Music and Dance and Fireworks

Folklorica Festival De San Gines closing weekend. August 2019

A song by Terry Clark, looking at Ireland as being the last land before reaching America, talks about living on the Sligo coast ´where there are the sea songs, always the sea songs.´

It is surely true that every small island in the world must include sea songs in its cultural history so it was more than appropriate that the concluding weekend of the 2019 Folklorica Festival de San Gines would be opened by a huge gathering bringing together Habaneras Blau Mediterra and The Folklore Group Coros y Danzas Arrecife. Together they would be performing a collection of ´sea songs´ telling of the often bountiful but sometimes tempestuous relationship between land and sea.

In the first week of the festival we had seen and enjoyed performances by the folk lore groups Teugay and Parranda El Golpito and then on the second night of the event we were astonished by the vocal and musical ensembles from acts such as Argones from Gran Canaria, Maxorata from Fuerteventura and Lanzarote´s own Guaguime all accompanied by dancers in national costume, giving is powerful and evocative interpretations of songs form the folk canons of their islands.

We had also been blown away by the power and musicality of one of Lanzarote’s longest established bands in Acatife and the incredible roaring sounds of Achaman.

We had enjoyed ourselves so much that we decided for the second successive weekend to book into the Lancelot Hotel on the front, overlooking El Reducto, so that we would be again be based close to the action. This enabled us to once more dine at The Divina Italia Restaurant whilst listening to the sound checks taking place on a stage only fifty feet from where we were eating.

Already the walkways around the harbour were buzzing with excitement and there was no doubt about how this festival was contributing high energy levels and massive increases of revenue at the scores of dining establishments in the area.

In fact, so busy was the area that by the time we finished our meal at eight thirty, all of the temporary stadium seating was already taken and even the hundreds of loose chairs, set out in only a few minutes by an incredibly hard working event management crew, were being occupied almost as they were set down. Nevertheless, we stealthily approached two spare seats at the end of the front row and staked our claim, just as the second and final sound check was being completed and the musicians were leaving the stage.

When Habineras Blau Mediterra returned, all costumed up and carrying their instruments we realised that this might be the most number of musicians we had ever seen in one band, with certainly almost forty singers and players on stage. Whilst they were fine tuning those instruments and preparing to start the show there was the little matter of a boat race to finish. We have no idea what this had all been about but the final tape was right next to, indeed tied to, one of the stilts in the water on which the stage was built. Through the dusk, coming towards us from the sea, across the water from under the bridges, were five single seater paddled vessels all chasing each other in close proximity. We don’t know what distance the race had been held over but judging from the fatigue evident in the oarsmen it must have been a marathon of sorts. There was a huge burst of applause as they all crossed the line with barely a breadth or a breath between them, and then was a presentation and a press reception and then photo opportunities for the audience.

None of this caused even a ripple to the schedule as the ceremonies concluded at dead on nine pm and the first notes were struck by the musicians on stage. They played a subdued instrumental backdrop as the island’s favourite master of ceremonies formally introduced them and then burst into a song that was perhaps called Senor Kapitan. It swelled with glorious cross gender harmonies with the instrumentalists taking their lead from the accordion, making a really full sound.

A male vocal ensemble delivery gave us a song that seemed to be speaking of life lived on the coast of a small island, and it sounded redolent of a Welsh Male Voice Choir singing Men Of Harlech. The romantic songs the ensemble delivered were usually guitar led, and one in particular had a familiar riff that sounded like Tom Paxton’s Bound For The Mountains And The Sea. They gave us, too, a song about the moonlight, with origins that they suggested belong to Gran Canaria and / or Fuerteventura and their were solo female lead vocals on some songs delivered in contrast to powerful male led choruses. There were also plenty of those songs, beloved of The Canary Islands, that claim audience participation in complex clap-along rhythms often in ¾ time. Their encore was a lively performance of a dance number that if not exactly a song about a love affair was, at least, a celebration of love itself. All this was followed by the kind of gracious presentation and exchange of mementos to commemorate what had been a wonderful performance.

Habaneras Blau Mediterra, all in white shirts, left the stage to thunderous applause and were immediately replaced by three men in black, who stood in a huddle, centre stage, whilst a stage crew took to the wings all the extra paraphernalia of the much larger orchestra that had preceded them.

These three men, of two guitars and an upright bass, were called the Habaneras Gathering, and not only looked like but also sounded a little bit like The Kingston Trio. Once again, what we heard sounded like sea songs, like those we used to love by The Kingston Trio like Bay Of Mexico etc.

This trio of Habaneras Gathering, each in a sea captain’s black hat, sang in perfect close harmony on every number, creating a gentle floating sound throughout their set. This was, obviously, all much lower key than the melodramas of the first group with all their sound and strength. There might have been a risk of losing the mood and attention of the audience but so wistful and hypnotic was their delivery that it was as if they were taking us out to sea on slow boat on a lazy tide.

