Choking ants' nests



Tonada de tapar formiguers (Song of choking ants’ nests)

Ai, atropellau i feis via,
ai, no ho poseu en conversar. (bis)

Ai, l'amo, qui us ha de pagar?

Ai, voldria poder acurçar
ai, sa nit i allargar es dia.

Ai, sa nit i allargar es dia.
Ai, atropellau i feis via.
Haste and hurry,
do not waste time with chat.

Oh, “amo”*, who will pay to you?

Oh, I wish I could shorten
the night and lengthen the day.

Oh, the night, and lengthen the day.
Oh, haste and hurry.

* “Amo”: the tenant of a piece of land of a finca, the traditional Mallorcan estate,
who also takes care of the whole finca.

These days our home suffers an invasion of ants. This often happens in summer, but now there are more than ever. They sneak in through any crack and you see them marching in procession through the cupboards, the pantry, the keyboard of the computer… Among the several traditional activities in the fields of Mallorca one was plugging the entrance of ants’ nests. And each activity, especially those in summer had a song or tonada (tilling, harrowing, bean planting, harvesting – with different rhythms and melodies depending on the type of the sickle – threshing, drawing water from the well, picking figs, harvesting almonds, pruning, oil pressing, rice planting…). This one for plugging the ants’ nests is sung by Madò Buades (1911-2007), a woman from Sa Pobla who was a living archive of traditional songs. Sa Pobla is a town where the agricultural work songs are particularly numerous and lively. These songs often contain a deep grievance, a rush of love or some spicy secondary meaning.



Madò Buades’ way of singing, similarly to a good flamenco, always enthralls you with its extraordinary sensitivity, rich musicality and imagination. Musicologist Rafel Moll i Serra writes of her that she was famous for creating her own versions of each song with a remarkable talent without losing the special character of each style:
She varies infinitely the details of her performance, with profuse and freely applied ornamentation, which is one of her most valuable and most spontaneous musical contribution, the result of her personal taste and of her desire to embellish the songs to a smaller or greater degree. She also has innate abilities to perform forcefully, clearly and with precision the most complicated ornamental formulas, deployed in long groups and melismas, appoggiature and mordenti, developed up- or downwards in a melodic line that often ends with a slight vibrato.

With her extensive in situ knowledge of many work songs of the fields of Sa Pobla, and having an almost prodigious memory, she is scrupulous with the “points” – as she calls them –, that is, with the rhythm of each tune whose syllabic structure without a regular tempo is necessarily linked to the corresponding work in the field. Her voice, revealing the various states of the soul, represents the legacy of a culture handed down from generation to generation, neatly expressing the music and art of an entire town.


This video is a quick tour of her life, with some testimonials from the people of Sa Pobla who knew her, worked with her or sang with her:



It is worth listening to the following work songs as well. Still there are people in the fields singing them, but less and less with each summer. As the lands of Mallorca are gradually converted to golf courses (the most recent one, Son Bosc, right on the edge of Albufera where the family of Madò Buades planted rice), soon these songs can only be heard in recordings. Unfortunately in the translation several nuances and allusions of  them – including performative ones as they are to be sung with particular activities – get necessarily lost.

Grazing the goat. The master’s lunch is wrapped in the apron

A break on the bank at the door

Tonada de llaurar

Tu que llaures o saones,
o vas de cap a camí,
ramba!
ai, ves alerta amb mi, llatí!,
que hi ha ha al·lotes per aquí
calma, moreno!
que saps que ho son de piscones (bis)
Hou!
Ploughing song

You who till or plough the land,
or you who set on the way,
push it!
oh, be careful, latino!
as there are girls around here
quiet, you dark one! –
and you know how prying they are. (bis)
Hou!

Tiling and sowing

Tonada d'esterrossar

Perendenga, perendenga,
ja t'ho podies pensar.

Qui no s'arrisca a sa feina
quan té talent no té pa. (bis)

Ja t'ho podies pensar.
Harrowing song

“Perendenga, perendenga”,
you can imagine it well.

Who does not venture at work
has no bread when he is hungry (bis)

You can imagine it well.


The workers are given notice for lunch with the shell’s sound


Tonada de sembrar mongetes

Terres primes de marjal,
un temps hi cantaven grins
i ara sínies i molins (bis)
hi treuen un gros capital:
patates com a poals,
mongetes com a poncins,
i es diumenges es fadrins
—i enc que no siguin molt fins—
pareixen de can Verdal. (bis)
Terres primes de marjal.
Bean planting song

Meager marsh lands (of Sa Pobla),
once here the crickets sang,
and now the treadmills and windmills (bis)
make a large profit:
potatoes like cubes
beans like oranges
and on Sundays the bachelors
– even if they are not very fine –
seem to be from the Verdal house. (bis)
Meager marsh lands.

