Folklorica Festival, Charco de San Gines, Arrecife: August 2019
Much as I like to think we are well informed about the arts and cultural calendar on Lanzarote we would have missed a whole fortnight of festival recently had it not been for Miguel’s what’s on information in his newsletter and on the Lanzarote Information web site. Fortunately we caught the details in time and were able to plan a long week-end away to ensure we didn’t miss any of what was scheduled to take place at the annual San Gines Festival Folklorica in Arrecife.
We booked in at The Lancelot Hotel on the front, where we had stayed earlier in the year for the 100 Years: Lanzarote and Manrique concerts. Those shows had been delivered on a temporary stage and seating arena built on the beach but the folk lore concerts of the San Gines Festival would be just around the corner at the Charco, and would be performed on a stage built on stilts out into the water of the harbour.
We would see seven concerts in ten days. We did not realise that each of the seven acts on the programme, all except Acatife previously unknown to us, would provide unforgettable spectacle and entertainment. We were, of course, pretty sure the weather would be kind to us but we could not have expected the endless, perfect blue skies, hot temperatures, cold beers and chilled wines that awaited us.
Nor did we expect to spend our days doing nothing but drink mojitos and munch a panini at the hotel’s open air roof top bar, nor to sit for hours by the pool, also on the roof, finding out who done what in our whodunit books on Kindle. (It was Mrs. Plum in the kitchen with a rolling pin!)
Actually, though, we took in our first concert before even checking in at the hotel. It was the only Festival gig scheduled in day time hours, all the others beginning at nine p.m.
For the opening mid-day show we drove straight to the concert area, parked up, walked a hundred yards or so, and awaited the announcement of Henry Dunbar, piano, as advertised on the programme. We wondered whether the said Mr. Dunbar would be classical, a la Grieg, jazz like Georgie Fame or pop-rock like Elton John, but answer came there none, as a group with a name we didn’t catch took to the extremely attractive set.
This was a line up and sound a lot like that of Junior Washington And The All Stars, if anyone else is old enough to remember them. It was a slight update on classic fifties and sixties soul music; noisy, brassy and energetic. Everywhere in the show there was a catchy chorus, or an easy bongo rhythm or a sudden uplifting piano solo, and for one particular number an instant roar of recognition from the audience, for what had obviously once been a hit over here. This had been a really positive start to the event and we arrived at the hotel still talking about it, which is always a good sign.
The evening held two concerts, one at nine pm and the other at ten thirty and we are really pleased we decided to attend both. Why not, though? They were both free, as was every other event in this series of festival performances.
First, though, we called, en route at Tabla Restaurant, a place we thought we had ´discovered´ a few weeks ago but had then read about in the same newsletter from Miguel in which we had found details of the Festival. His reference to Tabla was short and to the point about the excellent quality of the food and drink and service. There is something to be said, too, for a marvellous art décor room that is the main dining area, although it is just as lovely to sit at the tables outside on the street corner, looking out to sea.
On the recommendation of Miguel’s review, though, we had the goat meat burger, covered in wonderful sauces, and with a dish of sweet potato fries, with a brownie and ice cream to follow. It wasn’t a typical take away from a burger van at a UK Festival, and almost certainly didn’t cost as much.
We arrived at the concert area in plenty of time to grab two seats on the front row and hear lots of the sound check, check, one, two, si, check, uno, dos.
The Tiguay folk lore group, all guys, resplendent in fawn trousers and white shirts, was a collection of vocalists supported by a timple player, and eight musicians on various other string instruments, one electric bass player and a keyboards player.
