extended to the end of 2021.
A further extension of the levy has largely been expected by the banks and industry analysts, as the sector has been able to use multibillion euro losses racked up during the financial crisis to reduce their tax bills. A spokesman for the Department of Finance declined to comment on the future status of the banking levy as planning for Budget 2022 continues.
AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB (PTSB) alone have utilised almost €500 million of tax losses against their corporation tax bills between 2017 and 2019, according to Department of Finance figures.
Sources said that the Government will be keen not to land a levy increase on the three lenders at a time when it is currently selling down its stake in Bank of Ireland and plotting a course for the reduction of its positions in AIB and PTSB in time.
The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which holds the Bank of Ireland stake on behalf of the Minister for Finance, sold 2 percentage points of holding in the market between July and August, reducing its interest to just below 12 per cent.
Meanwhile, it has been reported in recent days that the UK government is planning to lower an 8 per cent surcharge that it has applied to bank profits since the start of 2016. It comes as the general UK corporation tax is set to rise from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023.
“The optics of reducing the surcharge might still be bad politically, but it would signal the partial rehabilitation for the nation’s banking sector,” said Eamonn Hughes, an analyst with Goodbody Stockbrokers, in a note to clients on Tuesday, adding that he continues to factor in a retention of the Irish banking levy in his financial estimates for banks over the medium term.
The macro pig farm threatening a historical gem in northern Spain | Culture
Christians and Muslims fought over the castle of Gormaz in Soria in the Spanish region of Castilla y León for two centuries. Now, after a lapse of hundreds of years, it is once again under threat – this time, from a macro pig farm for 4,200 animals. The proposed farm is within two kilometers of the fortress, and will be visible from its impressive caliphal gate, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the medieval site.
Environmental and neighborhood associations, architecture and restoration professionals, as well as the town councils of Recuerda, a village of 70 inhabitants, and Gormaz, a village of 20, call the plans an “attack” on one of the most impressive Islamic fortresses on the peninsula. With a perimeter measuring more than one kilometer, the castle of Gormaz was once the largest in Europe. It was this fortress that the Caliph of Córdoba, Al-Hakam II, ordered to be reinforced and expanded at the end of the 10th century to stop the Christian advance from the north.
Meanwhile, the company behind the project, Agro Peñaranda Esteban, insists it will comply “strictly with the law” and that if the permits are not issued, it will go elsewhere. “It’s great to eat torreznos [a kind of fried bacon snack] from Soria in a good restaurant in a big capital city,” says one of the shareholders, who is from the area. “People must think that they fall from the sky.”
The castle of Gormaz was built in the 9th century to strategically support Medinaceli, the capital of the so-called Muslim Middle Frontier. Divided into two large areas separated by a moat, there is the fortress with the tower of Almanzor and the caliphal quarters, and then the area for the troops, where the main entrance is located. Altogether, it has 28 towers with battlements and arrowslits.
The Soria fortress defended the routes to the north of the peninsula that followed the banks of the Duero river and was coveted by a number of figures, including Count García Fernández, Sancho II of Pamplona, Ramiro III of León, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar and the de facto ruler of Islamic Iberia, Almanzor. And so it passed from one side to the other until, in 1060, Fernando I of León seized it once and for all. During the reign of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, it was turned into a prison as it no longer had any strategic value.
But now it is administrative forces that are advancing on the castle. On June 29, the Castilla y León regional government published “the announcement of a pig farm of 4,200 pigs in plot 20114 of industrial estate 1 of the municipality of Recuerda,” which backs onto Gormaz. August 10 was the deadline for anyone wishing to take issue with the environmental impact assessment, which states that the farm would not alter the surrounding landscape. “It is a landscape altered by human activity, due to its agricultural use, with no dominant variations or striking contrasts,” claims the report.
This contradicts the regional plan for the Duero Valley, approved by the Castilla y León regional authorities in 2010, which mentions a series of Landscape Management Areas (AOP) needing a specific regime of protection, management and planning. One such area includes the castle of Gormaz and the surrounding area where the farm would be located.
Luis Morales, architect and member of the Soria Association for the Defense of Nature (Aseden), points out that the castle’s environment is “totally agricultural – fields and forests – and very similar to what it might have been in the Middle Ages, when Gormaz was built. To put an industrial complex of enormous dimensions to house more than 4,000 pigs, which is what they intend, is barbaric,” he adds. “It breaks up the landscape from the same caliphal gate, the one that is so often photographed for tourism purposes.”
Morales also believes that the municipalities have the means to stop the project, “because the land is rustic and can therefore be classified as protected, which would prevent the livestock complex from being built.” Meanwhile, the Aseden association points out that the regional authorities were responsible for the White Paper of the Territorial Enclaves of Cultural Interest (ETIC), which selected 111 locations of cultural or heritage interest, one of which was Gormaz.
According to the NGO Ecologists in Action, in this type of facility whose surface area would be 4,000 square meters plus another 2,000 for slurry, “the problem of odor emissions is very important because of its proximity and orientation with respect to inhabited areas and other places of interest.” It explains: “In this case, the farm would be to the west, 1.3 kilometers from Recuerda and two kilometers from the castle of Gormaz. According to data from [Spain’s national weather agency] Aemet, the prevailing winds are from the west. In other words, it would bring unhealthy smells for most of the year to Recuerda. Surprisingly, the project says that the prevailing winds are from the northeast.”
Consuelo Barrio, mayor of Recuerda, agrees. “It is not only the visual impact, which is very important, but also the environmental impact due to the possible contamination of the water from the slurry as we are in an area of aquifers; this is in addition to the smell that would come our way as we are barely a kilometer from it.”
Meanwhile, the company behind the project considers it is under “unjustified attack.” According to one 38-year-old businessman involved in the project, “in this part of Soria there are at least three farms: Quintanar, Gormaz…. And if ours smells, it means they all smell. It’s not like years ago, when pigs were thrown into the Duero – some of which I have seen floating – or the slurry was dumped down drains. No. There are strict environmental laws and we will comply with them. It is easy to talk about ‘deserted’ Spain and all the things the politicians are saying, but when you try to create wealth, obstacles are thrown up because you can be seen from the castle two kilometers away. If they don’t let us set up here, we’ll go somewhere else,” he adds angrily.
Marisa Revilla, president of Amigos del Museo Numantino, is particularly upset by the visual effect of the pig farm. “The impact report does not take into account the horizontal impact. It only states that they are going to put up some hedges to hide the farm. But the installation will not only affect the castle, it will also affect the nearby Romanesque San Miguel hermitage.” This hermitage was inspected in the 1990s by architect José Francisco Yusta, who specializes in historical monuments and also opposes the construction of the farm. “There is no justification for breaking up the landscape,” says Yusta, who has worked on such architectural gems as the cathedral of Burgo de Osma, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and castle of Gormaz itself.
“I believe it is not worth destroying our landscape for the two jobs that the macro-farm will provide, which are those proposed by the promoters,” says architect Luis Morales. “If there were only 200 for deserted Spain….”
English version by Heather Galloway.
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