Our folklore is an immense treasure, embroidered with delicacy in the fabric of time. Its traditions, its customs, its craftsmanship, its music, its vocabulary, can express everything that the plain and frank soul of its people wants to say. Young people, follow the advice given by Aristophanes ̶ when he talked of the poets ̶ through the words of the Chorus in his play The Wasps: “… safeguard it in your coffers like sweet-smelling apples”.

Here, we’re going to focus on one part of our heritage, musical folklore, looking at the texts that have been crafted anonymously by the unpretentious intelligence of people from our pueblo throughout time and often with an exquisite poetic force.  

I.- Wedding songs

Weddings in Lagartera have formed the essence of its tradition, embodied in the wonderful costume worn by the bride and her attendants, or “hamayeras”. Paraphrasing Adolfo Salazar who was talking about Seville, we could say: “The Lagarteran costume doesn’t exist. The Lagarteran costume is an illusion of light”. But no less illusion of light were the beautiful songs that made up such a special event.

Revista Blanco y Negro – Madrid, 23 mayo 1970 (Sainz Bermejo)

1. Romance of The Last Sacrament

The beautiful romance of The Commandments appears later on. Now we’re going to look at another song that is no less beautiful, The last Sacrament, another pleasant journey that will take us to one of the peaks of our cultural heritage.

This romance was sung as part of the ritual of weddings in Lagartera, on the eve of the wedding: the so-called “day of the flesh”. On the evening of that day, the “Ronda del calzado” was celebrated, the cheerful chords of the jota were played and the guests, with the groom at the head, entered the bride’s house, where they were entertained by their relatives with trays full of wedding sweetmeats. Meanwhile, the “hacheros” (who carried the candles for the bride and groom in the  church, as well as serving wine)  fulfilled their pleasant task, so the joy from the wine in the glasses was not lacking.

In the romance there’s advice that fits into the beliefs of that time, though women of today would not be willing to accept it.

“For this reason, I say to you
that you must be subject
to the bonds of that yoke,
for this is the command of the Church”. 

But the same romance, in a very delicate and exquisite way and with great beauty ─ thinking, perhaps, and ahead of the times, of the love and respect that woman deserves─ expresses: 

“And, for her lightness,
They put wings on her and she flies”.

Such was the emotion of the moment that, in the words of Julián García Sánchez: “They say that brides listened to this romance with tears in their eyes.”  According to the same author, this romance can be dated back to the 16th century.

Let’s listen to it in this link:

2. Romance of the Ten Commandments

This is another long and beautiful romance, found in the folklore of many Castilian villages. In Lagartera it was sung on the wedding night. After having attended the dance of the “hamayeras”, which was celebrated in the house of a relative in honor of the bride and groom, the guests would go to the house of the bride and groom to sing the “ronda”.

Some of its verses, as Julián García Sánchez says, raise our “…imagination towards Góngora and San Juan de la Cruz”. The same author dates the origin of the romance to the first half of the 17th century. The fact that it is sung on this night is perhaps related to the “mayos” (maypoles, which could be trees).  

If we take into account the strong symbolism of the “mayo” as a fertilizing element, which underlies all these songs, it is not surprising that the romance of the Commandments, ascribed to the circle of the “mayos” and influenced by its symbolism, became part of the wedding night ritual.

The round ended with the wedding feast: the guitars returned to the joyful chords of the “jotas” and “rondeñas”, the jugs distributed joy and hope, full of passion and wine.

There’s another versión of the Commandments which is also sung in Lagartera. Alan Lomax, the great American ethnologist, recorded it in 1953 sung by Manuela Santillana, just as I also heard my mother sing it. This style is, as Álvar Monferrer would say when analyzing the popular ballads in the regions of Castellón de la Plana, “a profane romance that goes over the commandments to extol his love for the lady, which forces him to transgress them all”. Maybe it’s found in Lagartera because it was brought here by reapers who came to work here, or men involved in the transhumance of cattle. It’s often found in other parts of Spain.

Let’s listen to it here, the beautiful voice of Manuela Santillana, recorded by Alan Lomax:

3. Canción de bodas (Wedding song)

Singing at the church door

Once the wedding ceremony has been celebrated and the couple have had breakfast at the bride’s house, the groom, with the bride’s male guests, returns home. He’ll remain there until it’s time for the banquet. When the time comes, he’ll go in search of the bride, accompanied by his guests. It is at this moment when the guitars, bandurrias and pestle and mortars sound again and the Wedding Song is sung:

We’re coming for the bride
And they don’t want to give her to us,
With sticks and clubs
We’re going to take her away.
Through this street we go
They throw water, and roses appear
And that’s why we call it
The street of the beauty.   