If I heard the introduction correctly, one song was collected from The Philippines and it was a gently swaying almost lullaby number. A single vocal, over one lonely guitar and a walking bass gave us Dress Of The Night, while even softer harmonies then spoke of the first love between a boy and girl. Cuban rhythms were evident in a song that seemed to celebrate the power and importance of music. Another song we were told had been collected from Alicante, but this was followed by a few songs segued together all containing catchy sing-along choruses well known to the audience who joined in with gusto. A wonderful lead vocal solo, delivered against the close harmonies of the other two performers, brought the show to a beautiful conclusion.

There was another presentation and a photo line-up for the press, including a man introduced by our compere only as The Maestro, and it was obvious how much this character was revered by the musicians, but I regret I could find no further information about the man.

Even as that was taking place, though, any vacated chairs were hastily being stashed away by the sound crew, and within a few minutes the place seemed almost deserted, and even the stadium seating was half empty. This didn’t offer us much promise, then, for the final gathering of the night, by Aseres, scheduled for 11.00 pm (about ten minutes away).

The group turned out to be three very young men, including a percussionist (drummer wouldn’t do him justice,) a singer/guitarist and a bass player. They bounced on to the stage (re-set in seconds it seemed by the technical crew) and blasted out an incredible chord as the singer and his mates all shouted in unison, ´hello Lanzarote´ and as if from nowhere hundreds of music lovers arrived: from the rocks, from the restaurants, from the bars and ice cream parlours and maybe even from the cinema. Where there had been loose seating there were now hundreds of what American singer writer John Stewart would have called his ´loyal friends and front row dancers.´ For an hour or so mums danced with young sons, dads with young daughters, grandmas and grandpas jigged along together and one or several old men ´dad´ danced alone and singularly but with obvious abandon. There were, too, of course, the peacocks; the rara avis with their green eyed feathers in their black fedoras, strutting and strolling along the promenade. Everyone, except for me and Dee, knew all the words to all the songs, and a great time was had by all.

These young lads had grabbed a concert that had seemed to have been all over, taken it into extra time and had brought a huge new crowd to its feet.

As we strolled back to the hotel all we could talk about was how the closing Sunday night event, to be held at Playa Reducto rather than Charco de San Gines, could not possibly match any of the concerts we had seen over the two weeks of the festival.

Because the Sunday night concert was to be right outside our hotel we gained a few minutes of extra time in the day and so I was able to travel through town to watch UD Lanzarote draw their opening league game of the season. I drove there for the mid-day kick off under the most densely black clouds I have ever seen, in the teeth of a sandstorm that saw debris being carried high into the air as, at ground level, it tried to batter my car off the road between the airport and Matagorda.

I had taken that route to pick up a newspaper to get the English scores from the previous day and so ended up risking life and limb in treacherous driving conditions just to learn that United had lost and so had Bolton, in what might prove to be their last ever league match.

I arrived back in perfectly tranquil conditions to join Dee on the roof terrace of the hotel for a Sangria before we crossed the road and, unfolded our chairs on a beach on which there was hardly a grain of sand to be seen. From a distance of maybe two hundred yards from the stage, with thousands of people stretched out before us, I remarked to Dee what a huge audience this was. She told me to look behind me and I was amazed to see almost double that number stretched out behind us. As my jaw dropped in surprise we were hit by a blast of light and sound from the stage from Morat.

It soon became obvious that this was a family friendly hit-band and their repertoire was known to grandparents, parents and children alike. There were even adolescent squeals and screams coming from the front of the stage to greet the opening notes of every song. I nearly joined in with the screams when I heard the jangly guitar sounds that reminded me of The Beatles and The Byrds and The Beach Boys humming. There was also a lovely swirling bass echoing The Eagles of the Hotel California era.

From our viewpoint we could hardly make any out any human forms on the stage itself, but could see a fabulous light show and catch glimpses of the action on the giant screens placed in the wings. The show worked, not only as a spectacle, but also as an audio presentation.

I was thrilled by what I was hearing with strands of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground and what sounded like a banjo led selection of American Civil War songs.

The group played on until five minutes to eleven and then declared the show over to anguished howls from hundreds of young girls.

Then, all the lights went out,….stage lights, and street lights too,… and when my eyes re-adjusted I was astonished to see the thousands on the beach had all sat down and all were now looking the other way, back to Parque Maritimo, from where a firework display was to be shown.

I’m not sure what the word is for someone who ´choreographs´ a firework display but we’ve all seen them, at least on TV, for national events, when the fires in the sky seem to dance to the soundtrack that accompanies them. This was somehow even cleverer. In the absence of a soundtrack the fireworks themselves seemed to create an audio file of percussion made up of whizzes and bangs as everything seemed to explode in exquisite timing.

The colours cascaded down a pitch black sky, and there was one movement that, as we looked up at the figures being created in the night, reminded me of the shots of the underside of the landing space crafts in Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

It was an incredible show but just when we were being given hope it might be never-ending it was over, and we two English people in the crowd could only offer Lanzarote a line from The Kinks and say ´thank you for these days we’ll remember all our lives.´