After a gentle opener they increased the volume and the tempo with two vocalists sharing lead duties. By the third number their musical director, (the timple player) was counting them through a lively ´folk´ song that sounded to us as if it were of singularly British tradition. Most folk songs, though, are similarly well travelled, and there were Cuban rhythms to be found elsewhere in their set. They gave us ´romantic´ songs, and livelier numbers that often reminded us again of groups like Fivepenny Piece and The Houghton Weavers from the halcyon folk club days of the UK in the second half of the twentieth century. There were songs that particularly celebrated Lanzarote and others that paid homage to Cesar Manrique, drawing huge cheers from the audience. There was a two part vocal of a stately song about the Campesinos, that half way through suddenly burst out into a vibrant all singing, all dancing, happy-clappy delivery. They then gave us a song we had heard them deliver in rehearsal, celebrating the Canary Islands union before being brought back for the encore their performance had thoroughly merited.
Teugay left the stage at 10.20 and were replaced at 10.30 precisely by Parranda El Golpito, wearing more casual, but matching attire, of blue check shirts, with a neckerchief and black trousers.
The ´captain´ of this seven piece band seemed to be the timple player and he led them through what was a light hearted and even comedic set with all seven members each contributing not only great vocal and instrumental skills but also high energy and character.
Apart from the timple, the line-up included four other stringed instruments.
A tambourine was also fully employed in an up-tempo ensemble offering and the player of a mandolin type instrument kept shuffling energetically to the beat throughout the set. An audience of around seven hundred, mostly in the free seats with others dotted around on the walls and steps of Charco San Gines, were enthusiastically clapping in rhythm, too. For a number that sounded not unlike something by The Spinners folk group, who were the staple of my folk music listening when I was a young man in the UK, there were suddenly scores of couples dancing in the aisles, looking wonderful in silhouette against the still water and the hundreds of moored boats. For those of you who have any reference points in contemporary English folk music I should mention that whilst I’m not sure what the Spanish would be for the phrase ´We Kept Eating Parkin, ´ but there were clear echoes here of that song I heard in a different club almost every night for a decade or so when I was working on the folk scene in England. This was a fantastic good-time group, not unlike an Irish show band in delivery. Admittedly, that observation perhaps comes about because one player looked like Paddy The Vet on leave from his practice in Emmerdale and another, who whooped and hollered joyously throughout the set, looked disconcertingly like Roy Keane on a mission.
When the final song, delivered as an encore, began to sound like Val Doonican chasing Delaney’s Donkey I began to think I was losing it and suffering from some kind of Festival Fever.
No wonder, then, that, even at gone midnight, we broke our walk back to the hotel by stopping for a slow beer at the seemingly un-named bar which, for what is really just a couple of tables placed outside a semi-permanent construction that serves only a small selection of foodstuffs, is probably the best bar in the world.
Under a starry sky, lit by a full moon, my wife Dee and I sat quietly congratulating ourselves that, even if our dancing these days is little more than toe tapping, we’ve still got the moves and shapes as we promenade in a gentler way now we are pensioners than in that frenetic way we called rock and roll.
On the Friday we took a trip up the coast to the white sands near Orzola and it became one of the strangest days we have had on the island since moving here four years ago. The weather, although very warm, had turned cloudy and overcast with a low sky casting shadows over the beach that was full of around a hundred local school children obviously being supervised by a few teachers and volunteer mums. It was almost surreal to watch them enjoying themselves even whilst behaving impeccably, sharing picnics and building and knocking down castles in the sand. The sea, all white topped and frothy was at its lowest ebb and even though there was drizzle in the air the kids were able to paddle in the vast stretch of warm pools left by the earlier high tide. I sat in my fold up chair reading the back page test match report in The Daily Mail, whilst ignoring the eighty six pages of Brexit bewilderment, and Dee read her Kindle, (now knowing who dunnit but having no idea why!). It all strangely resembled a Jack Vettraino painting and even reminded me of the Beach Scene by Degas but when the supervisors called on the children to start packing up we decided it was time that we, too, should head off for lunch somewhere, probably at that nice little place we know in Orzola.
