Every year in August, the Festival Internacional del Cante de las Minas de La Unión (in Murcia) focuses the attention of the flamenco world. Singing, dancing, guitar and “other instruments” are the main categories in which you can compete. The Lámpara Minera is the highest award for the best singing.

The first mining competition was held in 1961 in October, the month of the patron saint’s day of the town of La Unión (Murcia). But until this first cante festival (guitar and dance would be added later), there was a small revolution.

How the mining festival was born

The very famous Juanito Valderrama was performing that year in La Unión and, at a certain moment, he decided to sing a cartagenera, a local style. The audience was not amused, preferring to hear the singer’s greatest hits. The artist reproached the audience for their lack of appreciation for an art that is so much his own, calling for the defence of the cante jondo written in the land of Union.

Something was stirred up within the neighbours… and it was done and done: the mayor of the time took the lead in what is now the current festival. It is also true that Valderrama struck a chord with people who were not doing well in those years. The search for a new activity in the face of the mining crisis (the mines in the area were to close definitively in the 1990s) was also one of the motivations for holding this competition.

The songs of the mines

The cantes de las minas, in their origin, arise from the crossbreeding between the primitive cantes brought by the Andalusian miners and the native cantes of the Sierra Minera de Cartagena-La Unión. They were mainly popularised in the singing cafés of the time, which were frequented by miners. These songs, known as tarantas, mineras, cartageneras, levanticas, murcianas… were an expression of the suffering of a harshly exploited people, victims of particularly hard working conditions. From the beginning of the 20th century until the 1950s, the mining crisis hit La Unión hard and, collaterally, these cantes experienced a decline that endangered their survival. This festival has been a boost of support for these flamenco styles.

In a “cathedral” and in a cave

Although it had several venues, it was not until the 18th edition that a fixed venue was found. It was the building of the old Mercado Público, which since then has been the Catedral del Cante.

The Joaquín Costa square becomes an open-air stage every evening of the event, where performances attract the public and visitors alike. The avenue on which it is situated is called the Avenida del Flamenco. Given that the festival and mining are intimately linked, it is not surprising that the venue for the event is a mine in a cave, the Agrupa Vicenta. The small-scale performances are held 80 metres below the surface, and the experience of living flamenco in this cave is unforgettable.

Getting the Mining Lamp

Since then, and until today, more than half a century of serious and rigorous work has made the event the most respected event among critics and audiences alike. The launch of each edition also involves the organisation of selective tests throughout Spain. These auditions, which are held in theatres, auditoriums, flamenco clubs and other symbolic locations, are attended by the aspirants. The finalists will compete in the semi-finals during the Cante de las Minas festival.

Young promising or emerging artists are eager to win the coveted Lámpara Minera, or any other of the prestigious prizes awarded by this event, as it is a great springboard for their career.

Festival del Cante de las Minas
Calle Mayor, 55 Planta 2 (Edit. Casa del Piñón). La Unión (Murcia)

Artists who have been awarded the Lámpara Minera

Gema Jiménez, Miguel Tena, Juan Pinilla, Rocío Márquez, Churumbaque hijo, Miguel Ortega, Ricardo Fernández del Moral, Jeromo Segura, David Lagos, María José Pérez, Antonia Contreras, Alfredo Tejada, María José Carrasco y Matías LópezEl Mati are some of them.

Among the guitarists (Bordón minero), Antonio Rey, Javier Conde, Juan Habichuela Nieto, Alejandro Hurtado, Agustín CarbonellEl Bola y Juan Antonio Silva Campallo. And we should also mention dancers such as Patricia Guerrero, Jesús Carmona, Javier Latorre, Edu Guerrero, Alba Heredia, David Navarro, Alfonso Losa, Fuensanta la Moneta, Belén López, Lucía La Piñona…

Many of them are protagonists of the best shows of ALL FLAMENCO. Here we leave you a selection, but there are many more…