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Q&A with Hume undergraduate fellow on Catalan Popular Music


Hume undergraduate fellow Victoria Saenz is majoring in Iberian and Latin American Cultures and International Relations at Stanford. She spent her senior working on a language analysis of Catalan popular music. Her thesis advisor was Joan Ramon Resina, a professor of Iberian and Latin American Cultures.
Photo Credit: 
Steve Castillo

Victoria Saenz is an undergraduate majoring in Iberian and Latin American Cultures and International Relations. As an overtly curious traveler who spent seven months studying abroad in Spain, first in Barcelona and then in Madrid, Victoria’s interests focus on the role of political states in creating and maintaining a meaningful cultural identity. She has explored the themes of nationalism, Spanish and Catalan history, and languages while studying abroad and since returning. She is now completing her honors thesis in Iberian and Latin American Cultures with Joan Ramon Resina as an adviser. Victoria can often be found making banana bread in Bob’s kitchen, asking strangers if she can pet their dogs, and hiding away in the archives of Hoover Tower. 

Q. What is the focus of your current research?

My current research looks at the role of language in popular music in the Catalan-speaking regions of Spain. I am comparing the importance of Catalan popular music during two musical movements. The first is known as la Nova Cançó, which emerged at the end of Franco’s dictatorship (when the Catalan language was still illegal). I am comparing this with the popular music of today, focusing on its role in the current independence movement. I am looking at music as a tool for building a collective consciousness, identity, and memory. I am also interested in the threat that globalization poses to cultural identities around the world and what role institutions, state and non-state, should play in ensuring these identities and their heritage is protected. 


Q. What drew you to this topic?

After studying in Barcelona for a semester, having arrived with hardly any knowledge of Catalan history, culture, or language, I fell in love with the city and its people. I joined a castellers (traditional Catalan human-castle building) group at the university where I was studying, which allowed me to learn the language and get a deeper understanding of the people’s history and identity. Part of this identity was manifested in the music festivals that were so common around Catalunya, "terra de músics, país de festivals" (land of musicians, country of festivals”), many of which had a political aspect. Seeing the extreme contrast with the American music scene, I wanted to explore more deeply what role music had in Catalan politics, culture, and identity. 

Q. How are you conducting your research?

My thesis is based on my own fieldwork, historical research, and interviews with people who work (or worked) in the music scene. I spent last summer in Catalonia, attending music festivals and concerts on the weekends and conducting interviews and spending days in the libraries on the weekdays. 


Q. What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?

What surprised me most starting on this project was the amount of anti-capitalism and anarchism that I found in some of the groups. A lot of them are anti-establishment in a way that you would not see in the United States in popular music; young people go to their concerts and enjoy their music like any other concert I’ve been to, but things tend to be more politically or ideologically charged. This also made the concerts more “fun,” because people were there to express something that was truly meaningful to them, not just drink and dance the night away. 

Q. Why is it valuable to study this topic?

In my view, this topic is important for two reasons. First, in our increasingly globalized world, a smart cultural policy that helps to produce more educated, interested, and involved peoples who are conscious and proud of their identity will be central to maintaining diversity and democracy. While Catalonia is a special case, the example it sets of a progressive, tolerant society with cultural pride can be applied anywhere in the world. Secondly, music is a great art form to focus on, as it appeals to the unconscious, is universal, and therefore can play a strong role as a social and political tool.

Q. How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?

My research experiences have led me to become more critical of the role that music can play in politics, and it is a field that I hope to continue studying, along with other types of cultural expression, as I progress through my career as an academic. On a personal level, I’ve discovered many artists that I probably would not have otherwise through this project. Now, listening to artists that sing about different realities in all time periods has become a favorite pasttime of mine.