However, as we turned right, off the coast road, down into the port this eerie day became even weirder. Bunting signalled that maybe it was festival time here, too, but the day was so strangely still that the colourful flags hung limply and forlornly. So odd did it all look that at first we didn’t notice that the town seemed to be closed. Roads were shut and barrier-festooned and there was a heavy police presence down by the harbour side which was closed to traffic, so we had no choice but to turn and head back out of town. As we did so, we saw two very, very badly burned out cars being looked over by more policemen.
All very odd, but with all the restaurants apparently closed we decided to head back towards the hotel in Arrecife and find somewhere else to stop for a snack. As I drove Dee explored her i-pad to discover a news item about police being called to a vehicle fire in Orzola at 3.am. that morning but we can shed no further light than that on the matter.
It was with great delight and not a little cunning, that I plotted a route back that would take us through Tahiche, down past Levain, that bakery and pastry shop that is the cake-lover’s equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. A cheese baguette for me, and a salad concoction for Dee, with each of us ordering a big, gooey, fattening, and frivolous but fandabbydozy slice of cake to follow, was just one of the thousand and one reasons why we live on Lanzarote.
Another reason we live here, of course, is the fabulous Davina Italia restaurant at El Charco de San Gines, so after a wash and brush up back at the hotel we headed there, as organisers had kindly built the festival stage right next to where I always order a Bianca pizza (glazed pear on a pizza base, which I drench in a Chilli Oil. Trust Me; it is the food of the gods).
At about eight thirty we managed to find two seats, front row again, but this time more to the wings of the stage and by nine pm there were almost a thousand people ready to see Argones from Gran Canaria. The group came to the stage in traditional national costume and were followed on to the performance area by dancers; six couples similarly dressed with four of the men carrying sticks.
The musical ensemble of fifteen or so created an enormous wall of sound of strings and percussion, delivering songs associated with Lanzarote and Fuerteventura as well as noting the recent fires on Gran Canaria. For some dances, the sticks were discarded, and what a sight it was to see the courteous circle dances delivered in such a fusion of colours.
The music and dance even included some of the faster numbers many of us recognise from Sunday mornings at Teguise market.
The musicians and dancers had been introduced to the audience by a chap who is ubiquitous at these events and who does such a thoroughly professional job as a compere. We, of course, understand hardly anything he says, but he is clearly always giving interesting information and details to the audience, and delivering that information with respect and reverence for the folk lore traditions.
After the performance by Argones he presided, as he so often does, over a formal public exchange of mementoes, before then calling to the stage, the next performers, a group called Maxorate from Fuerteventura. The group included both genders amongst its twenty two musicians, and their first delivery perfectly demonstrated their excellent harmonies, before they then brought to the apron of the stage fourteen dancers to deliver a somewhat more extravagant dance than we have become used to seeing on Lanzarote. The girls were all swaying hips and fluttering lashes and making deliberate eye contact with the male dancers.
The next song, too, continued in this exaggerated style as the dancers, all in traditional costume like the musicians, matched their movements to an up tempo folk song. Sometimes the circle of dancers would reduce to as few as four couples, whilst there was a fuller dance floor for the faster numbers, full of yee-haws and whistles. On completion of the set our master of ceremonies again invited dignitaries on stage to present mementoes.
He then introduced the final act of the evening as Guaguime, with the males in trilby style hats and the ladies in sombreros. There seemed to a 1,2,3 waltz beat to the opening dance but what a colourful elegant show it was. To the sound of strings and castanets, the men danced in red sashes and the trains of the ladies´ skirts seemed to be pinned up under their hats.
It was very noticeable that in some dances the partners were ´in hold´ almost like ballroom dancers on Strictly. Having listened a good deal to Len Goodman over the years, I looked for ´extension´ and ´heel turns´ though I don’t suppose the finer points of folk lore and ballroom are quite the same. I didn´t see any ´fleckles´ for instance, although I don’t quite know what the heckle is a ´fleckle.´
One dance began with each male partner standing behind a kneeling lady and gently, and rather chivalrously, raising her to her feet and inviting her to step out with him, whilst other dances, particularly one to a voluminous delivery by instruments and a female singer, included no physical contact at all between partners. Sometimes the shoes on the dancing feet of the ladies became percussive instruments.
