Anointed with a religiousness full of emotion and “quejío”, the saetas are born from the singing of the people, which makes them one of the purest flamenco palos (forms).
One of the most widespread theories assures that the origin of the current saetas is in the coplillas sung or recited in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the Franciscan fathers. This type of couplets were used to indicate to sinners that they had to repent for their sins, they encouraged devotion and penitence. Between 1800 and 1840, the saeta became a popular song, although it was not yet flamenco.
The saetas in Spain
It is thought that it may have been Enrique el Mellizo who sang saetas for the first time in front of a processional image in the Santa María quarter of Cádiz, although there is no written record of this.
Nowadays, saetas are sung at Holy Week events throughout the Iberian Peninsula. In Andalusia, but also in Murcia, Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla León, the cante is transformed into quejío and deep lamentation.
Of a popular nature, it emerges at the pace of the processions. It is a deep and heartfelt expression between the singer and the image of Jesus or the Dolorosa.
It is considered that there is a more specific area in which the saeta is a fundamental cante. It is a golden triangle that runs from Cadiz, Jerez de la Frontera and Malaga to Cordoba and Seville. The towns of Puente Genil, Cabra, Castro del Río, Mairena del Alcor and Marchena preserve saetas with their own local characteristics.
Around 1880, the most popular saeta became the flamenco saeta. Gradually, the custom of singing them spread through the Andalusian villages, which adapted it to their own style.
The greats of this cante are also involved in this evolution: Manuel Centeno or Antonio Chacón, Manuel Torre, La Serrana, Medina El Viejo, La Niña de los Peines, Manuel Vallejo…
At Easter Week in Seville in 1919, there was a well-known duel between two saeteros from Jerez, Joselito el Gallo and the livestock farmer Eduardo Miura, who started off with a saeta that read: “For not knowing what to do to him, they spit on him, slap him/ and crown him with thorns/ and blood drips/ down his divine little face”.
The saetas now performed have 4 or 5 verses of 8 syllables. The most popular styles are defined in three, the saetas por seguiriyas, the martinetes and the carceleras de Puente Genil.
Manuel Centeno, master “saetero”.
Manuel Centeno (1907 – 1961) became the most sought-after saeta singer in Seville. He was known as the emperor of the saeta, and is attributed the authorship of the saeta por seguiriyas. In 1926, he sang for the first time his famous saeta a la cross de Guía de la Hermandad del Silencio.
Saeta Christ of the Expiration
From the saeta de Centeno comes the modern version of the saeta that was imposed in Seville from the twenties of the last century. It is the so-called artistic saeta and was spread by Rocío Vega Farfa (1895-1975), better known as La Niña de la Alfalfa, who in 1916 was proclaimed queen of the saetas by King Alfonso XIII.
The saeta now
The saeta entered a period of decline in the sixties and seventies. The historical saeta makers, who transmitted their knowledge and art orally, disappeared. But the greats of the copla dared with this difficult cante: Rocío Jurado made herself known by winning a saetas contest; Juanita Reina sang La Macarena from Seville; Marifé de Triana was another great loophole maker of the time.
As José Blas Vega explains:“The interest in the flamenco saeta has gone beyond our borders and for several years now, during the spring, recitals of them have been held in Paris by outstanding saeteros” .