Iconic singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat, veteran rocker Manolo García and pop stars Antonio Orozco, Amaral and Pablo López are among more than 50 artists who are scheduled to perform at a benefit concert for refugees in Barcelona on Saturday. Tickets are sold out for the 15,000-capacity show at Palau St. Jordi, a stadium originally designed for the 1992 Olympics.
Conceived to raise awareness about the crisis of displaced people, and particularly Spain’s slow response to the refugee crisis, the mega-concert is part of a campaign by nonprofit citizens’ organization Casa Nostra Casa Vostra (Our House Your House). The team behind Barcelona’s annual Primavera Sound festival is involved in producing the event, which will be broadcast live by Catalunya’s TV3, as well as four regional radio networks.
“The response has been huge and not only from artists,” says Rubén Wagensberg, a high school teacher and music publicist now working long hours as the coordinator and co-founder of Casa Nostra Casa Vostra. “So many businesses and media have come out in support of the campaign.”
Casa Nostra Casa Vostra began as a grass-roots effort in Barcelona after Wagensberg and a colleague traveled to Greece, where they witnessed the forced evacuation of a refugee camp and the dire situation of the people there.
The concert, which the organizers are referring to as the “Refugees Welcoming Night,” is the campaign’s biggest event so far, “a unique experience to defend the rights of refugees and migrants, those who have arrived and those who will soon come.”
Wagensberg’s — and Casa Nostra Casa Vostra supporters’ — issue is with the Spanish government, which, in 2015, agreed to receive 17,000 refugees, the majority from camps in Greece and Italy, and 1,400 from camps outside of the EU. To date, Spain has brought only a little over 1,000 people into the country with refugee status. (Those numbers contrast with Spain’s non-refugee immigration, which rose over 20 percent in the first half of 2016. In addition, 90,783 foreign residents obtained Spanish nationality in the first six months of last year.)
“Not only are asylum laws restrictive in Spain,” Wagensberg says. “Politicians lack the will to deal with this crisis.”
Saturday’s concert will be followed by a massive demonstration in Barcelona on Feb. 18, for which Casa Nostra Casa Vostra and other organizations are bringing together protesters to march under the slogan “we want to take them in.”
The artists scheduled to appear at Saturday’s concert range from pop chart-toppers like Orozco and López to Catalan rock pioneers Sopa de Cabra, Basque ska-punk activist Fermin Muguruza and flamenco guitar great Pepe Habichuela. Syrian musician Feras Almalat and Cheb Balowski, a Barcelona-based group whose multinational members sing in Arabic as well as Catalan and Spanish, are also on the bill. Catalan folk singer Lluís Llach, a legend in Barcelona, will come out of retirement to perform at the concert. The acclaimed theater group La Fuera dels Baus, known for its visceral acrobatic and urban performance art, are the artistic directors of the event. The troupe will appear at intervals during the concert, which starts at 10 p.m. and is scheduled to last two-and-a-half hours.
Serrat, Barcelona’s emblematic poet bard, tops the line-up, and is expected to sing his classic “Mediterraneo” with an ensemble of other artists in what should be an emotional apex of the concert. Last month, Serrat, together with other artists, released a new “We Are the World” style video of “Mediterraneo.” His 1971 love ballad to the Mediterranean and its people has taken on a tragic poignancy as thousands seeking to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe have perished on the journey.
“We have to sensitize people so that they will show the politicians that their inaction can cost them votes,” says Wagensberg, adding that Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau and other local leaders are expected to attend the concert, where they will be met with a show of the power of the people.
“There’s a big difference between me going to government offices to ask for action without having done anything,” notes Wagensberg, “And showing up there after having filled the Palau Sant Jordi.”