Flour mill

Water-lifting wheel. The donkey has its eyes covered with “clucales”, blinders


Tonada de segar amb falçó

Saps que em va dir l'amo en Ceba,
que em va ensenyar de segar?
Saps que hem va dir l'amo en Ceba?
Que entre sa terra i sa ma
sa falç just hi ha de quebre. (bis)
Saps que em va dir l'amo en Ceba?
Song of mowing with sickle

Do you know what master Ceba [onion]
told me when teaching how to mow?
Do you know what master Ceba told me?
That between the earth and the hand
there must fit just the sickle. (bis)
Do you know what master Ceba told me?

Marking the teeths of the sickle is the job of women. They work on a piece of bone
with an “aixell” or awl


Tonada de segar amb falcella

Es segador sa falç venta,
es sembrar se fa venir. (bis)

Al·lota que hi vols venir
a sa casa per a sempre?
A sa casa per a sempre.
Es segador sa falç venta.
Song of mowing with the scythe

The harvester is swinging the scythe,
sowing is coming (bis)

Girl, do you want to come
to the house forever?
To the house forever.
The harvester is swinging the scythe.



Tonada de batre

Quan es vent damunt va entrar
fora, fora!—,
va entrar i ja tenia mig batut.
Ai, mig batut! Ai, Mare de Déu de Lluc
donau-mos força i salut!
fora, fora, que ja acabam!—.
Força i salut, a noltros i a n'es bestiar.

Quan es vent damunt va entrar
damunt va entrar.
Quan es vent damunt va entrar
ja teniem mig batut.
Hou!
Threshing song

When the wind came upon us
away! away! –
I had already half of it threshed.
Oh, half of it threshed! Oh, Virgin of Lluc
give us strength and health!
away! away! soon we finish! –
Strength and health to us and to our animals.

When the wind came upon us
came upon us
When the wind came upon us
we had already half of it threshed.
Hou! –

Hitting the grain to separate it from the chaff


Tonada de treure aigo amb lates

Un temps en aquell portal
jo hi tenia es bé compost. (bis)

Ara ja hi pas tan rost
com s'aigo per sa canal.
Un temps en aquell portal.
Song of drawing water with pail

Long ago in that door (house)
I had placed my future. (bis)

Now I pass so far from it,
as the water along the gutter.
Long ago in that door.





Tonada de collir figues

Jo tot lo dia cull figues
i no n'he menjada cap, (bis)

perquè són de la cantina,
ai, roges, i no me n'agrat.
I no n'he menjada cap.
Fig picking song

I pick figs all the day
and I have eaten none, (bis)

as they are from the cellar
oh, they are red and I don’t like them.
I have eaten none.

A woman going to pick figs

Figs left to dry on hurdles




Tonada de tomar metles

La reina en es corral té (bis)
una figuera hivernenca.
Sa fruita més primerenca (bis)
es sa flor de s'ametler.

Senyor rei, jo una altra en sé:
la reina en es corral té
una figuera hivernenca.
Almond beating song

The queen has in the courtyard (bis)
a winter fig.
The earliest fruit (bis)
is the almond flower.

King, my lord, I know another one:
the queen has in the courtyard
a winter fig.

Beating almonds is the work for men. Women and children gather the almonds fallen


Removing the dry husk of the almonds before opening them


Tonada de exsecallar

Quan s'arbre no vol sa fulla (bis)
ella mateixa ja cau.
Amb una altra festejau (bis)
i a mi em campau comsavulla.

Quan s'arbre no vol sa fulla
ella mateixa ja cau.
Pruning song

When the tree does not want the leaf (bis)
it herself falls down.
You court someone else (bis)
and you treat me without any respect.

When the tree does not want the leaf
it herself falls down.

Water is a treasure in Mallorca. It cannot be wasted at washing



Tonada de fer oli

Sa vida des tafoner
a sa taula s'adormia,
perquè de sa nit fa dia
i sempre duu sòn endarrer.

Sempre duu sòn endarrer
sa vida des tafoner.
Oil pressing song

The life of the miller is
sleeping on the table,
because he turns the night into day
and always carries sleep debt.

Always carries sleep debt
the life of the miller.



Tonada de plantar arròs

Quan veig que posen bandera
es meu cor no té repòs. (bis)

Sa feina de plantar arròs
es caminar per enrera. (bis)

Quan veig que posen bandera.

En bon dia de Sant Pere
a missa no vaig anar
perquè vaig anar a plantar
arròs bomba a Sa Bufera.

