The Riau Riau: Pamplona's July 6th Tradition

The Riau Riau: Pamplona's July 6th Tradition

If you'll be in Pamplona for the opening ceremony, or "chupinazo," on July 6th, don't miss the "Riau Riau" - one of Pamplona's most beloved traditions during the Running of the Bulls festival.

The "Riau Riau" is a lively and joyous event that takes place annually in Pamplona, Spain, on July 6th, during which thousands of revelers sing and dance their way from the town hall to the nearby church. It typically kicks off at around 4:30pm from Pamplona's Plaza Consistorial, although the exact timing may vary slightly from year to year as it's not an official event.

The Tradition

First organized by Ignacio Baleztena, the "Riau Riau" has been celebrated for over a century, dating back to 1911. Legend has it that the tradition first began as a playful rebellion against city hall officials who were making their way from the town hall to the nearby church, the Iglesia of San Lorenzo, for the "Vespers" service. To playfully annoy these officials and to add some festive chaos to the solemn affair, locals decided to create their own procession - on the same streets and at the same time - defined by glorious, loud, drunken chaos. 

Ignacio Baleztena Ascárate - Wikipedia
Ignacio Baleztena, who started the "Riau Riau" tradition

The popularity of the "Riau Riau" grew rapidly, and by 1914, it had become an official part of the city's fiesta activities. However, as the years went by, the event began to pose challenges for city officials. In 1980, revelers disrupted the procession for so long that it took municipal representatives an astonishing 5 hours and 25 minutes to cover the 500-meter route from the town hall to the Iglesia de San Lorenzo. Instances of violence during the event further complicated matters, and, by 1991, city officials decided to remove the Riau Riau from the list of official events. 

Fortunately, to the immense joy of Pamplona locals, the event was revived in 1997 as an unofficial part of Pamplona's July 6th celebrations. Since then, this tradition has grown into one of the biggest and most anticipated events of Los sanfermines. City officials now avoid the chaos of the Riau Riau by taking a car to the Iglesia de San Lorenzo instead of walking amidst the revelers.

The Music

Although the term "Riau Riau" typically refers to the entire tradition, it is also frequently used to refer specifically to the song that is played at the event - also called "La Alegría de Iruña."

The lyrics of "La Alegría de Pamplona" were written in 1928 by María Isabel Hualde Redín, several years after the Riau Riau celebration first began. These lyrics were set to the tune of the "Vals de Astráin," which is an orchestral song by a 19th-century Pamplona composer, Miguel Astráin Remón. The "Vals de Astráin," or "Astráin Waltz," was already played by the city band during the official procession of town hall representatives, so the revelers of the Riau Riau just needed to sing!

Today, the famous "La Pamplonesa" band plays the Astráin Waltz for this event, and the whole city comes together to sing the lyrics. For locals and visitors alike, the "Riau Riau" is a cherished tradition that embodies the spirit of community, celebration, and fiesta, and it serves as a colorful prelude to the week-long festivities of the San Fermín festival.

Try to learn the Spanish lyrics below so that you can join in this tradition! Here's a video of the Riau Riau so that you can sing along.

Lyrics of the Riau-Riau, to the tune of the Vals de Astráin, or the Astráin Waltz

A las 4, el 6 de julio (At 4 o'clock, on July 6th)
Pamplona gozando va (Pamplona is enjoying)
pasando calles y plazas (passing through streets and squares)
las Vísperas a cantar (singing the Vespers)
al glorioso San Fermín (to the glorious San Fermín)
patron de esta gran ciudad (patron saint of this great city)
que los pamplonicas aman (whom the people of Pamplona love)
con cariño sin igual. (with unmatched affection)
Delante van (In front go)
chiquillos mil (thousands of children)
con miedo atroz gritan: ¡Aqui! (with terrible fear they shout: Here!)
un cabezon viene detras (a "big-head" comes behind)
dando vergazos y haciendo chillar (giving whacks and making them scream)
¡¡Riau-Riau!! (Riau-Riau!!)
Detrás vienen los muchachos (Behind come the young men)
en un montón fraternal (in a fraternal group)
empujando a los gigantes (pushing the giants)
con alegría sin par (with unparalleled joy)
porque llegaron las fiestas (because the festivities have arrived)
de esta gloriosa ciudad (of this glorious city)
que son en el mundo entero (which are in the whole world)
una fiesta sin igual. (a festival like no other)
¡¡Riau-Riau!! (Riau-Riau!!)
Los mozos de blusa (The young men in blouses)
que son los que dan animación (who are the ones that provide animation)
con los pollos-pera (with the pear chickens)
van todos unidos en montón. (they all go united in a group)
Los de la Pamplonesa (The ones from the Pamplonesa)
detrás vienen tocando (come playing behind)
van a honrar a su Patrón. (they are going to honor their Patron)
Toda la ciudad (The whole city)
con movimiento contemplando está (is watching with movement)
la gran caravana (the great caravan)
que gozosa a San Lorenzo va (that joyfully goes to San Lorenzo)
Los del Ayuntamiento (The ones from the City Hall)
con mazas y timbales (with maces and timbales)
van a honrar a San Fermín (are going to honor San Fermín)
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