Fiestas De Nuestra Senora del Carmen
Plaza De La Mareta del Villa De Teguise
Saturday 8th July 12.30 to 18.30
The Festival Of The Virgin Del Carmen is celebrated in all the municipalities of Lanzarote at this time of year. There is particular colour and pageantry in the fiestas and events held in the coastal towns, but in the former capital, Teguise, they do it slightly differently. This year, the town is promoting a wide and diverse series of events running from 6th to 22nd July.
The Día de la Virgen del Carmen is celebrated on July 16th in many coastal towns and villages across mainland Spain and throughout its islands. Places as diverse as Almuñecar, on the coast of Granada province, and Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife share the festival with many other coastal communities in Andalucia, Murcia, Valencia and Catalonia.
The Old Testament prophet Elias, towards the end of his life, became a hermit in a cave on Mount Carmelo. Hundreds of years later, pilgrims trying to follow in the prophet’s footsteps, invoked the protection of the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmelo – Stella Maris, the Virgin of Carmen. Now, the Virgin is the patroness and protector of all seamen, fishermen and even, as we shall see later, scuba divers.
Most of the Día de la Virgen del Carmen traditions involve at least one parade through the town, making its way to the sea front. Usually, a flower-strewn effigy of the Virgin is carried through the streets by a group of the local fishermen. When they reach the sea, they are usually met by a flotilla of illuminated and boats, all sounding their horns and decorated by flags and flowers. After prayers are made for all those at sea, the statue is then customarily taken on a boat, around the local harbour as the fireworks and bands accompany her journey.
The Virgin, according to the legend, is responsible for keeping the waters around the shore clean and safe; many devotees used to refuse to swim until after July 16th!
Obviously each of the towns holding their own celebrations will adapt the proceedings according to their own traditions. Since 1981, for example, when local scuba divers placed an image of the Virgin on the sea bed, a part of the tradition in Malaga has involved divers paying their own respects to their underwater patron. In Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife doves are released when the Virgin is taken onto the boat.
In our home town of Playa Blanca, here on Lanzarote, the local priest is taken out to sea on a boat surrounded by an array of freshly washed down and licked by paint, to look at their best when they follow and settle by the lead boat to hear special mass, delivered, at sea by the priest, at sea, with often thousands of spectators watching from the sea walks and rocks.
Always fascinating for visitors, the Día de la Virgen is similar to many of the traditional Spanish festivals in that it manages to combine religious devotion with a seemingly endless capacity for partying – without any sense of incongruity. Being held in the middle of a Canary Island summer, barbecues on the beach feature strongly in many places – and very late nights, of course.
As all the boats later return home, it is not uncommon to see the priest jump off the boat and wade in the water (to reference my favourite gospel song), often knee deep, and we have seen the odd mishap with the priest ending up fully soaked.
Always a stirring celebration, and often profoundly moving, Día de la Virgen days are amongst the most important celebrations on the Spanish mainland and on the islands, in, often uniting visitors and local inhabitants who together symbolically acknowledge the need for protection for ‘those in peril on the sea´ (to reference one of my favourite hymns that I remember from my primary school days some sixty years ago).
So on Saturday 8th July 2023, my wife Dee and I set out on what would be the first of several visits in July to Teguise, geographically pretty much in the centre of the island. The advertising posters, all over the town and the rest of Lanzarote are not always directed at we who don’t speak Spanish so, although we had seen such advertising on garage counters or tied to lamp-posts I was glad to see a poster included in Miguel’s What’s On Lanzarote on line site, for which I write a weekly column. It was from that source we had learned about the day´s events.
Even then we had to do some bits of research. The events were taking place around a small stage built in front of the ´tent´ that will also serve as a venue for other concerts over the period of the festival. This was all taking place in the large square to which the Sunday morning market has recently been moved to accommodate the ever-increasing number of visitors.
The first thing we noticed was that parked in front of the very long wall that runs along the ´back´of the square were around twenty classic cars, parked to show them at their best by their proud owners.
