If you are planning to visit southern Spain during the Holy Week (Semana Santa), you may be able to chance upon a unique form of flamenco called Saetas, exclusively sang during this time. These are religious songs in the form of chants worshiping the decorated figurines of Jesus and Mary at seemingly endless processions during a full week (April 14-21 this year).
Saeta is performed a palo seco (without guitar accompaniment), some in aire libre (free rhythm). It is neither danced nor played. Some say that Saeta means an arrow straight to the heart of God. And if you hear one, in the proper solemn atmosphere, you might just agree. As D.E. Pohren puts it in “Art of Flamenco“, saeteros (singers of saeta) sing “of the suffering, death, and majesty of Jesus Christ, and of the grief of the Virgin Mary.” Some sing of lighter tones such as the following simpatica gypsy saeta:
De las flores mas bonitas (I am going to make a crown)
voy a jace una corona (of the prettiest flowers)
pa ponersela a Maria (to put on Mary)
hermosisima paloma (beautiful dove)
In some parts of Andalucia (such as Jerez de la Frontera), there are Saeta competitions in the weeks leading up to Easter. This one that you cannot miss while you are here, whether you are a believer or not, for it is a primitive song that date backs centuries and made its way into flamenco.
saeta schedule in jerez de la frontera 2019
UPDATE: On 11 April, P.F. Buena Gente announced that the scheduled saeta finals are only for guests with invitations and that there are no more tickets available.
Pena Flamenca Los Cernicalos will have a Saeta-related FREE event (entrada libre hasta completar el aforo) until full at 22:00 on Friday, 12 April on calle Sancho Vizcaino 25). See poster below.
For documentation: Pena La Buleria also had one with a presentation of a book about saeta (and of course some saeteros) on 4 April (calle Empedrada 20), entrada libre y gratuita.
Here below is the schedule for Peña Flamenca Buena Gente’ Saeta competition where you can reliably see a Saeta performance in the week before Easter.
So keep your ears open, particularly for those improvised Saetas in the streets. Some flamencos only sing this type of flamenco song and only during this week.
Here’s an under 2-minute example from Joaquín el Zambo al Prendimiento about the gypsies of Barrio Santiago. Of course, it’s something else to see live. . . the religious rites and rituals of man.