3. Musical occasions and genres

The dispersed houses appear to be related to the paucity of collectively sung songs. Most singing in the Pityusans is done by one person at a time, rather than as a group, with some exceptions, especially in the old quarter of the capital city. Traditional music occasions include the cantada, a song gathering; the vetlada, a spontaneous evening with a few people living in the same area; or the xacota, a larger pre-arranged get-together for singing and dancing. During these gatherings, several people sing, but usually in turn rather than collectively. The xacota might be organized for a local fiesta occasion, or a work session requiring more than one person working together: for example, a pig-slaughtering or an almond-peeling session (Torres Torres 2000); Carnaval was another occasion which included music (Prats). Where on the peninsula songs sung on such an occasion would often be sung in unison, here they would be sung by each person in turn, trying out their new compositions, or learning one they had commissioned from another man or woman skilled in composing verses. In 2004, we interviewed a woman who had recorded for Alan Lomax at the age of fifteen; she explained to us how at the age of twelve she had walked hours to the home of a woman known for her versifying abilities. She requested from this woman a song which she would learn, to sing for the celebration her family was planning for the safe return of a young cousin from the wars. This was the same song she recorded for Lomax in 1952. She also told us that she herself at the time did not know how to read, but her mother, who came from a family where women learned to read, read the words aloud for her as the composer had written them down, so that she could learn them and practice the song. She sang it for us almost word-for-word identically to the version Lomax recorded her singing fifty-two years earlier almost to the day, including the last two lines of the text which unaccountably are missing in his recording.


There is no tradition of the ronda, the group serenade tradition so common in other parts of Spain. It was unusual for young men to sing to the girl they were courting in the festeig, the unique courting procedure held at the girl’s family home over several nights, and to which interested young men would come on foot from several kilometres away. The girl, who would make her own choice from among the suitors, sat on the porch, or the kitchen in the winter, and one by one the men would take the empty chair provided and talk or sing for their allotted time. If they went over time, the mother or grandmother keeping track of the situation would throw them out, throwing pebbles or chickpeas at the offending young man to indicate that his time was up. Often several young me would walk together to a young girl’s home, and sing along the way: these songs might be sung collectively or separately. They were often of a not very subtle erotic nature.

Another common song tradition found in other parts of Spain, including Mallorca and Minorca, but not in the Pityusans, is the agricultural work song. When asked, people have often said they worked essentially alone rather than in groups, and that they used their working time to think of and softly try out words to new porfèdia’s and gloses for the next occasion where they would be called upon to sing. Samper already points this out in his account of his visit to the Pityusans in the 1920s.

Many people have divided Pityusan cultural life into before and after the advent of the hippies and the tourist trade. Today, musical occasions include contests and competitions, and formalized singing and dancing events organized at “official” levels, rather than the traditional gatherings in homes, bars, etc., although in Formentera the older tradition is still maintained to some extent. More than one older  singer has complained that the busy, often noisy atmosphere is not conducive to singing or improvising words, or to the accustomed complicity among a small group of singers. One young researcher remarked that her own grandmother havng sung several times at the newer large, officially sponsored, events, felt that this changed her way of singing and the feeling behind it; that it no longer was a question of singing because one wanted to: singing in a public space was not, for her, “normal” (C. Mari). The new context is thus not simply a new context, but an agent of change in the singing itself.

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