If there’s one party Seville is known for, then it’s the Feria de Abril or the April Fair.
Imagine a marathon of festivities – uplifting music, Sevillanas dance, gatherings of beautiful ladies in their gorgeous dresses and men in their suave outfits.
Plus merry-making, eating, drinking and dancing, from night to the early hours of the morn. The next time you dance the Sevillanas, know that you are part of this living culture that connects you to the very source in Spain!
It was a historical year however, with both Semana Santa Holy Week and the Feria de Abril cancelled in March-April 2020. Coronavirus struck Spain and worldwide.
That was the year where I was caught in the Spanish lockdown and then chose to spend half a year in Spain. That time was a great cultural immersion and silver lining.
Celebrating Feria de Abril under Spain lockdown
No lockdown can suppress much-loved traditions and the Spanish alegria, joie de vivre spirit! My Spanish friend and flamenco maestro, Manuel and I decided to celebrate at home on a Saturday, when the Feria de Abril would have officially started.
This Saturday night is also called the Noche del Pescaíto (Night of the Fish, because fish is traditionally eaten!)
Manuel, the Sevillano and Flamenco Epicurean
Besides his talents as flamenco maestro, his other talents manifest in culinary ways. Manuel gets busy cooking some typical food we eat during the festive season – tortilla, seafood. We’re lacking the pescaito though.
Considering he doesn’t cook that often, time and again, I’m surprised at how much of a natural, instinctive cook he is. Plus ever efficient, he got all the dishes cooked so smoothly, all I needed to help him with was to lay the table!
You’ll see him cook tortilla, a typical dish of potatoes and eggs. It’s a typical dish you’ll see in the menus of Spanish restaurants if you come to Spain.
Rebujito is the drink that they typically have during the Feria. It’s a mix of manzanilla, an alcoholic aromatic drink and Seven-up. You’ve heard of the well-known sangria drink, now you know of another. Unfortunately, in confinement, we don’t have rebujito, so we make do with good red wine.
We can’t have a Feria without dancing the Sevillanas, of course! With all my voluminous Feria Sevillanas dresses back in Singapore and not being able to go out to the shop to pick a new dress I’ve ordered, I make do with my usual Flamenco skirt and flower in my head.
Manuel can’t resist having even more fun and decorates himself with a turban!
What’s a typical Feria de Abril for the Spanish?
I asked Manuel to share the local perspective with us. So find out here in this video!
(You can turn on the English translation in the You Tube video, or read my translation below)
“A Feria day for me starts on Saturday, which is the Day of the Pescaíto, where we meet our friends and go on horseback.
We meet at a certain point, towards the direction of the fair grounds.
We stop at some bars to get our glasses filled with rebujito, the very traditional drink of the Feria.
We head to the Maria Luisa park and then enter the Feria.
We go from caseta (tent) to caseta with our friends
and they invite us to eat and dance.
The traditional food of the Feria: shrimps, tortillas, montaditos (a bread roll with assorted fillings).
A Glimpse of the Actual Feria de Abril
I searched for photos & videos of past Ferias I experienced, to give you an idea of the ambience.
Here, you’ll see the ‘alumbrao’ (Feria 2016), which is the light-up of the portada – the decorative entrance to the Feria ground. Each year, there is a competition for the design of it!
Before the alumbrao light-up happens, there is a series of dances and concerts right in front of the portada.
It’s really a crowded scene, so if you do attend the alumbrao one year, then be prepared for the crowds gathered there to count-down to the alumbrao.
When you enter the Real de la Feria, the place where the Fair happens , you’ll be pretty amazed at the size of it. There’s lots to see and explore.
Multitudes of traditional casetas (tents) dot the Feria grounds, the size of many football fields combined. The night is bright with hundreds of thousands of farolillos (lanterns) hung across the streets.
Each caseta is individually decorated with its own touch. Take a peek into the casetas and you’ll see a bustle of activity: people dancing, music-making, and yes, of course, eating and drinking!
Origins of the Feria de Abril
The beginnings of the Feria de Abril would have looked pretty different. Back then, it started out as some sort of marketplace or fair (‘Feria’ is a ‘fair’), where animals were traded. I can imagine lots of interaction, eating and drinking too, and how that could have possibly shaped the way the Feria is today, with its energy, ambience and interaction.
Typical Dance of Seville
We’re in Seville, so the quintessential dance here is the Sevillanas, a regional dance of Spain. While not flamenco, its folk origins have been aflamencado in that it has taken on flamenco characteristics.
