Earlier this month, when the Spanish government ordered a national lockdown in response to the coronavirus, Rai Benet, Klaus Stroink, and Guillem Boltó, Catalan musicians in their twenties, who share an apartment with a rooftop terrace in Barcelona, did the only logical thing. They took a trumpet, trombone, and guitar upstairs, along with some beers, and started to riff. “It wasn’t anything serious,” Stroink told me. “We were just trying to come up with some lyrics about the quarantine.” A few drinks in, they hit on a bossa-nova tune, with a smattering of words in Portuguese and some gentle, Brazilian-style patter. Not all the harmonies quite lined up, and they blanked on some lyrics while singing. But they recorded themselves anyway, then posted an Instagram story, to entertain other friends who were stuck inside.
The “likes” rolled in, and the next day they carried on, this time with a reggae beat and a chorus line in English (“Please stay homa. / Don’t want the corona. / It’s O.K. to be alona.”) Midway through the song, Stroink pulled out a cell phone to reveal a friend, the reggae singer Sr. Wilson, who performed a rap solo from his own apartment. Word started to spread in the Catalan music scene, and, as other artists offered to collaborate, the three watched as their social-media accounts went from having a few thousand followers to tens of thousands, practically overnight. Now they have a dedicated Instagram page (@stay.homas), Twitter account, and YouTube channel devoted to the project—a series of songs, in different languages and genres, about the lockdown. As of this writing, they’ve posted nine. “Maybe you can forget for a moment that everything is so strange and dramatic,” Stroink told me. “But we also want to give a message of responsibility: ‘Please stay home. Do what the authorities say!’ ”
There’s a song sung in a rumba style (galloping beat, hand-clapping) that opens with the lines Yo pensaba que la corona era una cerveza. / Yo pensaba que la corona era para la princesa (“I thought corona was just a beer. / I thought corona was something for a princess to wear”). (Corona is Spanish for “crown.”) One song is modelled on trap music (heavy beat, synthesizer); another, featuring the Catalan singer Judit Neddermann, is a blend of gospel, soul, and doo-wop. They sing it in English, with a hitch or two. They only learned later, for instance, that “confination” wasn’t an actual word. It still sounded good: “I got to be patient, so let’s enjoy this confination.”
Each song requires multiple takes, and hours of preparation. The degree of difficulty increases every day. How many puns can you invent about a pandemic? “We wake up and have no fucking clue what we’re going to do. We make some coffee and sit with the guitar,” Stroink said. Then they not only have to perfect the song but learn the musical parts and memorize the lyrics. They send the chord changes and the rough chorus line, via WhatsApp, to the artist they’re collaborating with, who then records a solo and sends it back to them. Recording starts at sundown, which affords the best light, but on at least one occasion they wound up singing in the dark (“We didn’t like the takes”). Judging from their output, you wouldn’t know that the songwriting is getting harder. Version seven, featuring the dazzling Venezuelan singer Ahyvin Bruno, may be their best yet—a Cuban son, an Afro-Caribbean style, on which Stroink and Boltó play trumpet and trombone with cup mutes. Once a song is uploaded, they clock out—a solid day’s work. “Then, finally,” Stroink said, “we’re free and can go watch Netflix.”