One of the chief reasons the Romans invaded Murcia near the present day Cartagena and La Unión was to sieze the silver mines. By 200AD the mines were, apparently, exhausted and fell into disuse but with the new technologies of the late 19th and early 20th Century the lead, silver zinc and iron ores became profitable once again.
Mines need miners; people willing to crawl down dark, dangerous, hot tunnels and hack away at the earth. In La Unión lots of those people came from the depressed rural south, from Andalucia. They brought their singing with them, the style we call Flamenco, and mixed it in with the local song.
They sang about their lives, particularly their lives in the mines.
When the mines closed for good the singing began to disappear so a local enthusiast decided to try to keep the music alive. The competition, el Cante de las Minas, the Song of the Mines, began back in 1961
The modern venue for the competition is one of those big old glass and steel market halls now converted into a performance space. The basic format is a competition for amateurs in three classes, one for singers, one for dancers and one for guitarists. The overall winner gets the Miner's Lamp trophy and, presumably, a crack at fame and fortune on the Flamenco circuit.
As well as the competition there are six days of Flamenco stars - we wondered about going to see Paco de Lucia but baulked at 45€ for the cheap seats. We did pay the 10€ to go to see day two of the competiton though. It was enjoyable in a sort of masochistic way. Three and a half hours of Flamenco without break. Squirming on the hard chairs, aware of aching this and itching that.
Apologies for the photos - long lens, high magnification, low light, moving targets - bad mix.