I had been meaning to write about flamenco and share some experiences that may help you navigate through the dizzying number of shows and activities during the Festival de Jerez 2018 (23 February to 10 March). . . but you know, two kids and life have a way of getting ahead of everything else.
Then, last night as I was walking through the empty Plaza San Miguel to take the trash and recyclables out to the bins located a block away, in a small plaza just across from the Convento de San Jose, I heard an all too familiar calling for us flamenco enthusiasts. Or was it a cry.
As I entered the little “echo” street that marks the beginning of calle Barja, a cantaora’s (a female flamenco singer) voice soared to the bell tower, cut through the silence of the plaza, and reverberated through the rain-wet walls of the buildings and bodega nearby. Not a whisper nor a word could be heard, just my footsteps bouncing through the echo street with mechanical-sounding early reflections. A strange combination. A pleasant destination.
I dumped the trash and emptied the recyclables–bottles and one milk brick (carton) by one–as an exercise in mindfulness in action. Then the angelic voice turned into a coarse cry. Crying out to whom? I don’t know. And from where? I sought to find out. I was in my pajamas–too lazy to change tonight.
And then, it died out. The voice, that calling. . . and there it was again, through the cracked open doors of Iglesia San Miguel (church of San Miguel). I walked through the outer doors but hovered, hesitating, by the entrance. After all, my wife’s not gonna like it if I walked in a church, much less our church, in my pajamas. So, I cut the corner of the cracked-open door and took a peak. If God or the Russians were watching, I must have looked like a speedy-gonzalez-spy-in-training… and not a good one at that! It was a church full of solemn people, attentive to the cries of the saeteros (those who sing a specific style of flamenco, religiously themed, unaccomapnied by guitar or palmas or anything else but the echo of the voice. Saeta itself, loosely translates to “an arrow straight to the heart of God,” traditionally only sung during the Holy Week).
I confirmed through the poster that it was a night of Saeta with 4 saeteros, dedicada a l a mujer (in honor of women) on International Women’s Day when millions of women joined strikes across Spain.
What to do. What to do? Well, out of respect for the church and fear of my wife, I decided to run back home, change, brush my teeth and get a little bit civilized.
At the church…. I sneaked to the rearmost pew towards the end of Jose Sandoval’s (from Utrera) lamentations, followed by Maria Almendro‘s (from Malaga) piercing penitence. The exultadera Susana Esther Merino broke the wailing with her prose of exultation. For non-Spanish speakers this part could have been a bit too long at about 30 minutes, but she hit the desired effect as the crowd applauded at the peak of her exultations.
A tocaor (guitarist) played a Solea and that’s when I noticed the great local guitarist Paco Cepero, siting by himself on an empty pew on the side towards the back of the church. Then everyone played again, beginning with Maria, and including Juan de Mairena (from Mairena). Then, that mournful beauty of a voice that called me into the church, came back. It was Elu de Jerez. The power of her mourning cut through the dome and straight to the heavens, from a whisper to a scream, like a thunder in reverse direction.
I never heard of her before this. Clearly she was a cut above the rest. You do not need to understand what any of them are singing to feel the power of their prayers and agonies and lamentations. When the hairs on your nape and on your arms start to depart from your skin at the sound of saeta, you will have felt it and know what I meant. No words will have been needed. It is what they call flamenco puro.
Pleasant surprises, such as this, abound here in Jerez de la Frontera. You can immerse yourself in flamenco. It is simply everywhere and it is free (for the most part that is)! I simply went to take the trash out and came back. . .well, renewed to say the least.
Pena Buena Gente has an upcoming Saeta concurso (contest) on 10 and 16 of March (at 2100) at the pena itself. The FINALS will be held at 2030 on 24 March at Sala Compania. Entrance is FREE but do get there early, and PLEASE DO contribute to the local economy by consuming something. For future reference, there was also a saeta held at 2100 on 09 March at the Iglesia de San Mateo (in the heart of the old historic center–casco historico). I am sure there are others and I will post them when I come across the info.
test audio clip of toca por Solea and Maria Almendro’s saeta (11 minutes):