Here in El Burgo in Spain, every year during the last week of August we have the festival of San Agustín (Saint Augustine to us English), where the streets are closed for a full week and the whole population takes to the streets to enjoy the festivities.
The highlight of the week is the closing event, starting at 4.30am on the Monday morning, where the Mayor (el Alcalde) of the town (this year Señor García) dons a wooden bull (fortunately not a real one) which is stuffed with fireworks. Above the streets are strung two and a half kilometres of fire crackers. At the given moment the fire crackers are lit and commence their extremely noisy path along the streets towards the town hall. At this moment, too, the ‘bull’ is lit and the fireworks begin to explode and fly everywhere.
The task for the unfortunate mayor is to run, with the bull, towards the town hall and beat the string of firecrackers to the building. We’ve never managed to see whether or not the mayor ever succeeds, but the cheers suggest he made it this year (though they’d probably cheer even louder if he didn’t make it!)
What on earth the “tradition” of setting fireworks off has to do with San Agustín, we haven’t a clue! But who cares – this experience is magical! We understand (this is our second year) that no-one is ever injured, though that must surely be due to good luck rather than good planning. This is an event which should definitely not be missed. If you plan visiting El Burgo, Málaga, this is the time to do it!
If you ever visit during a fiesta (which can happen any Monday or Thursday) and often on other days, you are certain to hear a “band”. I have placed the word in quotation marks because if you heard one you’d realise it deserves them.
Almost every town has a “band” which consists of a group of people, sometimes children, sometimes adults and sometimes, as in El Burgo, a mix. These worthy people practise weekly in a specially constructed building with a stone-carved legend over the door proclaiming the “band”.
There are trumpets and there are drums. That’s all. The trumpets seem specially selected instruments distinguishable by their respective tuning. Each one, I am sure, is intended to be a B-flat instrument but, in fact, sounds like B-flat plus a bit, or B-flat minus a bit! Alternatively the same will go if they are using E-flat as a base (often at the same time). The noise is absolutely appalling! However, it is so bad that it is good, if you know what I mean.
We wouldn’t want to change “our” band for the London Philharmonic! Their enthusiasm is what carries the day/night. Added to this is the percussive assault by the drummers (perhaps filled with the ranks of failed trumpeters who accidentally managed to sound in tune! In fact, could this be a bit of phraseological history? When they were “drummed out” they joined the drum section! Yes – I do know the real origin of the phrase, but I reckon this explanation is better).
The sole aim of each drummer is to knock a hole in the skin of the drum! We have one very athletic and strong drummer who, each year, gets through a skin on each day of the religious parades through the streets (and our streets are small). He slams the heavy stick against the skin and you can see it visibly weakening as he climbs the steep hill to the 15th-century church. When they return a hour later he has turned the drum over and is assaulting the other side. The first side can be seen hanging in shrivelled threads from what is now the underside of the drum as he hammers the “new” side with increased ferocity.
The result is not particularly musical, but has great charm and is typically Spanish – EVERY town’s band seems the same. (Though they have such wonderful musicians in all other fields we know it is not lack of musical talent that gives this sound, but real intent. Why, of course, is a different matter.)