An earlier group had included one male dancer dressed distinctively in all black attire contrasting with the colourful costumes of his colleagues. It was’´t clear to me what that costume represented or who this ´character´ might be, but I am determined to research some of the intricacies of traditional Canarian dance. I remain unsure of the symbolism of the sticks. Some seem rough-hewn; industrial or war like in some way, whilst others are festooned with ribbons and remind me an Irish shillelagh.
Another exchange of souvenirs ended the second day of the festival, before thousands of people dispersed and disappeared into the scores of exits from Charco that would lead them either back into, or out of, the city centre. At gone midnight we strolled in a leisurely, not to say lazy fashion, back to our hotel down the fairly recently gentrified pedestrian area of the sea front that has contributed so much to creating a safe and peaceful city centre.
The following morning Dee went for a wander through the streets of shops and saw the musicians of the previous evening now performing in promenade and accompanying a religious church procession, as you can see in the photographs with this piece.
Before the evening concert, we dined again at the Divina before securing two front row centre seats from which to watch the show, make my notes and take some pictures. The first group to be introduced was Tintillo from Tenerife. The musicians, sixteen males and one female, were all dressed in white and seated behind three vocalists of two casually attired male singers and a female singer in an evening gown, and they all opened the set with a waltz tune. These voices were beautifully modulated even when performed over what sounded like gently trembling strings. Together the three vocalists delivered a song that reminded me very much of a ´cowboy´ lament of the kind written and performed by Ian Tyson.
The vocalists then departed for a brief respite to allow the musicians to give us a slow, romantic offering, before returning to close the show with a couple of up tempo clap-along numbers.
Acatife, a group of whom Lanzarote people are justifiably very proud, are an ensemble, which even after being around for more than three decades now, continues to re-generate itself and breathe new life into its material. They seem to have recently introduced some new, young blood and now incorporate more humour and dynamism than was apparent to me when I first heard them several years ago. It is almost as if the musicians have renewed respect for their individual colleagues and the music they are all now making together. Thirty strong, they rise from diminuendo to crescendo in a split second, almost mid-note and their musicality reveals their ensemble and individual capabilities. They brought the place down.
The evening was closed, however, by Achaman, another massive line-up, who all came on stage wearing white capes that seemed to be of thick, almost woollen, material. I guess they were more of shepherd’s nightwear than a cape, then, but it certainly lent gravitas.
Including a back line of brass and percussion there were more than forty singers and musicians on stage, with a string section including timples and guitars and elsewhere there was a beat box and all sorts of hand held shakers and rattlers.
Their power was immediately apparent on their opening number, a loving tribute to their home island of Gran Canaria. There was a song, too, for compatriots currently struggling with economic and political crisis in Venezuela. They gave us lovely harmonies and Latin American samba rhythms before closing with what I think from its introduction might have been an anthem of either Gran Canaria or The Canary Islands. Whichever it was, they sang it loud and proud, and, if I may borrow and attach the phrase, happy and glorious. In fact, loud and proud, happy and glorious just about sums up the first week of the Festival.
Today is Wednesday and we have been back home in Playa Blanca since Monday morning. We will, though, return on Saturday to Arrecife, staying at The Lancelot and wandering round in the evening to Charco de San Gines to listen to Habaneras Blau Mediterra delivering sea songs, accompanied by the Coros y Danzas Arrecife and to hear a concert by Aseras.
The festival closes on the Sunday evening of 25th August with a concert by Morat, now at the Playa del Reducto and a closing pyrotechnic display at eleven pm from the Parque Maritimo, (if we can find out where that is !)
Song and dance and fireworks are my idea of a weekend, so we’ll bring you a further report next week.