Flamenco Songs. Every year the most well-known and prestigious flamenco festival in all of Spain is celebrated in La Unión, in the Region of Murcia.
Every year the most well-known and prestigious flamenco festival in all of Spain is celebrated in the town of La Unión, in the Region of Murcia. Year after year, as far back as 1961, numerous flamenco artists have pitted their artistic abilities against each other in the setting of La Unión´s former public market. This year the International Festival of Flamenco Songs from the Mining Community (el Festival Internacional del Cante de las Minas) will celebrate its 55th anniversary.
The Cathedral of Flamenco Singing
Since 1978 this incomparable, cultural and musical event has been celebrated on a yearly basis in La Unión´s former market, a beautiful and modernistic building which has become the hub of this event. During the first few years of this festival (which celebrated its first edition in 1961) the performances and competition took place in the mountainous area surrounding La Unión´s mining region, from which the festival takes its name. “The songs from the mining community” ("El cante de las minas") that is to say“the miners´ songs” ("canteminero") are styles (palos, if we are to use the correct flamenco jargon) which are typically thought of as the purest forms of flamenco or Andalusian gipsy singing.
These styles of flamenco singing bring to life and incorporate sounds, rhythms and lyrics which reflectin all its intensity the miners' hard daily life and suffering.
This festival is particularly focused on discovering talented youngsters who can show off their artistic skills in 4 different disciplines: the three original ones are voice (flamenco singing), guitar playing (known as toque in the flamenco jargon) and dancing but, as of 2009, including other instruments such as the marimba (a percussion instrument), the piano or the flute.
There is also another category, with the general title “culture”, which includes various aspects related to the world of flamenco (poetry, visual arts, means of communication, gastronomy, etc.) and which has formed an integral part of this great festival for 14 years.
The actual competition, the festival´s main event, is preceded by a lengthy elimination and ranking process composed of different stages which take place across the length and breadth of Spain.
This yearly flamenco festival takes place during the first two weeks of August. During the first few days, there are numerous conferences, cinema nights, gastronomic tasting events and performances by different artists. All of these activities are usually free. In addition to all these events, you can also actively participate in flamenco workshops: both beginner as well as more advanced courses for students at a higher level and enthusiasts are offered. Various types of courses will be taught including “flamenco singing,” “dancing,” “guitar playing” or “percussion” courses. The flamenco galas, which are acustomary part of the schedule, are another important event during the International Festival of Flamenco Songs from the Mining Community. They are always celebrated before the Festival´s traditional competition. The stars of these galas are usually prestigious artists from the world of flamenco, who have won prizes at previous editions of the festival. The incomparable singer Aurora Vargas and other stars such as Argentina, Miguel Poveda and José Mercé or the dancer Sara Baras have taken center stage at previous editions of the festival away from the competition itself. The ticketprices vary depending on the galas, the different stages of the competition and the seats, and they usually range from between 11 and 70€. To get more information about the schedule, events, activities and prices you should consult the Festival´s official website.
One of the final activities you can do at the International Festival of Flamenco Songs from the Mining Community is to visit its museum. It has comprehensive information about the origins and history of the festival, about how tough it was to work in the mines and about the styles of flamenco singing which emerged as a consequence of this livelihood. Away from the stalls which are set up on the site of the former market, a building which many people call the “cathedral of flamenco singing,” there will, of course, be cafes, bars and small flamenco dance floors run by flamenco groups and organizations from La Unión. Between performances you will welcome the opportunity to enjoy a fine glass of wine or a tasty snack.
Four Grand Prizes
The official competition always takes place during the last 4 days of the festival and it is composed of 3 preliminary rounds and the final, where 4 grand prizes will be awarded: the oldest and most coveted of these is the “Lámpara Minera,” in the category of flamenco singing, but there are also the “BordónMinero Prize” for guitar playing, the “Desplante Prize” for dancing and the “Filón Prize” for other instruments. The names of these prizes are allusions, relating perhaps to the mining industry, toflamenco singing which lights up the life of flamenco lovers ( la lámpara-the lamp) , the guitar strings ( el bordón- bass string), the haughty poise of the male or female dancers (el desplante-the wrong stance), and finally, the mineral seam whose discovery delights miners (el filón-seam). There are also special prizes, like “the special prize for young flamenco singers” ( younger than 25) and the prize for the best performance and execution of other flamenco palos ( styles), such as the bulerías, fandangos, tientos, soleá, tangos, seguiriyas and malagueñas, etc. The prize fund ranges from between 3.000 to 15.000 Euros. Generally the festival´s winners find that their prizes are sufficient catalysts to help them launch successful artistic careers.
If you want to experience wholeheartedly the most authentic forms of flamenco and the rhythm and feeling of this art form while staying out until the small hours, you should not miss the International Festival of Flamenco Songs from the Mining Community. The former marketplace will be filled with a fervent and heartbreaking atmosphere which will spread outside its walls reaching all corners of La Unión. During the festival you will experience very intense feelings, of the purest variety, which invade your soul in a way which you cannot describe. Without a doubt, the most comforting thing that you will take away from this event, whether you are a flamenco expert or a complete beginner, is an immense positive energy which stirs up and arouses, within you, this deep state of tension, suffering and lament transmitted by the purest forms of flamenco. This festival will be a multisensory and at the same time entrancing experience, with the applause of a tremendously appreciative and emotional audience being the only thing which can bring you back to reality. If you are a flamenco lover and you want to enjoy your life, the best thing to do is to come to La Unión in August and to participate in the events of the greatest flamenco festival.