On July 5th, 2012, flamenco singer Rocio Marquez descended into the carbon mine at Santa Cruz de Sil (Spain) to sing a miners’ song to the workers locked up in protest against the shutdown of the mines.
Following is a conversation with the film’s director, Carlos Carcas, about the making of the film.

AA: What was your inspiration to make Minera and how did you get Rocio Marquez involved?

CC: I was approached by Spanish producer, Ivan Franco to make the film. He had a friend who was an advertising creative from the south where there’s a festival for cante minera. They had been thinking about taking one of these singers into a mine to teach miners these songs. But then there was the strike and the idea came up to contact Rocio Marquez, who had recently won the award at this festival. Something very rare because the winners are almost always men.

AA: Can you explain the origins of mineras as a song style in flamenco and can you speak about the relationship between music, life and activism in places like Spain.

CC: An important part of flamenco lyrics have to do with lament, not only the loss of love, but also the hard life of manual labor. The cante jondo, which could roughly be translated to mean “deep roots songs” have a lot to do with life working at the iron foundries. The music of singer Agujetas is a great example of this. It’s very deep music, full of pain. A bit like the roughest, most pure, acoustic blues music in the old southern U.S. It’s the same thing with the mineras. Rocio’s song in the film contemplates death while working in the mines. And traditionally one of the workers would sing these songs while performing hard labor as a way of making the workday more bearable for all.

I can’t say if there is a direct relationship between music and activism in Spain. There is, however, a very important link between music and social commentary, especially in Cadiz, with the chirigotas. These are groups of people who get together every year during carnival to perform these incredibly choreographed musicals with fantastically satirical lyrics commenting on all of the major events of the year, on every subject, especially politics. And they are brutally smart, funny and ruthless in their critiques. Musically, they are more like rumbas & sevillanas.These choruses of men in costume put on a spectacle. Imagine Monty Python in Spanish, with flamenco music on Broadway. A lot of pride and work goes into these yearly performances.

AA: Can you give us some background about the strike and the current situation in 2016?

CC: There was an agreement to gradually layoff the miners and close the mines, and this changed without warning and the mines were suddenly scheduled to close abruptly. This is why they went on strike. The result? They lost. Pure and simple. There is plenty of money to bail out big banks who play roulette, but hospitals face cutbacks. Riot police get furnished with new equipment while workers get fired. It’s the global trend of our time.

AA: Is there anything else that you would like to say?

CC: I just want to say that I’m very grateful to Ivan for having been asked to make the film. I had never been in a coal mine. The original idea was that Rocio would sing through the intercom and we would record the miners reaction. Then Rocio would go in to meet them. However, riding the train in, which was around a kilometer’s distance into the cave, I started having this horrible feeling of not being able to breathe inside this dark, black place. Getting out would not be easy. This was something completely emotional that was happening to me.

Of course I could breathe, but the feeling being stuck inside was terrible. What if a tunnel suddenly caved in? It made me appreciate how brutally difficult working down there could be, day after day, year after year. Not seeing the sun. Those miners had chosen not to come out of there as a form of protest. For over a month and a half. While I was walking through those tunnels, I understood that Rocio’s voice needed to echo throughout the cave. Her voice would be the voice of the ghost of all the singers of mineras before her who had come and gone, the voice of all the miners who were also dead and gone, the voice of those who had died buried alive in the mines or in bed with blackened lungs. Not just in Spain, but everywhere.

Not long after Rocio sang to them, the miners ended their strike and there was a final march to Madrid. I think that Rocio’s visit there, and the film, enabled those men to come out with dignity. I think they needed something to honor their struggle, which they knew was a losing battle. Maybe the film, in some way, helped make them feel like their time there had not been wasted. Who knows?….

Minera – Miners’ Song (English subtitles) from Carlos Carcas on Vimeo.