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The imperial years of Hispavox | Culture

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No, Hispavox was not the longest-lived of the Spanish record companies: that title belongs to Discos Columbia, a company founded in San Sebastián in 1923. But Hispavox developed a particular mark of excellence, thanks to the care of its productions (the famous Sonido Torrelaguna, in reference to the Madrid street where he had his studios), the level of neatness of his covers established by the formidable designer Daniel Gil and, naturally, the successes in his artistic signings: Mari Trini, José Luis Perales, Karina, Raphael, Miguel Ríos , Enrique Morente, Paloma San Basilio, Los Pekenikes, Nacha Pop, Radio Futura, Alaska and their successive bands. Without forgetting that the company was born with a clear cultural commitment. He published ambitious anthologies of flamenco singing or Spanish folklore, followed by an extensive collection of early music that, many years later, would prove to be a gold mine, with the worldwide launch of the Gregorian by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.

A voluminous volume, Hispavox. The sound of an era (Lenoir Ediciones), emphasizes the epic nature of the adventure. It was founded in 1953 by a group of partners headed by brothers José Manuel and Luis Vidal Zapater, trained in classical music. But he was only able to launch his first references in 1957: with Franco’s autarchy, it took years to import the presses and the same material (vinylite, carbon black) necessary to manufacture records. Because there weren’t any, in Madrid there were hardly any recording studios: music was usually recorded on film sets or radio stations. This explains why, with the expansion of the sixties, Hispavox opted for a horizontal plant. Everything necessary was put together—except for its printing press—at the aforementioned Torrelaguna headquarters: factory, warehouse, offices and studios. The author of this book, José María Díez Monzón (Santander, 1950), worked there as a sound technician for seven years, recalling the spirit of the time: “In the studios we could work 15 or 16 hours a day. And we couldn’t get enough of the music! Some nights, when my shift ended, I would go to Whiskey Jazz, where the same instrumentalists that I had recorded a few hours before were playing.”

Waldo de los Ríos directing a recording in Studio 1 of Hispavox in 1969.Photo provided by José María Díez Monzón

Metaphorically, it is often stated that Hispavox grew thanks to Karina’s successes: “It’s not just that she sold millions of records, she embodied the ye-yé girl and the entire staff was in love with her!” Despite its conservative matrix, Hispavox knew how to capitalize on the group era (Pasos, Ángeles, Mitos) and even approached progressive rock (Módulos), although it became disillusioned with the failure of the supergroup Cánovas, Rodrigo, Adolfo y Guzmán, in 1974; It didn’t help that its main theme, blue lady, could be interpreted as a political criticism (in reality, he attacked the most deified characters in the music press and radio). Between those two possible readings, the disk fell into the void.

Bold ideas were also tested in the company, without a clear commercial target. The saxophonist Pedro Iturralde explored the union of flamenco and jazz with the presence of a Paco de Lucía who did not yet have a stellar dimension. Another anomaly was Landscape, path and song (1974), by Euterpe, an eclectic Majorcan group that recreated folklore from across the country. Without forgetting the wonderful delusions of Gregorio Paniagua and his group, Atrium Musicae. Díez Monzón remembers that Paniagua insisted on recording the different hums of a bee, “and it was achieved.”

Sound engineer José María Díez y Ramoncín during one of the recording sessions for 'Corta!'  (1982).
Sound engineer José María Díez y Ramoncín during one of the recording sessions for ‘Corta!’ (1982). Photo provided by José María Díez Monzón

The author of Hispavox. The sound of an era Prioritize what you experienced. The studios did not stop throughout the day: at night, minor or newly signed artists entered. The rhythm only changed during January and February, when the groups and soloists who made the songs for the April Fair in Seville appeared. They were quick recordings, with effective players—from Paco Cepero to Enrique de Melchor—and the supervision of the scholar Blas Vega. A man with a sense of smell even outside of flamenco: in 1981, he discovered the singer-songwriter Javier Ruibal. Despite the name, Hispavox was a cosmopolitan company: the main producer was the Milanese Rafael Trabucchelli and the orchestrations were signed by the Buenos Aires native Waldo de los Ríos. Both collaborated in the great international hit of the Hymn of joy, by Miguel Ríos. The origin of the artists was not a problem: the guitarist Ian Davies, a flamenco from London, recorded there, as did the Argentine Nacha Guevara or the Chilean Fernando Ubiergo.

In 1977, Hispavox took a turn towards the lowest common denominator when José Luis Gil entered, a manager from the powerful CBS, who thought in terms of “products” rather than artists with a creative vocation. He was behind the handsome Pedro Marín, the couple Enrique and Ana or the television Mari Cruz Soriano, whose piano parts were touched up by the virtuoso Agustín Serrano. Gil renewed the production team, removing functions from Trabucchelli in favor of another Lombard, Danilo Vaona, essential for the triumphant stage of Raffaella Carrá in Spanish or the launch of Bertín Osborne. With these approaches, it is understandable that Hispavox did not understand groups like Nacha Pop and Radio Futura, although it did persevere with Alaska, which was seeking success. mainstream: “From the beginning, it became evident that she had an extraordinary ability to defend her arguments.”

View of the main façade of the studio building, built in 1963. To its left, the office building would be built years later.
View of the main façade of the studio building, built in 1963. To its left, the office building would be built years later.Photo provided by José María Díez Monzón

Gil, who would later return to Hispavox to edit Loco Mía’s albums, was replaced by Saúl Tagarro, an executive without artistic whims who had to make harsh work decisions (the company had more than two hundred employees). The great paradox: the economic results were succulent, but they coincided with the fatigue of the Vidal Zapaters, who suggested selling the company. In 1985, Hispavox merged with the multinational EMI. Ten years later, the complex at 64 Torrelaguna Street disappeared. Recently, Díez Monzón took advantage of a trip to Madrid to sneak into the main building: “It was heartbreaking to see everything abandoned, with no trace left that they had left there.” about 14,000 records, including own production and licenses from foreign labels. And also with the suspicion that a good part of the archive had ended up in the landfill.”

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