I asked Manuel his memories of the Feria, and he shared that it was a busy season of much learning as a youthful flamenco dancer. His teacher of that time, Jose Galván, took the young Manuel Betanzos and his son Israel Galván to the Feria. They moved from one caseta to another performing flamenco for the guests. He really enjoyed those times of dancing. For these great artists, I note that their time of learning, exposure and experience started at a very young age – immersed in their own culture, absorbing greatly.
For the Sevillanos, perhaps that’s why they are so proud of their land. Afterall, they have lived it from young and it forms a huge part of their personal and cultural memories.
Enjoy this Sevillanas dance and music playlist
I’ve compiled this short playlist of Sevillanas for my students who would like to get to know more about the Sevillanas, or to have music to practise to.
Also, in this playlist, I chosen videos that can give a quick overview of the different Sevillanas there are! There are several styles, but I’ll just highlight these few:
1. Sevillanas de Feria
High spirited, they are sung in the Feria de Abril in Seville, and in other Andalusian Ferias. Broadly speaking, the themes of Sevillanas usually exalt Andalusia, particularly Sevilla, and all things Andaluz.
The first video on this playlist, by the Seville town council, gives you an idea of the atmosphere.
2. Sevillanas Rocieras
The Sevillanas is also associated to other major cultural traditions in Andalucia, such as the famous pilgrimage Romería del Rocío. En route, there is singing and dancing too (true to the Spanish spirit!).
What is the difference between the ‘usual Sevillanas’ and the ‘Sevillanas Rocieras’? The pace is slightly slower, supposedly because it is composed to be sung and danced while pilgrims walked the road.
For me, the Sevillanas Rocieras also has a more reverent, stately feel in melody. The beautiful lyrics also have themes honoring the Virgen, the Virgin Mary. Also, the instrumentation sounds different too, some with flutes and percussion.
Listen to the playlist and you’ll find out.
3. Sevillanas Boleras
Sevillanas Bolera looks totally (!) different from the ‘usual, party-going’ Sevillanas. We really need a huge amount of technique here, specifically ballet! The Sevillanas Boleras, as the name implies, is from the Escuela Bolera (Bolero School), which is another form of Spanish Dance. There are many different forms of Spanish Dance. This one is balletic in nature and with the added complexity of castanets!
4. Sevillanas Corraleras
These were usually sung and danced in the corrales de vecinos, a type of housing with common gathering spaces (ideal for interaction!) which existed in former times. Friends and neighbours would gather and make merry. In the playlist, you’ll see a video with older folks in their aprons, singing and dancing. This is one difference you’ll note from the videos of the Feria Sevillanas. The people that film director Carlos Saura assembled gives you the context to this style of Sevillanas. Note the way they are dressed, in normal attire and aprons, as if they were in their houses going on with their daily chores.
Sevillanas, no matter where you are in the world!
In this video, I’ve also included an occasion of my Vietnamese friend, Jenn and I, dancing in the ancient town of Hoi An. After a flamenco workshop we gave in Ho Chi Minh city, we ‘zipped’ out to this charming town. Some of the streets are filled with lanterns, which made me recall the lanterns strung across the Feria de Abril grounds, called ‘Farolillos’.
The Sevillanas singer in the video above is Rafael del Estad. My good friend, Paloma Navarro introduced me to him. She also introduced me to the idea of Sevillanas de Amor – love Sevillanas, perhaps inspired by Rafael del Estad. A lot of his Sevillanas are about love.
If you’d like to get to know an example of his love letras (lyrics), then here’s a blog I wrote on his Sevillanas song, Tus Redes (‘Your Nets’ – ie the nets of your love). Click here.
With Sevillanas, you can dance with anyone in the world!
From Spain to Singapore and worldwide, anyone can learn and dance the Sevillanas. It is such a well-known dance from (Southern) Spain.
If you ever start to learn Spanish dance, at some time, you’ll encounter it. Or rather, you really have to learn how to dance Sevillanas! And, no matter where you are in the world, you can dance with ANYONE who knows it too!
Why’s that so? Because the Sevillanas has a structure, typically comprising four coplas, or stanzas. Each copla has three parts to it, with a pasada (passing your partner). Once you know the structure, you can dance with any partner!
There are thousands of Sevillanas music you can enjoy and practise to. I recommend listening to as many as possible to get a feel of the aire, the personality of each Sevillanas sung or played differently in melody, vocal or instrumentation.
The Spanish Joy of Living
The Spanish alegría or joie de vivre can be palpably seen and felt. That sense of living and delighting in the moment, the communal celebration. It’s the spirit of the people that makes a place special and brings life to their culture.
So the next time you dance the Sevillanas in the studio, don’t just do-and-dance as a choreography or technical movement.
Gain, and become rich, from sensing that you are part of this living culture. Bring to it your own spirit of alegría, wherever in the world you are!
Extra Readings (in Spanish)