La Niña de los Peines
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SAETAS AND HOLY WEEK MUSIC. LISTENER'S GUIDE

A discography of flamenco prayer

Martín Guijarro, March 2005
Translation: Gary Cook

Holy Week in Andalucía is also a flamenco affair. The saeta, the flamenco prayer that takes the form of a seguiriya or martinete, is found scattered throughout the history of flamenco recordings. It began life as a Spanish religious and musical tradition; the theorists attribute the adding of a flamenco twist to Enrique el Mellizo, Manuel Centeno, Antonio Chacón and Manuel Torre. Using their structures as a blueprint, this form of cante has evolved into a form of flamenco prayer practised by cantaores from every generation on specific occasions and even in private. Such is the case of La Paquera, as evidenced on the DVD from the series ‘Rito y geografía del cante’. There are also those who took upon themselves the arduous task of making the saeta their centerpiece, as did recently Curro Piñana. To gain an idea of the background of these songs, a wide range of good procession marches is available. Of these, the double volume with audio-visual material entitled ‘Misterios de Sevilla’, covering Holy Week in Seville, deserves special attention. And to round off, there's a brief bibliography of lyrics and chronicles for those who wish to delve deeper.

Nobody knows for sure that Manuel Centeno, Manuel Torre and Enrique el Mellizo were the first exponents but they, at least, were the first cantaores whose saetas were immortalized on gramophone recordings. The compilation album ‘Semana Santa en Sevilla’ contains fifteen jondo prayers recorded between 1930 and 1950. Besides Manuel Centeno and Manuel Torre, featured artists include cantaores of the caliber of La Niña de los Peines, Manolo Caracol, El Gloria, Manuel Vallejo, Pepe Pinto, Canalejas de Puerto Real... Saetas by these artists can also be found on individual albums such as ‘Grandes figuras del flamenco. Volume 3. La Niña de los Peines’, which features the saeta ‘Ay, Pilato’ (Oh, Pilate); ‘Manuel Torres. La leyenda del cante 1909-1930’, which includes the saeta ‘Al son de roncas trompetas’ (To the sound of hoarse trumpets); and ‘Grandes figuras del flamenco. Volume 7. Manolo Caracol’, with the saeta ‘Toitas las madres tienen penas’ (Every mother suffers) listen, the opening track.

Despite the passing of time, cantaores from later generations never neglected religious content in their repertoires, taking on board the forms their predecessors had established. Rafael Romero, Pepe de la Matrona, La Perla de Cadiz, Pepe de la Matrona, Sordera de Jerez... all of these and more decided to make room for the saeta in their recordings.

 

 



 

La Paquera de Jerez is no exception. There was never a Holy Week when she missed her date with Jerez's Cristo de Expiración effigy. Ever since she was a girl she'd seen from the balcony of her family home in calle Cerro Fuerte how her father and her uncles sang saetas to the image of Christ on the crucifix. Miracles sometimes do happen, and the saeta La Paquera de Jerez performed for the Cristo de la Expiración can not only be heard, but can be seen as well. The second chapter of the DVD series ‘Rito y geografía del cante. Cantes primitivos sin guitarra. Tonás. Saetas’ contains a gem of a documentary from the 70s in which the artist from Jerez sings saetas at the Ermita de San Telmo hermitage itself, before going on to explain the background of this family tradition. She herself extols the virtues of cantaora La Sallago's saetas. The cantaora started out as a girl singing saetas to the Virgen de la Esperanza in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and was called upon to perform at processions in Jerez, Cadiz and even Seville. The audio-visual material includes her vocals and her words. The recording also makes room for more aspects of Easter song, with saetas from the celebrated Cuarteleras de Puente Genil, a look at the craftsmanship behind Andalusian parades, the young buglers and drummers rehearsing... All in all a complete picture of the popular, musical and artistic aspects of the Andalusian Holy Week festivities, rounded off by Pepe Marchena with a lesson in the theory of saeta structure.


