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MUSIC

Scientists discover why some of us ‘hate’ music

If music leaves you cold, don't worry: it's perfectly normal and you're completely healthy. That's the finding of a new study headed up by Spanish scientists.

Scientists discover why some of us 'hate' music
As many as 5 percent of people could suffer from specific musical anhedonia, or an inability to enjoy music. File photo: Bart Everson

Rock, jazz, flamenco, or classical music: for some people it all sounds like so much noise.

While most people react to music emotionally, and with an increased heart rate and by sweating more, a small group don't feel a thing.

And while a lack of ability to enjoy everyday activities is generally considered a sign of depression, there is nothing wrong with these people. Instead they are suffering from researchers are calling specific musical anhedonia.

That's the finding of a new study carried out by a global team of researchers headed up by the University of Barcelona and Catalonia's Bellvitge Institute of Biological Investigation and published in Current Biology.

"We wanted to look at music because its something that exists across cultures and doesn't have a biological function," study author Josep Marco told The Local.   

"Music is also something instinctual, and very direct, and it's often assumed that everyone actually likes music. But we wanted to find out if that was actually true." 

To test this idea, researchers first used a web questionnaire to identify people who might have this lack of feeling for music.

Study participants were then asked to listen to music chosen by other university students. Among the pieces of music chosen were Puccini's Nessun Dorma, the Four Seasons of Vivaldi, and the theme song from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Pavarotti sings the aria Nessun Dorma from the Puccini opera Turandot

While listening, volunteers had to press a button depending on whether they didn't like the piece of music much, they liked it a lot, or it left them cold. 

"We found that some people didn't respond at all to the music," Marco said.

Researchers then looked at whether people who didn't respond to music emotionally had a problem with their neural reward system.

But an experiment which measured excitement about earning money showed these 'non-musical' people had an increased heart rate and sweated more. In other words they were healthy.

The findings suggest music has its own pathways in the rewards system, the scientists said.

"The identification of these individuals could be very important to understanding the neural basis of music — that is, to understand how a set of notes (is) translated into emotions," Marco said in a separate statement.

Some 1 to 5 percent of people suffer from specific musical anhedonia, the researchers estimate.

"We've had a lot of emails from people since the study was published saying 'I've never liked music, and people have always told me it was strange,'" Marco told The Local.

"But this is not an illness, and it's not something that needs to be 'fixed.'"

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MUSIC

Meet the Spanish rapper bringing flamenco and bossa nova into hip-hop

Spanish rapper C. Tangana was taking a big risk when he started mixing old-fashioned influences like flamenco and bossa nova into his hip-hop -- but it's this eclectic sound that has turned him into a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic.

Meet the Spanish rapper bringing flamenco and bossa nova into hip-hop
Spanish rapper Anton Alvarez known as 'C. Tangana' poses in Madrid on April 29, 2021. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

The 30-year-old has emerged as one of the world’s biggest Spanish-language stars since his third album “El Madrileno” — the Madrilenian — came out in February. That ranks him alongside his superstar ex-girlfriend Rosalia, the Grammy-winning Catalan singer with whom he has co-written several hits.

C. Tangana, whose real name is Anton Alvarez Alfaro, has come a long way since a decade ago when he became known as a voice of disillusioned Spanish youth in the wake of the financial crisis.These days his rap is infused with everything from reggaeton and rumba to deeply traditional styles from Spain and Latin America, with a voice often digitised by autotune.

“It’s incredible that just when my music is at its most popular is exactly when I’m doing something a bit more complex, more experimental and less
trendy,” he told AFP in an interview.

And he is unashamed to be appealing to a wider audience than previously: his dream is now to make music “that a young person can enjoy in a club or someone older can enjoy at home while cooking”.

‘People are tired’

The rapper, who sports a severe semi-shaved haircut and a pencil moustache, has worked with Spanish flamenco greats including Nino De Elche, Antonio Carmona, Kiko Veneno, La Hungara and the Gipsy Kings.

In April he brought some of them together for a performance on NPR’s popular “Tiny Desk Concert” series, which has already drawn nearly six million
views on YouTube.

Shifting away from trap, one of rap’s most popular sub-genres, and venturing into a more traditional repertoire was a dangerous move — especially for someone with a young fanbase to whom rumba, bossa nova and bolero sound old-fashioned.

“I think people are tired. They’ve had enough of the predominant aesthetic values that have previously defined pop and urban music,” he said.

Parts of his latest album were recorded in Latin America with Cuban guitarist Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista Social Club, Uruguayan
singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, Mexican folk artist Ed Maverick and Brazil’s Toquinho, one of the bossa nova greats.

“What struck me most everywhere I went was the sense of tradition and the way people experienced the most popular music, and I don’t mean pop,” he said.

A new direction

C. Tangana started out in 2006 rapping under the name Crema. When the global economic crisis swept Spain a few years later, hard-hitting trap was
the perfect way to voice the angst of his generation. But after more than a decade of rapping, things changed.

“When I was heading for my 30s, I hit this crisis, I was a bit fed up with what I was doing… and decided to give voice to all these influences that I
never dared express as a rapper,” he said.

The shift began in 2018 with “Un veneno” (“A poison”) which came out a year after his big hit “Mala mujer” (“Bad woman”).

And there was a return to the sounds of his childhood when he used to listen to Spanish folk songs at home, raised by a mother who worked in
education and a journalist father who liked to play the guitar. The Latin American influences came later.

“It started when I was a teenager with reggaeton and with bachata which were played in the first clubs I went to, which were mostly Latin,” he said.

Studying philosophy at the time, he wrote his first raps between stints working in call centres or fast-food restaurants.

As to what comes next, he doesn’t know. But one thing he hopes to do is collaborate with Natalia Lafourcade, a Mexican singer who dabbles in folk, rock and pop — another jack of all musical trades.

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