Flamenco in Jerez for Foreigners: Manuel de la Tomasa

Bombastic. In one word, that was Manuel de la Tomasa‘s outstanding performance at Peña Flamenca (PF) Tio Jose de Paula on the second Saturday of its 35th Otono Flamenco–of FREE authentic flamenco (puro) recitals in October in Jerez de la Frontera. This year’s shows are dedicated to Don Antonio Chacón García who was born 150 years ago in Barrio San Miguel and considered to be “El Papa del flamenco” (the Pope of flamenco). Here’s a review of the show.

Manuel, in his light-blue suit and sockless shoes, came out like a heat-seeking missile straight into the hardened hearts of the old guard of Jerezano flamencos. . . winning their hearts over and over again, song after song.

Photo credit: FB_IMG_1570549460928

“I sing from the heart… I do not study flamenco… It’s a way of life…”

Manuel de la Tomasa (in translation)

It’s the first time I had seen a standing ovation after the first song, especially from the vanguards of flamenco in Jerez (you know, those who sit in the front center and sides), who have very high standards (rightly so) for deciding what is good flamenco or not. They’ve heard plenty of it and some are well-known cantaores (singers of flamenco) themselves. The great Luis El Zambo was among them, along with local afficionado and TV host Juan Garrido.

He started of a palo seco (without guitar accompaniment) with a Tona, standing up. And when he finished, half the room was in standing ovation.

Then Miguel Salado on the guitar and two palmeros joined and they played por Alegrias, Solea, Fandangos, Seguirillas, Bulerias. . .

He sang with a savory style of going up high with his dynamic voice–filled with youthful vigor and fully formed by his family’s songs running through his veins–holding it there with a sigh, an exasperation just before descending back, winding down onto the home note.

It’s as if this gypsy’s voice wanders wide before coming back to the warm embrace of home. His index fingers would jut out and point as if stabbing the air, stabbing someone or something that took on the form of pain and sorrow.

In almost every song he ended up standing up, away from the crowd to get more intimate with the audience. I know many cantaores would do that as a matter of routine for some. Manuel seemed to have done it as a mandate of the heart. . . to heed the call of the gypsies, whether in the audience or long gone.

The pauses. His sighs cut through the silence of this intimate setting. PF Tio Jose de Paula can hold a maximum of 240 people. But tonight only the lower floor was fully packed with a handful oggling from the balcony, like the crumbling gargoyles on the nearby Iglesia de Santiago.

“With all respect to your land. I will sing a little Buleria!”

Manuel de la Tomasa (in translation)

For me, it’s the making of a rockstar, maybe not quite in the league of Camaron de las Isla Afterall the multitude of contenporary distractions would make devotion to a single personality rather difficult these days.

Manuel de la Tomasa is a rising star. No doubt avout it. It helps that he’s got the looks. He looks like Johnny Depp at his tender years of 20.

His lineage helps too. Apparently his great grandfathers were Manuel Torre and Jose de la Tomasa–both well-known, at least in the flamenco world.

And what of his guitar accompanist? Miguel Salado. A great guitarist, whose great personality seemed to be reflected in his kind-looking smile throughout the performance. He is one of only 3 guitarist here with established guitar school. The others? Jose Ignacio Franco and Juan Manuel Moneo.

A flamenco singer with eyes closed and fingers turned into a fist.  A poster of Manuel de la Tomasa for a concert at Peña Tio Jose de Paula, Jerez de la Frontera.
Photo credit: Manuel de la Tomasa, Peña Tio Jose de Paula.

When they arrived at Bulerias to mark the festive end of the show Manuel says, “With all respect to your land. I will sing a little Buleria!” Respectful. After all Jerez de la Frontera was the birthplace of this unmistakable gypsy palo with its difficult-to-learn-yet-infectious rythm . And Manuel a “foreigner” here. I think he is from Seville. (Yes, there is an underlying hierarchy of flamenco here. They won’t admit it when confronted. But it’s there, like the smell of sherry in the air.)

And yet, an old timer did yell out in response, something like, “You may not be from here but you are Jerezano through and through!” (And true, I would add)… With that the crowd, with the natives and foreigners in their midst, went wild in this “temple of flamenco” as they, the old guards, would remind people of what this place is.

And the jaleos, the loud expressions of merriment began, yet again. . . Ole! Ole! Ole!

Throughout the performance the patriarchs could not sit still in apparent mesmerized state, as if each holding waiting for what Manuel would sing next, savoring every word, with beaming smiles on their faces and seemingly ceaseless chants of approval. Ole. Ole! OLE!!!

At the end of a couple of songs, Manuel received enthusiastic hugs and kisses from the matriarchs, who later joined the stage for festivity of the Bulerias. They clapped. They danced. And most of all their presence right behind this young dynamite of a singer gave him a priceless stamp of approval.

As he said in the beginning, “I see that there are many gitanos (gypsies) here in the audience. It’s gonna be a great night! Viva Jerez!” Almost every cante (song) that he sang mentioned “gitanos”. Here, it’s almost like a prayer.

And it was a great night for everyone–gypsies and not, Jerezanos and foreigners, living and. . . hell, he might have even raised some of the dead!

It’s hard to imagine that it’s all free. FREE FANTASTIC FLAMENCO PURO! A small beer or glass of fino cost 1 euro, 2 for oloroso. You can even get some basic bocadillos or tapas for 2 euros…. and they came with a smile!

If you come here or at other peñas, please do support these cultural associations for organizing all these things at no cost to you, by BUYING something. Make it double. I had seen some foreigners there, some loud and taking up space, and bought nothing through the night. Not even a soda or water.

This is authentic flamenco at its best. The uninitiated foreigner (you know those who think Gypsy Kings and castanets and dancers in pretty dresses are what flamenco is all about) may either like this or turn away after a song or two.

“I see that there are many gitanos (gypsies) here in the audience. It’s gonna be a great night! Viva Jerez!”

Manuel de la Tomasa (in translation)

Flamenco is like the sweetest thing that you could eat and savor… but it comes wrapped in thorns. But once it gets ahold of you, it doesn’t let go… whether you speak Spanish or not. In fact, it changes you.

And when you start walking to the beat of the “son“…. of the 12-beat compas of the Bulerias. . . then you have arrived.

Manuel de la Tomasa seemed to have force-fed most everyone with his songs and personality. He had what was once explained to me as “chispa”…. that little something that makes him or what anyone does a little more special!

Next shows: Jesus Mendez and Diego del Morao, Maria Terremoto and Nono Jero, Luis El Zambo and Miguel Salado, