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Letter of Recommendation: Caceroladas |

Letter of Recommendation: Caceroladas

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A protest in Buenos Aires in 2002.

Credit
Ferdinando Scianna Magnum Photos

As long as there has been metallic cookware, people have probably been banging on it. In Spain, where I live, the cacerolada — or the banging of pots and pans together, a word that translates roughly as “casseroling” — is an increasingly popular form of protest. The sound comes on gradually, tapping and clanking, at first a tentative rat-tat-tat from somewhere down the street. Word spreads at the speed of Twitter, and the sound bursts forth from balcony after balcony, multiplying like aluminum wildfire down avenues and alleys. Patterns emerge: rapid-fire tattoos, son clave rhythms, the “shave and a haircut” riff. They pile up in a cacophony of soup spoons against copper pots, lids against lids, high-pitched pings and basso thwacks. Cars honk their horns in solidarity; chanting voices join in. Down on the street, a man walking his dog claps his hands in rhythm; a woman jingles her keys. All of Barcelona feels connected by this web of din.

I don’t remember what was being protested the first time I witnessed a cacerolada, but I have a visceral recollection of the sound. I write about music for a living, and my tastes run toward styles that emphasize pulse and noise: minimalist techno, ambient drones, all manner of metallic abstraction. Hearing it rippling through the windows was as though the avant-garde records I tend to champion had been unleashed in the streets and blown up to larger-than-life size, in some kind of wild, Borgesian transmutation. It felt like a vindication of my tastes, as if the universe had handed me the aux cord and invited me to throw on whatever I liked: Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music,” Balinese gamelan, African drumming — maybe even all three at once.

But caceroladas are not meant to be aesthetic experiences; they are expressions of popular indignation. There is something primal in this particular ritual too; similar traditions, like the public shamings known as charivari, or “rough music,” date back to at least the Middle Ages in Europe, and maybe longer. Throughout Latin America, where they are also called cacerolazos, they have been a favorite outlet for public discontent since at least the 1980s. They have been common in Spain since 2003, when they were mobilized to register opposition to the looming war in Iraq. Recently, here in Barcelona, caceroladas have been a regular occurrence in the long, drawn-out battle between the Catalan separatist movement and the Spanish central government. At first, as a foreigner, I declined to take part in the nightly protests. But after the violence of the Oct. 1 independence referendum, in which the national police broke up the voting in a shocking display of force, I joined in. This was no longer merely a protest in favor of regional self-determination; it was a cry for basic dignity.

Anyone who has ever sung in a school choir or banged out “Louie Louie” in a garage band knows the gut-level joy of shaping sound with other people. It is all the more thrilling when your bandmate is the grandmother from the apartment next door, who is attacking her frying-pan lids as though they were crash cymbals. Banging away on my balcony, I had a flashback to my college days, when we used to observe a tradition known as the Primal Scream. The midnight before finals began, everyone would gather in the quad, or throw open their dorm windows, and shout themselves hoarse. Something about that release of energy had the effect of focusing the mind and honing the spirit. Participating in a cacerolada is no different.

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I have begun to wish desperately that Americans might consider importing the tradition. True, there are hurdles. The United States is a largely suburban nation, while caceroladas are optimized for urban settings. But the benefits are numerous. The elderly, children and people with disabilities can easily take part, and virtually everyone has a pot and a wooden spoon. As forms of protest go, the cacerolada is as egalitarian as it gets.

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