La Paquera sings saetas to Cristo de la Expiración
(Frame from DVD Rito y geografía del cante. Volumen 2)

The specialists who came up with projects dedicated to Saetas were to come later. In 1997 Manuel Mairena recorded a set entirely given over to saetas entitled ‘Viacrucis’. The album contains a selection of traditional local styles as well as those written by newer songwriters. There are selections from as far afoot as Mairena del Alcor and Alcalá de Guadaira and Triana, with room for Tomás el Nitri and 'saetas carceleras'. And all of them marking points on the 'Way of the Cross' which gives the album its name. El Lebrijano's ‘Lágrimas de cera’ (Tears of wax) isn't exactly an album dedicated to the saeta, but rather to how a cantaor accustomed to delving into other cultures expresses Andalusian religious sentiment. When he performed the songs from the album live at the 2004 Festival Bienal de Sevilla, he got Lucía Montoya to sing the saeta, while the son of María la Perrata took on the rest of the ‘orations’ adapted to a disparate range of flamenco forms: soleá, bulerías and even tangos.

Among the albums containing saetas to come out over the last decade, Vicente Soto Sordera's ‘Tríptico flamenco. Jerez’ featuring the Jerez variation ‘Al Prendimiento’ is worthy of mention, as is ‘Antología de la mujer en el cante’ by Carmen Linares, which contains the style La Niña de la Alfalfa applied back in the twenties to Manuel Font de Anta's composition ‘Amargura’ (Bitterness), and ‘A mi madre Remedios’ by José Menese, with the saeta from La Puebla de Cazalla entitled ‘Redimir al hombre’ (Redeem mankind) listen. As for the younger cantaores, the only one who's taken the plunge for the time being is Curro Piñana. And he didn't stop at a single saeta, but released a whole album. The vocalist from Murcia issued an anthology of saeta in 2003, which features flavors of saeta from Marchena, from Puerto Lumbreras and from Lorca, among others.

To tell the truth, the saeta is a tiny island in an ocean of music. Every step of each fraternity's procession (except for those who walk in silence) is accompanied by bands of buglers and drummers. The range of marches performed is extensive, and often they're written specifically for the purpose rather than being drawn from the traditional repertoire. A few songwriters' names stand out: Manuel Font de Anta, Manuel Ruiz Vidriel, Vicente Gómez-Zarzuela... In Seville, any square or open space will do as an open-air rehearsal studio for these collectives, providing the city with its own background music throughout the year. One of the most wide-ranging recording projects to be released lately covering Seville's Easter parades is the two-volume ‘Misterios de Sevilla’. Each volume comprises two CDs and a DVD with footage direct from the Holy Week processions in Seville. The first volume covers marches the fraternities whose penance falls between Palm Sunday and the Wednesday of Holy Week; and the second volume revolves around the marches that can be heard between the Thursday of Holy Week and Easter Sunday. A complement to these two volumes is the triple album ‘Antología de Oro de las Marchas Cofrades’ (Golden Anthology of the Fraternity Marches).

Anyone wishing to delve deeper into the origins of the saeta has some reading material at their disposal. On the one hand, they have a book entitled ‘La Saeta’, a collection of writings from the late 19th century by José María Sbarbi and Antonio Machado and Álvarez ‘Demófilo’, as well as a collection of saeta lyrics compiled around 1928 by Agustín Aguilar Tejera. And, on the other hand, writer José Luis Ortiz Nuevo collected news articles from the nineteenth century Seville press in a book entitled ‘Quién me presta una escalera. Origen y noticias de saetas y campanilleros en el siglo XIX’ (Who will lend me a ladder. Origins and news related to saetas and campanilleros in the 19th century). The book contains the following quote published by Ricardo Cano in the daily ‘El Progreso’ on 13th April 1900 which sums up the complex religious sentiment of the Andalusian people, which flamenco has also come to make its own:

“When on occasions such as the present, the Christian world still congregates under church domes, and lifts its thoughts to God, amongst clouds of incense and mystical rhythms; the people who have generosity flowing through their veins and the sun imprisoned within their eyes, rush out into the streets. And as they follow the parades, they intone, without music or artistry, the saeta, that pleasant, mournful song that makes our hearts beat and brings tears to our eyes.”

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