Benaque Christmas singing competition

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Benaque Certamen de Pastorales 2018

Benaque Christmas singing competition and craft fair, Sunday, 2nd December

Mark the start of the Christmas activities in December in Benaque with a festive singing competition and craft market with Christmas food stalls.


This regional contest and festival, which by 2015 had been going for some 25 years, is held to commemorate the famous poet, Salvador Ruedam, who was born in the village in 1857. The competition (‘certamen’) takes place inside Benaque’s medieval church. But in addition, around noon, a craft market will be held with local food stalls offering Christmas pastries made by the residents of Benaque themselves.

The event, whose importance has led to it being declared a ‘Fiesta de Singularidad Provincial’, is a celebration of one of the great musical traditions of the Málaga region – the ‘canciones pastorales’. They are not dissimilar to the traditional country songs we had for centuries in Britain known as ‘carols’, (though today it is only those that were sung at Christmas that have survived).

Benaque certamen de Pastorales 2018

The day starts at about noon and runs continuously until approximately 8 pm with 10 groups singing a wide repertoire of traditional carols. The carollers come from all over the province: Mijas, Los Boliches, Benaque etc.

As well as singing, the groups use traditional musical instruments, such as the zambomba, the sonaja, the pandereta, the almirez and the botella. The zambomba is particularly associated with Spanish carols. This medieval instrument is a type of ‘friction drum’, (see picture above), a percussion instrument consisting of a single membrane stretched over a drum, whose sound is produced by the player pulling a stick attached to the centre of the membrane up and down by hand. The sonaja is a rattle; the pandereta is a tambourine; the almirez is a brass mortar which is struck to make a sound; and the botella is often an empty anis liqueur bottle which is scraped by a spoon. In addition to these some groups may also add castanets, triangles and even guitars to pad out the sound.

The ‘Grupos Pastorales’ are often made up of younger people dressed in colourful ribbons and costumes. They continue to cultivate the carol, often giving a distinctive touch to what we mean by traditional Christmas carols. Apart from singing traditional ‘villancicos’ (Spanish Christmas carols), their songs often carry a more contemporary but no less poignant message for the season, with words of peace, of condemning weapons and war, even of overcoming racism and the divide between rich and poor.

“If the world is what I have seen, What path will I take?

Ay, ay !, Love, Love !, What I can give you, Love?”

(“Si el mundo es lo que he visto, ¿qué camino tomaré? ¡Ay, Amor!, ¡ay, Amor!, ¿qué puedo darte, Amor?)

Julie Lewis

Julie Lewis

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Julie Lewis

Julie Lewis

About Me

My husband and I worked in this lovely part of Spain for over 11 years, founding both a magazine and newspaper for English speakers in the region. Always our aim was to give people a better insight into the fascinating eastern Málaga region, something that we now aim to continue with our website.

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