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MUSIC

Spanish researchers awarded ‘funny Nobel’ for discovery that babies ‘sing and dance’ in womb

Researchers from Spain were among the 2017 recipients of the Ig Nobel peace prize for discovering that babies sing and dance in the womb when sound is piped in through “a musical tampon”

Spanish researchers awarded 'funny Nobel' for discovery that babies 'sing and dance' in womb
Photo: Instituto Marqués

Awarded on Thursday night at Harvard University in the US, the Ig Nobel is a light-hearted alternative to the famous Nobel prize that recognizes “achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think”, according to the prize’s website

Marisa López-Teijón, Álex García-Faura, Alberto Prats-Galino, and Luis Pallarés Aniorte, from the Institut Marqués jointly won this year’s Obstetrics prize for showing that a developing human fetus responds more strongly to music that is played electromechanically inside the mother's vagina than to music that is played electromechanically on the mother's belly.

The research proves that unborn babies can hear and respond to music at just 16 weeks,  ten weeks earlier than previously thought, but only if played through the vagina.

The 2015 study provided incredible 3D images that show the foetuses opening their mouths and sticking out their tongues in response to music emitted via the vagina.

“The foetuses responded to the music by moving their mouths and their tongues as if they wanted to speak or sing,” said the Instituto Marqués, which unveiled the results of the tests – announcing its findings back in 2015.

READ MORE: Amazing new study reveals unborn babies 'sing and dance' to music

Previous research had concluded that the auditory system does not start working until the 26th week of pregnancy.

The study shows that a foetus only hears music “like we do” when it is emitted via the vagina: “if we play the music externally, next to the abdomen, the foetus does not perceive it in the same way.”

The foetus can hear their mother chatting, her heartbeat and even her heels clicking on the floor, but all those external sounds are perceived as more of a murmur, unlike the music that was played via the vagina.


Diagram showing the “vaginal speaker”: Instituto Marqués

The music was transmitted using a Babypod a “musical tampon”; a speaker specially designed to emit music via the vagina. 

Babypods retail for around €150 ($170) and expectant mothers are advised to use them for only around 20 minutes a day to expose their babies to music in the womb. 

And what musical masterpiece did researchers choose to beam through to the foetuses? Maybe some classic Julio Iglesias or one hit wonder La Macarena?

They went a little more high-brow and played Bach’s Partita in A minor for solo flute. 

The Ig Nobel peace prize was awarded to a team of Swiss scientists who discovered that playing the didgeridoo can help people stop snoring.

Other recipients of prizes included a scientist who created a bra that can quickly turn into a pair of protective face masks, a British researcher who analyzed the question ‘Why do old men have big ears?’ and a team who used brain-scanning technology to measure the extent to which some people are disgusted by cheese. 

For the full list, visit improbable.com/ig

The real Nobel prizes will be announced from October 2nd.

READ MORE: Zurich researchers win 'funny Nobel' for discovery that didgeridoo playing can prevent snoring

Photo: Giambra/Depositphotos

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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