History In The Making

The September edition of Programacion Municipal has a cover that advertises the Fiestas de Yaiza 2018 from 1st to 8th of September, and so of course we made a note in our diaries to attend at least one of the events. It seems to us that all such cultural celebrations are designed for the indigenous population, but in a way that ensures they do not preclude attendance by tourists or migrant residents such as ourselves. Although the arts and culture displays are neither enhanced nor diluted for our enjoyment it seems we are always made welcome and fully accepted in the audience of events that invariably remind us of the high family values of the islanders and of the importance of their faith and their love of their island home.

So it was that we arrived in Yaiza from Playa Blanca only minutes before the Guardia Civil began closing, to traffic, the town’s through roads. After parking up we walked back down to the town square from which we could hear the shouts and laughter of children at play. When we arrived there we realised the sounds were not only of children, but also of parents and play leaders, as they led youngsters to play with huge Lego-like building bricks. There were complicated climbing frames for the teenagers and chalked walkways for the toddlers and skipping games for girls and boys and mums and dads alike. These Talleres Infantiles y Ludoteca had begun at 6.00 pm before a Misa (Mass) was held in the Iglesia de Los Remedios en Yaiza at the North end of the square at seven o’clock.

However, we were drawn towards the Casa de la Cultura Benito Perez Armas where a ‘solemn act’ was advertised to be conducted at 7.30. By the time we arrived in the court yard a huge crowd had already gathered for the free tickets that are occasionally given out ‘until full’ on such occasions.

We had dressed casually rather than for the beach, obviously, but we certainly didn’t look as elegant as the local people who must have known the kind of presentation this was to be. We noted Larry Yaskiel, recently featured on these pages, in the growing crowd but were also soon to learn that this gathering also included many civic dignitaries.

My non existence skills in Spanish and my wife’s inconsistent translations result in us sometimes not knowing quite what we are attending, so we were surprised, having found a couple of seats in the back row of about 150 people, to be seated next to the Coral de Yaiza, dressed up in their all black performance attire. We also noted, though, that the stage was arranged with a semi circle of seats, and a microphoned dais that was surely not intended for the choir.

The stage was festooned by the flags of Yaiza, Lanzarote, The Canaries, Spain and Europe and all this lent added gravitas and dignity as a line of obviously important guests entered the stage and took the allotted seats. After a brief introduction in Spanish the Coral de Yaiza, in which we are always interested as my wife Dee is friends with several of its members, stepped to the well at the front of the stage and performed two songs, elegantly led as always by their female ‘conductor’. The first song was Riu, riu, chiu, (composed by Cancionero de Uppsala) a happy-go-lucky number that we have heard them perform many times, and they did so here in their invariably uplifting manner. The second song seemed more reverent, somehow, and was a fitting lead in to the proceedings that would immediately follow.

The compere of the event, herself obviously a lady of some high office, introduced three major local politicians to each deliver a brief speech. All these patently neutrally toned pieces were well received by a highly attentive audience, before the presentation ceremony brought forward a special guest.

Esteban Ramon Rodriguez Eugenio was officially inaugurated as a Historian of Yaiza, charged with writing a book updating the town’s history. This investiture saw him presented with a framed diploma and a lapel badge, serving, perhaps as a medal. Obviously hugely proud of this acknowledgement, Esteban then justified our host’s teasing warning that he always has plenty to say. He did, and unfortunately there was little of it I could understand. My own ‘artists radar’ helped me pick up his reference to, I think, great poets but not to the gist of what he was saying.

I later learned that he had talked of the remarkable changes brought to the health and wealth of the area by the building of the de-salination plant a few decades ago. He reminded his listeners how the development served other towns in the municipality such as Uga and Las Brenas. When the acceptance speech was concluded Esteban was asked to sign an official documentation book, and as he did so Coral De Yaiza returned to sing a hymn of Lanzarote.

As the event concluded, the special guest, dignitaries and audience were pointed outside towards a fantastic looking buffet and drinks celebration. With great regret we shuffled past the tables and left the locals to enjoy their just desserts. As we moved back towards the town square I fell into conversation with Maria, a member I had not previously met, of Coral de Yaiza. She told me how important she hopes this historical work of Esteban’s might become and how privileged she felt to have taken part in such a meaningful event. Having lived on the island for twenty five years, Maria is keen to leep learning as much as she can about the history of this new home. A good deal of the information stated in this article was gathered from my chat with her rather than from my almost futile attempts to translate from the Spanish ceremony. It was also she who told me that the island hymn the choir had sung as the official signing took place was one thanking God for his bountiful gifts to the island of sun, sea and sand.

By the time we stepped back into the square it was just becoming dark. Flashing lights from the temporary stage showed us that the childrens’ playground had been disassembled and was now an al fresco dance floor as Enrique Salazar and Jose Domingo delivered summer friendly sounds of vocal and keyboards. This was essentially the hip-sashaying sound of Spanish summer but there is something in traditional Canaries and Spanish music that I first heard echoed in the Latin American songs that became the bedrock of my Americana music collection. I was in my element as we sat on a bench on a balmy night, content that, surely, all is well in this world.

As I looked out at the shadowed figures of three generations of children, parents and grandparents sidestepping around the square I was reminded of the Paul Simon lines of Take Me To The Mardi Gras, ‘where the music is elite and there is dancing in the street all night and day.’ This wasn’t New Orleans, but was Yaiza, holding a fiesta in its own inimitable way, with natives, tourists and new residents mingling and smiling together, safely and securely.

There was just time for a nutella de coconut crepe and quick can of Tropical beer and then it was back to the car and an easy drive home, with the kettle boiling less than fifteen minutes after we had left Yaiza, still wearing her best party dress, and looking mighty fine.

More from Norman: Compose, improvise and write it down.