XX1 Tinajo Festival: Timbayba and Araguaney folk lore groups
Photographic exhibition in Playa Blanca by Gustavo Medina
It was the night of 21st annual Tinajo Festival, to take place in the huge ´social club´ in Tinajo. We set off early, as this was to be another of those ´free until filled´ events, and last year’s had been absolutely packed out with five or six hundred people.
Tonight, though, we arrived about an hour before the concert was due to start, and not only did the venue seem quiet, but also the whole town seemed deserted. There was a small fairground set up across the road from the club but the rides were locked down and still tented over at this stage. We knew from the previous year’s visit that this fair was likely to be open by the time the concert would be finished, but for now even all the refreshment stalls seemed to be closed down, except for one red-facia Coca-Cola stand about thirty yards away. The shutters were open, and there was an old man sitting at one of the outside tables, though he didn’t seem to have food or drink. So perhaps the lady wiping down the bar hadn’t yet opened it, I enquired in my most eloquent Euro-speak. Somehow, we ended up with pretty much what we wanted, a glass of wine, a can of beer and a huge plate of chips to share. At eight o’clock in the evening, with the sun sinking behind the peaks of Timanfaya, we nodded at the old guy, and we sat and spoke not one jot until, ´Come on, there are loads of people queuing at the door.´ By the route we had to take to reach them we could see what they could not; that the side doors had been opened and there were files of people walking through them to join the two or three hundred already in.
We managed to find two end seats in the second row, and over the next twenty minutes we admired the stage scenery and monitored the mounting excitement as the room filled up behind us.
Everyone was in and seated, often in three or four generations of families, and as the lights dimmed there was a welcoming applause for the lady, in national costume, who was to be our hostess for the evening, and keep us informed of either what we had just heard or of what we were about to hear.
This annual festival was being hosted by a local folk lore music group, Timbayba. They must have been very secure in their own status, as I was amazed when they opened the proceedings, allowing their guests, Araguaney, to close the show (or to top the bill, as we would have called it in the UK). There were a couple of occasions in my life over there when my own folk band, Lendanear, were invited to host local events, and whenever that happened we would invite musical guests, as support acts, with an ability to warm up an audience for us, so that we could sound really good in the second half.
I was therefore assuming that the band on stage, waiting for our hostess for the night to introduce them to the audience, were our visitors from Gran Canaria, so I nearly fell off my chair when she asked, instead, for mucho applauso for Timbayba. Nevertheless, without missing a beat the thirty strong gathering of males and females struck a chord, instruments roared, in a way that always reminds me of Greek musicianship, and voices soared as they played and sang an opening few bars to bring to the apron of the stage their folk lore dancers of eight couples, one or four of whom were carrying a big stick. Laying those sticks (weapons, surely not?) to one side the sixteen dancers formed a circle for the first dance of the evening, and pranced like ponies on parade, weaving in and out of one another in intricate footsteps: in and out and under and around in a dance that seemed full of kiss me gates and unspoken agreements. The lovely tune and the stately dance was surely one of courtship and first love.
The circle was reduced to ten for the second song, but I must not be so swept along by the dancers as to omit to say how glorious had been the musical performance of that first number, and how, with a dozen stringed instruments and an angelic host of voices, it had sounded wonderful.
This second piece, though, was to sound even more romantic, when accompanied by its shy little dance of avoided eye contact and only the slightest touch of a fingertip at the exchange of a partner.
The third song saw the dancers stand down for a rest and was led by the female vocalists, with the men only coming in late in the piece to swell the crescendo. Something there is about the music of The Canary Islands that places a film reel in our minds of butterflies, blue skies, white topped oceans and Mankind and volcanic rock existing together in some strange, mutual benefit, and here was a Lanzarote group playing that music to perfection.
Was such harmony and contentment about to come to an end, I wondered, when I saw the dancers picking up their sticks for the next piece. (Note to self, use a search engine and find out what the sticks represent, and help your reader. Yes, yes, ok.) The dance we saw performed now didn’t really support my first thoughts that the sticks might represent a weapon. Instead it was easier to think of them almost as navigational aids, being raised or lowered for people to step under or over, and the sticks seemed more to form more an entrance than a barrier. In what was the fastest dance so far, though, the sticks were always in possession of the male dancers so they may also be symbolic of gender roles and issues. Yeh, there could be some interesting research to do here.
This was also followed by a ´partner dance´ that saw everyone changing partners in formation. The musical accompaniment was fairly gentle and the soft shoes worn by all the dancers added an air of tranquillity too.
The intricacy of the next dance, performed by only six couples, drew rounds of applause and cries of bravo from the crowd after moves, that seemed certain to end in collision, passed by with fleetness of foot and perfect timing.
The whole performance then took a turn in another direction with a short film being shown on stage as the entire Timbayba group watched it. It was seemingly a tribute to a founder member, maybe even still long-serving or perhaps even recently retired but the film’s opening credits flashed by so quickly, and before I realised what was going on, that I´m afraid I didn’t catch his name.