During the engagement, the bride traditionally never set foot in the groom’s house. I know of a case in which the bride, ignoring the custom, provoked the ironic reaction of the groom’s father: “Welcome, aunt Torralba”, a local saying that means ‘we’ve started off on the wrong foot’. Hence the following verse:

Let the groom’s mother come to the door
And a little further out
To receive her son
and to acknowledge her daughter-in-law.

Stanzas of this type must have been heard at the wedding of Philip IV and Mariana of Austria in Navalcarnero ─ and perhaps some we know today come to us from those times ─ 

canción de bodas

II.- Other romances

Romances are just news of everyday events told in verse so it’s easier to remember them. In Lagartera they’ve passed from mouth to mouth, as in the rest of Spain. This oral transmission over the years is why we have different versions in the different regions of Spain.               

A romance that is especially local to Lagartera is Sabadito por la tarde (Saturday afternoon), especially in musical terms, and El mozo lagarterano (The Lagarteran lad; Other romances, like La loba parda (The brown she-wolf) and La serrana de la Vera, must have been transmitted through transhumance, since they are also found in other regions.

1. Sabadito por la tarde

This is one of the romances that is most exclusive to Lagartera in musical terms. It has also been recorded in other nearby towns,  such as Caleruela and Gamonal, and, although they aren’t far away, there are important variations in the different versions, with perhaps the most complete versión being that of Lagartera. It is found in various places in Castile, and Agapito Marazuela records it in his Cancionero de Castilla (Songbook of Castile). Likewise, it appears in other regions of Spain: in Extremadura, Asturias, Cantabria and Madrid.

In this song, the family, the neighbors, the street, the fountain, the church, religion, and friendship are key elements in how people saw love in past times.

In the lyrics there’s a term rarely used anymore, ‘zabucar’, in the verse

so as not to zabucar (stir up) the mire…

As for its musical qualities, I once heard Julián García Sánchez comment that, according to Hilarión Eslava, it was a Mozarabic song because of its particular way of  linking the end of one line of verse with the beginning of the next. Elena Le Barbier Ramos, in her article Dos Romances de la Tradición Oral in the magazine Cuadernos de Campoo, (Principal Cuaderno nº 5), tells us about this romance “which is believed to date from the beginning of the 19th century”. It also tells us of versions that consist of two clearly differentiated parts: one, that focused on the mass, and the other, on the banns, which are a source of torment until the would-be groom finally dies of love. Hence, in some places the song appears with the titles El desdichado, El rondador desesperado, and El amante desdeñado, all referring to the despair of the would-be groom.

The version sung in Lagartera refers to the mass; both in terms of music and lyrics. That’s how I heard my mother sing it, and that’s how I learned it from her.

Sabadito por la tarde

2. El mozo lagarterano (The Lagarteran lad)

Although we consider this a romance, it isn’t really a romance, but a song with its verses and refrain. It must have been born as such, and this seems to be confirmed by its syllabic structure in which there are octosyllabic verses, typical of the romance, but also heptasyllables and hexasyllables to adapt to the music.

The lyrics are clearly allusive to Lagartera. We don’t know if the Lagartera troubadour was inspired by any of the old romances, ”cordel”, (popular songs often sold as printed sheets hung from a cord), or ”ciego”, (songs sung by blind musicians).

We can date this romance to the 19th century, since it illustrates characteristics that, arising at the end of the 18th century, were consolidated in the 19th, and which could have influenced its composition:

     – The appearance in Madrid of ‘urban tribes’ of those times, the ‘manolos’, ‘majos’ and ‘chulapos’ who appear in the works of D. Ramón de la Cruz and in Goya’s paintings.

     – The social demands against the caciques

     – The paternal decision, for economic reasons, at the time of contracting marriage. 

There is also a background of Fuente Ovejuna, a symbol of pueblo unity against oppression.                  

This romance gave rise to the song Mi lagarterana , composed by Ángel Ortiz de Villajos Cano (Adra, Almería, 1898 – Guadarrama, Madrid,1952), with lyrics by Mariano Bolaños and Alfonso Jofre de Villegas. Lilian de Celis recorded a version of it in 1958 for the Columbia label, a version that is well known in Lagartera. Believing that it originally came from Lagartera, ─and I believe the romance does come from here, Bolaños and Jofre, composed the lyrics of their song, which is more succinct than the romance. I wrote about the score some time ago as having an anonymous author; and then, while researching it, I discovered the authors. I have only found the cover of the score and the lyrics, but not the score itself.

