Verdiales at Feria de Comares. Comares is one of the village with the strongest Verdiales tradition. It is even the place of origin of a style of the same name
Verdiales during the Feria de Comares. Credit Bryan Ledgard

Verdiales, the primeval sound of the Malaga Mountain

There is an unreal atmosphere, as everything is an echo of something hidden behind. Nonetheless, this silence is the origin of a beautiful, ancient music tradition: the Verdiales, the sound of the Mountain of Malaga.

Abstract: Verdiales of Malaga

Auxarquia is a dry land of steep mountains and poor vegetation 30 km North East of Malaga. The Mediterranean Sea glimmers far away, on the horizon: it looks as a mirage, an illusion of freshness. A restless sun rules this landscape. The villages are white of lime and looks as wet of a liquid fire when the sun bites them. They curled up on their own streets, as trying to hide them self from the aggressive nature that surrounds them. The streets wind up as in a ball of white wool. They look an illusory presence getting lost in the vastness of the land, trembling architecture about to disappear.

A panoramic view of Axarquia and MOnte de Malaga, home land of Verdiales de Malaga
A typical landsacpe of Axarquia. Credit Por los Caminos de Malaga

Night comes slowly and strangely. The sun vanishes behind the mountain, but its light lasts much longer: the rocks are still enlightened from the back and the valleys are already dark. A dense mist often fills the valleys and gives them the appearance of misty lakes. The wind blows and whispers a lullaby as of a memory of before the humans, and what is not human opens its eyes as to unveil a secret. We can see houses and people, but this fact does not delete the sensation that Auxarquia is a deserted land.

The silence is absolute, heavy, as made of a thicker substance. The human voices sound as the meaningless protest of a child against a giant. Even the singing of the birds are stronger than the houses. There are people here, and tourists, and car, but their sounds are inconsistents, and unable to overcome the silence. The atmosphere is unreal, as everything is an echo of something hidden behind. Nonetheless, this silence is the origin of a beautiful, ancient music tradition: the Verdiales, the primeval sound of the Mountain of Malaga.

A Brief history of the Verdiales de Malaga

The word Verdiales start to be widely used around the half of XX century, and remit both to a variety of olives and to the area where those olives are cultivated. Before that time, and often still today, the act to play and dance the music was called simply “Fiesta” which means “Party”.

The music structures, the use of instruments as crotals and tambourine, the dates of the most important gathering around solstice, and some element of Verdiales aesthetic, betray an ancient origin. According to musicologists as Miguel Romero Esteo, Verdiales could be directly linked to Crete and Minoan Time. Nonetheless, we have to assume that we are facing an oral tradition, very recently recorded and properly documented by anthropologists, historians and musicologist. Theories cannot be proved not refused because of a lack of proper documentation.

Verdiales dancers
Verdiales dancers Credit Municipality of Malaga

What clearly result from an analysis of Verdiales, both on a music and social ground, is that this tradition is part of a long story that began in the darkness of the ancient past of the Mediterranean Sea. Successive civilizations that occupied Auxarquia and the Mountain of Malaga (Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Arabic, Germanic) nested new elements on the primeval substratum. What we listen to in present time is just the end of an uninterrupted process of cultural stratification. The primeval substratum did not get lost but evolved. This means that the roots of Verdiales belong to Pre-Roman time, but Verdiales itself is a much more recent creation.

Verdiales is a countryside music, expression of a society devoted to farming. The locals fought with a constant lack of water, and waited the rain as a blessing. The agriculture was focused on olive and grape that give a sweet, strong wine. The resources did not allow big cattle but goats and sheep.

A Panda de Verdiales during the Fiesta Mayor
A Panda de Verdiales during the Fiesta Mayor Credit Municipality of Malaga

This farming society actually disappeared. In this last decades many people fled to bigger cities or to the coast. The population is seriously reduced, the economy drastically changed as well as the landscape. The pressure of tourism is somehow dramatic. Traditional music is an alive creature, it reflects the social structure, the economic processes and the landscape. Every change of one of these elements directly affect the music.

We recently assisted to a sort of codification of the music. There are schools and associations that gathers the pandas, the spontaneous way to play has been somehow organized in a more official way. As happened to other traditional musics, the musicians began to be more professional, to focus on the perfection of the execution more than the pure expression of feelings or needs, and the social role of the music lost its original significance and became more and more a matter of art and a way to strengthening the cultural identity in a globalized world.

The Pandas de Verdiales

Sea shell announcing the arraival of the Panda of Verdiales
The sea shell announced the arrival of the Pandas. Credit Municipality of Malaga

Panda is the group of people who play Verdiales. A basic ensemble is made by a violin as leading instrument, a guitar, two players of Platillos (crotals), one Laud, one Pandero (a big noisy tambourine), 2 castanuelas, and at least two dancers, preferably one man and one woman. The basic ensemble can be enlarged up to 4 guitar, for every guitar added a platillos player is added, few castanuelas, and more dancers. Pandero, violin, and laud are never more than one. In the old time a man announced the arrival of the Panda blowing in a sea shell. This deep rounded sound was the signal that the party was about to start.

Verdiales dancer wearing traditional clothes
Verdiales dancer. Credit Antonio

In the old time women were allowed only to dance, sing, and play platillos. Nowadays, it is easy find virtuoso women playing violin, tambourine, or guitar. The members of the Pandas dress traditional clothing. The most characteristic elements is the hat. It is covered by flowers, colorful bows, pearls, all of the most striking colors.

