During spring and early summer, the southernmost part of Andalucía transforms into a kaleidoscope of colour and illumination. Dozens of local and national fiestas and celebrations take place all over the province, including ferias, music festivals and cultural events of all genres. It is also the season of the time-honoured flamenco festivals that are staged in most towns and villages, and it is at these festivals that one will occasionally witness a little of the mysterious phenomenon that makes this art so special.
Flamenco festivals are excellent places to enjoy the best styles of gypsy flamenco and, although colourful and entertaining, they are more for the hardened dyed-in-the-wool aficionado.
One needs to possess great stamina to endure five or six hours of pure cante jondo (deep song), but if it is the real flamenco that one is seeking, then the traditional festival is the perfect ambience to enjoy it.
The festivals take place in an open field, an amphitheatre, bullring or playground and the mood is always relaxed and welcoming.
Unfortunately, many of these festivals have transformed into two and three day events and in doing so, they have lost much of the nostalgic festival ambience.
This is certainly the case with Seville’s long-running flamenco Biennale, and even Malaga’s version of this long drawn out festival has given over to flamenco fusion and flamenco pop.
The small town festivals are much more intimate and authentic, especially if there is a local artist appearing on the bill, whereas the larger events are now suffering from severe commercialisation, which has little to do with the true side of this predominantly gypsy art.
Well established artists
Today, normally between the months of June and September, flamenco festivals are held throughout Andalusia and these are excellent opportunities to witness this art at its purest.
The festivals are organised by the local town council and each festival is preceded by a competition. Singers travel from all over Andalucía to compete for a first prize of around 3,000 euros, and a chance to appear in the festival alongside some of the biggest names in the business.
The festivals will usually promote one or two up-and-coming singers, as well as established artists such as El Cabrero, Manuel Moreno, Rancapino and La Cañeta de Malaga.
It will usually start around 11pm at night and go on until about 3.30 in the morning, or later depending on the mood.
Most festivals are dedicated to singing, although there is always a dance spectacular half way through the night. The stage will consist of nothing other than a singer seated on the iconic high-backed Andalusian chair, accompanied by a guitarist who is hunched over his instrument like a vulture over its prey. They may be joined by a group of palmeras, the guys who clap out the intricate rhythms, and they will often break into a quick dance routine while the singer is performing.
The fin de fiesta, the end of party, is always a joyous occasion, because everyone who has performed will return to the stage to participate in the final song; usually a bulería.
This takes place around three or four in the morning, and yet the artists will still be charged with energy, seemingly never wanting to end the night.
There are plentiful flamenco festivals in the province of Malaga and these events attract some of the greatest artistes one could possibly hope to see.
Malaga has long been associated with the flamenco song, giving rise to the popular line, Malaga Cantaora, in the poem, Andalucía, penned by Manuel Machado.
The season kicks off with the Torre del Cante, an excellent festival held in Alhaurín de la Torre, now in its fortieth year.
Numerous important festivals, most of which have been in existence for more than 25 years, are held in July and August. Entrance fees vary and one can expect to pay between five and twenty-five euros, although some are free.
Festival del Cante in Álora, normally held on the last Friday of July, is an intimate and truly traditional festival that attracts many named performers.
The Festival de Flamenco in Coín is another well attended event that also takes place on the last Friday of July. This is one of the free festivals and is held in the Plaza Bermúdez de la Rubia, in the centre of Coín.
The Festival de Cante Grande in Casabermeja is held on the Saturday nearest to the festivities of Santiago and Santa Ana, usually towards the end of July.
Casabermeja has strong connection to the art of flamenco. The small enclave, which is nestled in the foothills of the Montes de Malaga, is famed for its Verdiales and fandaguillos, both of which evolved from the mountains that surround it.
The Luna Flamenca in Guaro has been running for over 25 years and this two-day event takes place on the second weekend in July.
The Festival Cante Grande in Ronda is one of the oldest flamenco festivals in the province of Malaga. Celebrated during the month of August in the picturesque Murallas del Carmen, this festival has a long and interesting history.
Ojén’s Festival Flamenco Castillo del Cante is held on the first Saturday of August and this is another of the oldest in the province of Malaga.
Also the festival in Torremolinos, which has been running for 30 years, is another popular gathering of flamenco. Held in the municipal auditorium close to the feria ground on the last Friday of August, this festival presents some of the top names on the circuit.
Fuengirola celebrates two festivals, the first of which is the Festival de Santa Fe, held on the second Saturday of July. The second, El Jabegote Juan de la Loma, is staged in the Palacio de la Paz in October.
Festivals are also held in Alcaucín, El Burgo, Benamádena, Mijas, Estepona, Alhaurín El Grande and Antequera.
For more information, www.juntadeandalucia.es