By the adoring looks on the faces of the group as they, too, watched the film, he is obviously a much loved figure and certainly all the clips we saw of him showed him to be fine dancer with an engaging smile. If there is a reader out there who could let me have some details about this gentleman I will try to put those details out on future editions of these pages. Try me at [email protected]
After the interval I was astonished to see that the invited group, Araguaney from Gran Canaria, had an even bigger membership. The forty odd singers and musicians were all male and dressed in black. The ensemble had a heavy percussive presence with maracas and bongos lending rhythmic support to the deep bass vocals of the opening song.
However, there was so much more to this band than simply beat and bass. Their following offering demonstrated beautiful vocal harmonies and the lightness of touch of the string section. Their third song also further endeared them to the audience, being one with lyrics that celebrated not only Lanzarote in general, but also areas like Mancha Blanca and Tinajo in particular, and that were delivered in a powerful performance.
Araguaney took songs that we know as stately dance tunes and turned them into enormous ´wall-of-sound´ renditions. Those maracas and bongos were joined by many members of the band and swathes of people in the audience delivering a rhythmic hand-clapping accompaniment that took their songs beyond the boundaries of folk lore into areas of rock and pop.
The Gran Canarian ensemble brought us passion and playfulness by adding to their percussive line up all sorts of strange hand held instruments, one of which was not at all unlike the kind of wooden ´frog with a stick´ you can buy at many local markets and in some of the holiday gift shops to be found on the island. Songs would often develop out of rhythm-led introductions into expansive melodies or just as excitingly a seemingly upbeat song could sway seamlessly into a haunting tune that might never again leave us alone.
Their penultimate piece was a celebration of Gran Canaria that was long and heartfelt and with great generosity of spirit the Lanzarote audience shared in their pride.
Then, though, came the incredible closing by Araguaney. As their final number began, the dancers returned to the floor. Before anyone near the front of the audience realised what was happening, the dancers were infiltrating the front few rows and pulling out with them one or two volunteer and three or four not-so volunteer, partners. How wisely we had chosen our end of row seats that enabled us to nimbly step out into the aisle and let the dancers pass in search of their prey. However, the dance on stage of folk-lorists and audience members was being delivered, almost step perfect, by everyone and brought a huge burst of thunderous clapping as Araguaney finally left the stage.
The evening was closed by the coming together of both Timbayba and their dancers and Araguaney to exchange souvenir plaques and to pay their mutual respects. The audience showed their appreciation by warmly applauding all those who received a commendation of some kind, and then, after more than two and a half hours of super music delivered at NO COST TO THE AUDIENCE, it was time for us all to head home.
Amazed, grateful, almost disbelieving of all we had just heard and seen we headed to the car and drove through the gone midnight stillness of ´the volcano road´ beneath a sky of Lanzarote stars and even Playa Blanca was fast asleep by the time we arrived home
The next day, though, brought us a timely reminder that we don’t even have to travel all across the arts to Tinajo to capture a cultural event. We learned we need only to travel all across Playa Blanca to the Rubicon Shopping Centre, behind the Marina.
We were wandering through the centre on our way back to the car after a lunch at Lani’s Snack Bar (the ice cream desserts often require my attention) and we were idly window-shopping in the 365 days a year sales some of the shops there conduct. Trying to steer Dee away from the handbags I glanced up the escalator to see what might be worth looking at on the second floor and my eye was caught by what looked to be twenty or thirty colourful landscape paintings or photographs.
I grabbed my wife by the hand and we skipped on to the escalator like a young couple out of Georgie Girl and found ourselves looking at a quite amazing collection of photographs by Gustavo Medina, who creates amazing art by capturing landscape and light at the time of meteorological phenomenon. This means that his colours can be bright and beautiful or, occasionally, bruising and brutal. Gustav’s approach to all this is detailed on giant size information boards beside the lines of exhibits.
He writes romantically, but honestly, about spending the early years of his life sitting with his father on the cold dawns in the winter mists, as his father taught him the names of the stars and constellations and planets of the universe, which his father had learned in the same way from his father. Gustavo remembers how even then, as a child, he found himself intrigued by the fogs and the storms and unique meteorology of Lanzarote.
Now, in adulthood, he uses a time-lapse photographic technique ´to bring life and movement to photography.´ Strangely, it reminded me of the work of photographer and artist John Cooke, who similarly created surreal images of my home town of Rochdale when I lived there.
John would never divulge his technique so whether he and Gustavo arrive at their similar-ish results by similar methodology I can’t tell.
I believe, however, that John would understand what Gustavo says about believing his work produces ´perspective that we do not know, since our eye is incapable to perceive it, due to the slowness with which these phenomena occur.´
I have no idea, I’m sorry, as to how long the exhibition will run, but it would be worth a look in as you do your weekly shop. If you do so, I’m sure you will agree that Gustavo really does capture our landscape in all its beauty as well as in all its complexity. This exhibition includes works of all shapes and sizes and one of the biggest on show is of a storm front at sea somewhere between Arrecife and Fuerteventura. Being in black and white helps the photograph capture the dark, brooding threat of what is about to be unleashed on the area. On the other hand you can visit the merchandise store on his web site.
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