Arròs bomba a Sa Bufera
en bon dia de Sant Pere.
Rice planting song

When I see that the flag is set
my heart has no rest. (bis)

The work of planting rice
is walking backwards. (bis)

When I see that the flag is set.

On the holy day of Saint Peter
I do not go to mass
as I go out to plant
rice «bomba» (a kind of round-grained rice)
to the Albufera.

Rice «bomba» to the Albufera
on the holy day of Saint Peter.

In moments of rest it does not cost anything to braid a rope


The photos were taken by Josep Pons Frau (1883-1952) mostly in the 1920-40s around Sineu, the town next to Sa Pobla. Source: G. Llompart, Mª J. Mulet and A. Ramis: Mallorca: imatge fotogràfica i etnografia, Palma, 1992. I went to the market of Palma with this book in the hand. The vegetable stand is kept by a couple of about sixty years from Vilafranca de Bonany, where their parents worked on the large finca of Sant Martí in the manner shown in the photos. I pointed out to them the hardness of that life, but the man replied without hesitation: “we were much happier”. Beyond the well known “ubi sunt?” typical of a certain age, we find it very difficult to make a just balance on the progress of the island made since then.

12 comentarios:

Megkoronáz A.J.P. dijo...

Lovely pictures, they do look like they had a good life. Do a lot of people still live in the countryside?

Sorry about the ants.

A Két Sheng Szerelmese dijo...

Such expressive and powerful singing! Listening to these hardly definable tetrachord and pentachord quarter tone modes, the slow parlando singing with the long inflections and the rich embellishments make me feel like I am not listening to European folk music but to an Arabian maqam. Might it be one of the last living traces of the Arabic past of the island?

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, that was also my first idea when listening to these songs. Wang Wei should be more knowledgeable about this. I’m sure that with his vast knowledge on the island’s archaicities he will pull out a book published by Olañeta on the survival of Arabic music in the folk tunes of Mallorca.

@Megkoronáz: Yes, Mallorca is still very rural in continental comparison. However, less and less by year. It is a quite depressing process to watch, and an ungrateful historical lot to our generation to be witness of it.

However, with ants there comes the moment when it is crystal clear: either we or them. Then, choking ants’ nests is no question any more. By singing!

Megkoronáz dijo...

My mother told me there's been an invasion of ants on the fourth floor of her apartment building in New York. It hasn't yet been resolved.

Language dijo...

I too immediately thought of Arabic music; it can't be coincidence.

I wonder how talent came to mean 'hunger' -- or is it a different word that just happens to look like the Catalan word for 'talent, ability'?

Studiolum dijo...

@Megkoronáz: Well, you see?!

@Language: That’s an interesting coincidence. The vast Diccionari català-valencià-balear by Francesc de Borja Moll says that the word comes from the Latin talentum, and its secondary meaning ‘hunger’ comes probably from the moral and intellectual applications of the Gospel parable. ‘Talent’ means ‘will’ or ‘desire’ to reach something, and from this also ‘desire to eat’ = ‘hunger’.

SomeThink2Say dijo...

Your blog is fascinating. Thank you for enriching my life with your words and images.

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you for giving sense with your comment to our work. Come back soon!

Bernard dijo...

Maravilloso este post!
Cuanta belleza hay por ahi!

Me hizo pensar en un post que hice hace años:
http://lingni-net.blogspot.com/search?q=Schuster+Zapatero

Studiolum dijo...

Una oficina de maravilla! Al igual que las de mi infancia.

Anónimo dijo...

Bon dia,
només volia fer una aclaració sobre a la cançó dels formiguers. No es tracta de nius de formigues, sinó d'una tècnica agrícola consistent en cremar branques d'arbres, normalment garrover, per sanejar la terra i que les cendres servissin d'adob mineral. La combustió es tapava amb terra i així era lenta. D'aquí la cançó de tapar formiguers.
Salutacions!. Rafel Mas

Good morning,
just wanted to make a clarification about the song of "Choking ants' nests". These are not the nests of ants, but a agricultural technique consisting in burning tree branches, usually carob trees branches, to cleanse the earth and so the ashes serve as mineral fertilizer. The combustion is covered with earth to burn slowly. Here is the sense of the song. They called "formiguers" to the ants' nests and to this technique, but nothing to do with ants.
Sorry me for my english ;)
Greetings!. Rafel Mas

Studiolum dijo...

Bon dia, Rafel,

Tens tota la raó. Prou que ho sabem, i està clar a la versió en castellà d'aquest post (http://riowang.blogspot.com.es/2010/08/tapar-hormigueros.html), però hem badat quan ferem la traducció anglesa. Ho corregirem tot d'una. Gràcies. Torna per aquí de tant en tant!