Fernando The Flute

Analysis of musical meaning in an Abba mega-hit

Philip Tagg

By 1977 Abba’s Fernando had sold at least 10 million copies worldwide. Released some 18 months after the US-backed fascist coup in Chile, the English lyrics have the vocalist reminiscing about ‘the fateful night we crossed the Rio Grande’ when fighting ‘for freedom in this land’. There is little doubt which nation state most Swedish listeners would have thought of hearing those words in early 1975. In fact Fernando was a very popular song about, literally, a matter of life and death. It was certainly no pro-Pinochet or pro-CIA song, but it failed to capture the mood of sorrow, solidarity and indignation which was so prevalent in Sweden at the time. A rigorous musematic analysis of the song reveals that its musical structuration is operative in the communication of ideology and political stance. For example, by juxtaposing the sounds of Fats Domino with Andean folk flutes, Richard Strauss with Swedish dance music, popular Latin ballads with standard Anglo-North-American pop, rock and disco, etc., Fernando establishes two almost mutually exclusive spheres of connotation: (a) sincerity, seriousness in a rural Andean ‘there-and-then’ region of South America, and (b) weekend entertainment and nostalgia from the safety of a seventies ‘here-and-now’ in urban Northern Europe. This musically mediated mutual exclusivity of ethnically different connotative spheres does not do much to encourage qualities like solidarity. The author presents several other telling examples of congruence between musical structuration and ideology. Whether or not readers agree with the conclusions drawn from the analyses in Fernando the Flute, the book demonstrates that understanding the mediation of ideologies in the modern world presupposes at least some serious consideration of music.

First published 1991; 2nd edition published 2000


More information @ publisher's website.

Fernando The Flute

Fernando The Flute - 2nd edition


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