In some online articles, writers confuse this song with Amores lagarteranos, a song with which Villajos won the Prize of Honour at the Regional Song Contest, held at the Coliseo Theatre in Madrid in 1934. Carmen, Villajos’ daughter, who was only seven years old, sang it accompanied by her father on the piano. Villajos apparently complained that Lagarterans paid little attention to his song, instead focusing more on Las lagarteranas by Maestro Guerrero, but I can assure you that, in recent years, his two songs have had and still have a great importance in Lagartera; he can rest easy in his Almeria soil.

Mozo Lagarterano

III.- Jota and rondeña songs

 Other types of songs that were important in the celebration of weddings, as well as other celebrations, were the “jotas” and “rondeñas” that made festivities especially joyful.

1. The jota

Photos Pedro Fernández – Oropesa

It is not easy to determine the origin of the jota, since scholars don’t agree on how it arose in Spain. D. Eduardo Torner believes it came from Andalusia, and that, therefore, the following verse is correct: 

The jota was born Moorish

And then it became Christian,

The Lagarteran version of the jota is probably Andalusian in origin, either coming directly, or indirectly through a Mozarabic influence changing the Aragonese jota, since the people who colonised these lands with the advance of the Reconquest were Mozarabs.

In the Lagarteran jota, one can appreciate “that lazy and dreamy sadness” of the Andalusian and Arab airs as opposed to the “vital energy” of the Aragonese jota, in Lagarteran terms, it is a more “sentao” (slow) dance. But both the Aragonese jota and that of Lagartera make, as Cervantes said, “our souls leap and laughter frolic, causing tensión in our bodies and putting quicksilver in all our senses.”

Its lyrics refer not only to the process of love, but also to the daily tasks of its people.

In one jota stanza there’s a very local phonic vulgarism

Those lasses are from Lagartera

“mirailas” and “reparailas”… ie miradlas y reparadlas, or, ‘just look at them and pay attention’.

We see how the phoneme -d of the plural imperative is replaced by the phoneme -i. This phonic vulgarism is not among the most common in Castilian Spanish.


1.1. The jota of one

Photos Pedro Fernández – Oropesa

This is the name of one of the jotas sung and danced in Lagartera. We don’t know why or when it came to have this name, but research suggests two possible origins:

– One comes from the guitar accompaniment: it is played in G major and only the first fret is played, leaving the bass strings free, since they are not played.

  – Another possible origin is a type of jota that is danced on the banks of the Ebro river, in the province of Tarragona. This dance is called Putxó, Punxó, Punxonet or Punxench, and in it the dancers have their arms raised, as well as the index finger. Could this index finger mean ‘the one’ and hence the name of the jota? Even if this were so, we still don’t know how this jota might have come here, perhaps because of the trips that Lagarteranos made selling embroideries in those regions?

Jota del Uno

2. The Rondeña

Photos Pedro Fernández – Oropesa

The rondeña is a very special composition. Its origin has a double source: the fandangos coming from the city of Ronda in Malaga and its appearance in the rounds – hence its name – that were organized in Andalusia, Extremadura, Castile and La Mancha, in honour of the young women who were being courted by young men.

In its lyrics there is evidence of this double origin, let’s see:

The Malaga rondeña:
 The Malaga rondeña,
 the one sung by a cousin of mine…
If you want me to love you:
Not that lad from the Vera,
Where people love to sing,
I’d get in among them
because I’m carried away by love of singing.

The jota has a chorus that is sung, while the rondeña chorus is usually instrumental. The performance requires such a capacity of intonation, rhythm, sensitivity and feeling that it’s a showcase for those who sing it, giving rise to a musical combat of achievement.

Here’s a lively collection of rondeñas collected by Alan Lomax:

Viva Sevilla y Oviedo (Rondeña).

IV.- Other songs

There are many other folk songs, such as Christmas carols, religious songs, bullfighting songs, songs about seasonal work, and children’s songs. The songs we’ve mentioned here are perhaps the most representative of the core of our folklore.

This link gives you access to a short documentary on the work done by Alan Lomax in Lagartera in 1952, when he was recording the folklore of Lagartera.          

Women singing and playing Ximbomba, photo by Alan Lomax, 1952

V.- Instrumental accompaniment

Perhaps the original instrument that accompanied the first songs that were born in Lagartera was the rabel.

The Lagarteran rabel differed in some details from the one used in other places, although it was basically similar. The sound box, somewhat flatter and wider, was covered with a skin with holes in the center. Some rabels took the shape of the guitar, as can be seen in photographs from the 1920s by Ortiz Echagüe.

The old rabelero: photos by Ortiz Echagüe

The most outstanding Lagarteran rabel player, was José Reviriego, who died recently, and who helped Alan Lomax with his recordings back in 1952, as well as playing for him. He was also a shepherd. In the seventies, he performed in the Café de Chinitas in Madrid, accompanied by his rabel and his mother, Aunt Teodora, “the children’s woman”, a great connoisseur of dances and songs of our folklore. She was a midwife ̶ hence her nickname ̶ and she created some beautiful navels, of which she was very proud.