From Rolls Royce to Mini, they were all there, gleaming and immaculate, with a dozen scooters and even more motor bikes demanding our attention, so we had a wander and took some photographs. As we came back down the line we were delighted to see that open again after all this time was La Palmera, that until it closed down as a result of the pandemic, was the absolute epitome to me of what a blues bar should be: Low Ceilinged, dimly lit, a well stocked bar, good acoustics, very visible stage, a strong guest lisd,t of excellent musicians of the genre and a fantastic menu.
We both stopped in surprise to see the place with an open front door once more, and we headed straight over to it and through it. At the moment it is only opening on Saturdays and Sundays, when the town best attracts visitors, but we were told the owners will soon be having a trial run of Friday openings, too, though whether or not Friday will once again become the live music night is uncertain.
With the sound in the square still being check, checked and one, twod too, and lots of si, si it was like every sound check you have ever heard. There was though, a strange phenomenon, due to Lanzarote’s wind system, open deserted landscapes and high mountains and walls and buildings, we found ourselves in the midst of the best stereo separation I had ever heard, as the sound from the speakers flew across the square, hit the wall and bounced back.
We sat outside the bar, scoffing nacho and chips and quaffing white wine (Dee) and beer (me). It was great stuff and the service was friendly and prompt and we were able to return to the front of the stage just as the opening band, Nueva Stella introduced their first number. It was lively and bouncy and delivered with great energy by a male and female singing and dancing duo and their keyboard accompanist.
There were all sorts of sinewy, snaky, Latin American riffs going on as three ladies of a certain age followed suit with some joyous and soulful dancing in front of the stage.
The overall feel I took from the music was that of a modern Mariarchi sound, incorporating other genres such as ranchera songs, the bolero ranchero and even the cumbia from Colombia. into its traditional string music, song and trumpet format. Mariarchi is actually Mexico´s most emblematic music but From my early teens I have been a fan of how Linda Ronstadt incorporated Mariarchi in to her rock gigs. Mariachi is still very popular in Mexico and other parts of the world, especially in countries where it is associated with the culture and traditions. It offers an insight into Mexican culture and remains some of the country’s most popular music.
What the band here were offering was an infectious and irresistible fusion of Latin America, Cuban and Mexican sounds and those loyal friends and front row dancers were stepping and swaying, somehow seemingly knowing every word of every song.
I am not being disparaging to Nueva Stella in saying that much of their music was in the same tempo. This was a great opportunity to demonstrate what they obviously do best. They had been invited, I guess, so that they could create a festival atmosphere and engage with the static audience and the passers by, as well as the dancers. Constantly, throughout the performance, young mums and dads would take their young children out on to the dance floor, where they could run around and giggle as dad ´dad-danced´.
The keyboard and backing tracks were in perfect sync and the vocal duo were light on their feet, too, stepping out, in white t shirts and black shorts like George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in Wham, when they were big at the Club Tropicana. These two people stepped and bopped with as much good timing and joy as Wham used to,…..and at the end of their high-energy ninety minute performance, there was one of those original three dancers, still moving, and never putting a foot wrong.
The refreshment van parked nearby seemed to be doing brisk trade, so while Dee found a bench in the shade in a leafy glade, I went over and purchased a wine and a half of beer, before we listened to a sound check that didn’t seem to be going as smoothly as had that of the mariarchi band.
Café Con Leche, being a more acoustic set might have required a little more precision in their mix, and the diligence of them and their sound man was certainly subsequently rewarded by clear, crisp and dreamy vocal and acoustic deliveries.
They were perfect to follow the high energy of the past hour or two, and we remained in our ´best bench in the house´ to listen to a set that put me in mind of the English folk music of the sixties and seventies. There were echoes of Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor and even of the wonderful Magna Carta.
There were pretty guitar runs, gentle vocals and haunting choruses, and I even suspect some of the material might have been self penned.
The show was now running late, meaning we wouldn’t be able to catch the two final acts by Sin Red Social and DJ Juan Hernandez, which I guess would have drawn a different évening´crowd.
Nevertheless, we couldn’t complain. This had been a free event and we had seen two excellent groups, whilst sitting in the shade from the glorious sunshine, amidst hundreds of people, watching the young parents and their tiny dancers, surrounded by classic vehicles, with the castle on the horizon behind them. seemingly protecting us today as it has for over four centuries
What more could we have asked ?