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The Cantada d’Havaneres (Singing of Havaneres Festival) in the picturesque coastal town of Calella de Palafrugell, in La Costa Brava, is a festival of traditional sea shanties brought back from Cuba by Catalan sailors in the 19th Century when Cuba was still a colony of the Spanish Empire, which tell of lost loves and faraway ancestors. These lovely sing-songs are usually accompanied by guitar and accordion, and sometimes bass. Havaneres concerts are staged throughout the summer, the top event being the amazing Cantada d’Havaneres held every end of June at Calella’s port amidst the little yatchs and fishermen boats giving it a special cozyness. If you don’t manage to hear a concert of Havaneras, there are a couple of cafes with a distinctly havanera flavor. Havaneres are usually listened to while sipping rom cremat, or rum flambed with coffee beans in terra cotta dishes.

What we know today as havaneres are the result of a long and complex series of historic and cultural events. It seems certain that the origins of havaneres was in Cuba in the 19th century. The first seeds were to be found a little earlier, when the rhythm of a European dance known as the contradansa (originating from England in the 16th century with the name country dance, and reaching France a century later) arrived at the island. Cuban musicians incorporated the rhythm of the European contradansa, not in its pure state however, but modified with ancestral African music, which as time went on, was to become what we know as havaneres today. They reached the Spanish peninsular through zarzuelas, many of which contain havaneres (La verbena de la Paloma, Don Gil de Alcal, etc.) Classical music also includes Havaneres in its repertoire. They can ben found in the works of Ravel, Debussy, Albniz, Falla, Montsalvatge and so on. The best known of this genre is Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

In Catalonia there has always been a tradition that groups of people sing the music of their times in the taverns, meaning that they sang fragments of the better-known zarzuelas, and therefore also their havaneres. In 1948 the book “Àlbum d’Havaneres” was published, which was collection of popular havaneres by Xavier Montsalvatge. Some years later, in 1966, another collection of texts and scores was published, called “Calella de Palafrugell i les havaneres”, which had received assessment from the veteran singer Ernest Morat. In 1966 he and the Amics de Calella (Friends of Calella) started the now traditional performance of Havaneres in Calella de Palafrugell, at which over recent years no less than 30.000 people have attended, making this town the unofficial capital of this form of song.

WHEN?: end of June/early July

How to get there from Barcelona

More information: -only in Catalan -official town council site

The audio is in Catalan as it’s an official broadcast of the festival from  TV3 -the Catalan national TV broadcaster- yet the video will give you an idea on what to expect when visiting the event. One of the most emotional moments of the festival occurs when collectively singing of the havaneres “La Bella Lola”, a very popular tune of Basque origin and “El meu avi”, a very patriotic Catalan havanera (jump to 1:24:45 and 1:29:25 in the video)

Video: © TV3 Televisió de Catalunya

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