Eduardo Oliva with rabel. Photo by Alan Lomax, 1952

Other rabel players recorded by Alan Lomax included Manuel and Anastasio Reviriego, and Eduardo Oliva Pascual who performs La loba parda, accompanied by the rabel, in one of the recordings.

Tomas Oliva with rabel. Photo by Alan Lomax, 1952

 In 1973, Arcadio de Larrea records José Reviriego playing a rabel for a jota, and the accompaniment of a Christmas song: En Andalucía yo tengo una flor and a Christmas romance: La Virgen y San José iban a una romería, in both he sings with his mother, aunt Teodora; it can be listened to in Músicas de tradición oral: Salamanca, Valladolid y Toledo | RTVE.

In Andalusia with rabel and the Samaritana

There are more records of Lagarteran rabel players. In 1986 Victorino Pataco is recorded playing the rabel and singing Las tres comadres borrachas and a Jota included in the CD Los últimos tañedores del rabel – V. 2 in the collection La Tradición Musical en España, Tecnosaga S.A., 1995. The rabel with which Victorino Pataco plays, was made by Manolo Pataco, his son, in pine wood ─as advised by a couplet sung in Burgos, Soria and La Rioja: ‘El rabel para ser fino/ ha de ser de raíz de pino’ (the best  rabels are made from pine)─ in his carpentry workshop. The family donated it to the Joaquín Díaz Foundation Ethnographic Centre in Urueña, Valladolid, where it is today.

Vitorino Pataco, Las tres comadres borrachas accompanied by rabel.

 Jaime Jara, in Oropesa, and Francisco Velasco, in Sotillo de las Palomas, both have workshops making rabels. On YouTube you can find a recording of their work in a program of Castilla-La Mancha in 2001. In La Calzada de Oropesa, also near Lagartera, there’s the workshop of 82-year-old don Heliodoro, who works with the enthusiasm of a young man so that this instrument does not disappear. You can see a video of his workshop in CULTURA DE RAÍZ Frikifolky.


The guitar, the bandurria (similar to a mandolin), the lute are the primary instruments today. There are other simpler instruments ─some were everyday utensils─ that have always accompanied popular music, especially when the primary instruments were unavailable. These simple, often improvised instruments include: the reed, the zambomba, the tambourine/pandereta, the pitcher hit in the mouth with an espadrille, the cauldron, the rubbed bottle, the washboard, the cowbell, the mortar, the pestle, the frying pan, the ratchet, the castanets, the cymbals ─vulgarly called in Lagartera “tapaeras”. They were used by the boys about to do miliary service, to give rhythm to the music that accompanied their rounds.


To finish, I’d like to pay homage to all those anonymous composers and songwriters who created the lyrics and music of our folklore, as well as steps of jota and rondeña dances. Perhaps the purest tribute is to sing and dance to their songs from time to time, handing down the myrtle or laurel branch to our successors, just as the Greeks did when they sang at the end of meals to pass the turn to the diner who was to continue the song.

Zéjel, folk group of Lagartera, late 1970s, early 1980s

Here, I’d like to mention Zéjel, the folk group in which I was able to develop some of my musical aspirations. Zéjel was born at the end of the seventies as part of the musical seed that the unforgettable Sister Francisca sowed in this town. Zejel’s first successful performance was in Madrid, at a festival of religious music where the group won first prize.  It was set up by: Yolanda, Carmen, Olvido, Lorenzo, Jorge, and José “Chinas”; who sang songs of folk groups of that time: Jarcha, Nuevo Mester de Juglaría, Nuestro Pequeño Mundo… They invited my wife, Rosario, and me to join them, which we did. I suggested they sang popular Lagarteran songs, and our own compositions. Those were five unforgettable years. I’d be very happy if someone followed in our footsteps.

Rehearsing in the nuns’ courtyard

So, I encourage younger people to take part in a possible revival of our folklore. There is a group of people who are willing to help, some by contributing their knowledge and memories, others, the younger ones, by researching and putting all their hopes and dreams into this project. This group includes Raquel García Moreno, (daughter of Julián García Sánchez, a man who had a great love of Lagartera); Prados Calatrava, director of the Museum; and Maricarmen Alía Moreno, director of the library. Contacting them could be the beginning of a beautiful adventure.

Dancing in the Street, 1980, near where Cari had her shop. You can see aunt Piedad and Aunt Leoncia.

Francisco Cano Moreno, Lagartera, Toledo, October 2022

Thank you to the Association for Cultural Equity for permission to use three photos by Alan Lomax.