The tradition is often, but not exclusively, transmitted between family members.

A rather technical music analisys of the Verdiales de Malaga.

Verdiales is both a loud, quick, and powerful music and a lively dance. The violin call for the beginning, just few notes to awake all the band and make the music fill the air as a kick. The chords of the guitar and the melody of the violin keep a constant tension. There is no real solution nor a proper climax, the sensation is that the melody point constantly “high”, the end left the sensation of something unfinished.

Tambourine and crotals beat to the hearing with an obsessive repetitive rhythm, as to make you lose consciousness. It looks to me that this “noisy” attitude is a way to affirm human presence in the vastness of a land overcame by an immense silence, but maybe, it is just the primeval substratum emerging in the music.

Verdiales shares common elements with other forms of Fandango. It has often been said that Verdiales are the most primitive form of Fandango and that played an important role in the evolution of Fandango Flamenco.
Verdiales is basically modal music. The difference with tonal music, as pop or classic music, can be shocking for a not accustomed listener.

The most used scale could be defined as “diatonic E” so an E scale without alterations. The few alteration we can listen to are: the 5th degree lowered of a halftone, or the 2nd and/or the 3rd degree raised of a halftone. We can find, as in many other Spanish traditional music styles, what has been called “Phrygian cadence”. A typical Verdiales chord sequence is E-C-F-C-G-C-F-E.

Another characteristic of Verdiales is the uniformity of the instrumental accompaniment and the variety of the singing. We often see a lack of correspondence or, better said, harmony between the chords and the melody. Musicologists think that this phenomenon was originated by the meeting and fusion of the Arabic modal singing and the Western tonal system.

The singing is almost a shout. It is a traditional way to sing, it comes from the flesh, from the belly, the purpose is far beyond the mere beauty and respond to pure instinct: what matter is the expression of a feeling. The lyrics are “coplas” of octosyllabic verses grouped into four or five. Normally there is no chorus. The even verses end in rhyme the odd are free. The voice moves trough one degree of the scale to the next, very rarely the voice skip 2 degrees. It has been noted a “descending tendency” of the melody totally in contrast with the feeling we perceive of a “constant growing”.

The rhythm is obsessive and, as tarantella in Italy, betrays an origin as a ritual music, a precious heritage of the Mediterranean Sea. The rhythm move around a cell of one quarter notes followed by 2 eight note on a ¾ rhythm. Especially during solo instrument we notice cycles of 12 notes coming from a subdivision of the ¾ rhythm into 1/16 notes as in Flamenco.

There are three styles, Comares, Almogia, Montes. Comares style is probably the “richest” musically speaking due to the primary role of string instrument. The Montes style is considered the most “primitive” (in a good way), powerful and “cleaner” of the styles. Almogia style is the quickest.

In Verdiales “vocabulary” a “Rebezo” is a section of a “show”. During old time people used to get a break from the job every few hours (maybe because they worked all day long?). The working time before a break was called “Rebezo”. Normally a show is made by 4 or 5 “rebezos” with short breaks in the middle.
Verdiales are played both during official occasion as weddings or the saint patron day, or as a spontaneous manifestation. Nowadays contests and proper shows represent one more occasion to play Verdiales.

Even if there are schools and a certain tendency to code the music, Verdiales is mainly an alive traditional music out of schemes: the music change over the time and according with players, places, occasions.

Where and when to listen to Verdiales de Malaga

The biggest Verdiales gathering is the “Fiesta Mayor de Verdieles de Malaga” at Puerto de Las Torres (Malaga). Every 28th of December around 30 Pandas gather here to establish the better one.

Verdiales during the Fiesta Mayor in 2014
Verdiales during Fiesta Mayor 2014 Credit Municipality of Malaga

The areas with the strongest tradition, and place of origin of Verdiales, are the Mountain of Malaga and Auxarquia. Nonetheless Verdiales can be found in Malaga Coast, the area of Antequera, Ronda, and, due to migrants, Almeria.

In the places mentioned above there are plenty of chances to listen to verdiales both during public occasions as patron day, weddings, and other local festivity, and for the simply music sake. Summer months have the higher concentration of shows. I wrote a list (not complete) of villages where to listen to the different styles. You can easily contact the municipality of the villages I listed at the bottom the article to get information.

Another easy way to know where and when listen to Verdiales is contact one of the pandas or a Verdiales school. Almost all the pandas and Verdiales school joined the Federatión Provincial de Pandas de Verdiales. This is their telephone number (+34) 952 433 389 and Facebook page. They have a website in Spanish with a complete contact list of  the Pandas. I hope some of them speak English…

List of villages where to listen to Verdiales de Malaga

Comares Style: Comares, Colmenar, Periana, Rio Gordo, Benamargosa

Almogia Style: Almogia, Villanueva de la Concepción, Benagalbon, Campanilla, Pizarra, Cártama, Alora

Montes Style: Casabermeja y Arroyo Coche, Santo Pitar, Totalán y Benagalbón, Jaboneros, Malaga City.

Disclaimer
I am a musician myself. This article comes from a short week traveling in Auxarquia and jamming with local Pandas, completed by few days of library research in Malaga. Verdiales is a huge argument that spread on a big geographic area and on a long time. It presents great difficulties due to the lack of documentation. That’s to say: weight up my words, compares with the one of others and, if you feel there are mistakes or important information missed, please, post a comment. I will be happy to update the article if needed.

 

 

Gabi

I am Gabi, an itinerant traditional music player and storyteller, founder and content writer of OTW.

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