If we look it up in a dictionary, the word “folk” refers to a set of beliefs, customs and traditions appertaining to a group of people or a culture, which includes dances, music, legends, tales, craftworks, etc.
Without exploring the origins of Canarian music in depth – since it would be too tall an order for this limited space, we can establish that it is a blend of indigenous percussion music with Portuguese, French, Genoese, German, British, Flemish, even Caribbean, but most importantly Spanish influences. This can be easily heard in the notes, rhythms and in some cases even in the songs’ names –seguidillas, malagueñas, etc. The result is a rich variety of songs: from the saddest malagueñas to the more cheerful isas, including the saucy and mocking polkas, the melodious folias, as well as those known as berlinas and mazurkas.
In short, endless tonalities, all of which are steeped in Canarian character and are yet another proof of its singularity and identity. There are particular variations to these in the different islands, all sharing a common “air”. Differences can even be noted from town to town within one island. Specific songs belonging only to one island are also common -the “vivo” in El Hierro, “tanganillo” in Tenerife or “sirinoque” in La Palma, to name but a few.
Each song is accompanied by a dance. According to chronicles, originally there were only three types of dances: competitive -to showcase dancing skills-, ritual -praying for rain- and festive; all of them with very curious connotations. The latter were danced in the manner of two opposing rows of people. The dancers would come closer and then dance away rhythmically. In dance, this is technically known as “requirement and rejection dance”. This dance was named after the Canarias and was adopted in Spain and later on in Europe. We have mentioned the sirinoque, danced in La Palma, which is the essence of this kind of dance.
Traditional songs and dances go hand in hand with traditional costumes. Each island boasts its own characteristic men’s and women’s traditional outfit, which also vary among different social classes. Oddly enough, these costumes show an uncanny resemblance with those seen in the islands of Madeira and Azores, belonging to Portugal.
And since we are discussing music and dance, we cannot help but make a special mention to the traditional instruments used: the guitar, the bandurria, lutes, drums, the tambourine, chácaras –a type of castanets used in the islands- and timples, the latter being the most representative of all. It is said to be a derivative of the baroque guitar. This sort of small guitar measuring 40 cm in length can have 4-5 strings and a similar voice box to that of the guitar. It is normally used as an accompanying instrument, but its popularity as a soloist instrument has risen in recent years thanks to the contribution of renowned artists such as Benito Cabrera, Domingo Rodríguez (El Colorao), and the deceased José Antonio Ramos.
Ever since the 60s, songs, dances, costumes and folk in general have gradually experienced rising popularity, evidenced by the increase in people attending romerias, folk dances known as “baile de magos” and festivities as symbolic as Fiestas de Mayo in Santa Cruz, the Romería de San Benito pilgrimage, in La Laguna, and La Bajada de la Virgen de Los Reyes in El Hierro, in which locals parade the image of the Virgin from a sanctuary to the capital city while dancing and singing. Music groups such as Los Sabandeños have transcended the archipelago’s borders and gained international recognition by showing the world an important aspect of the Canarian culture.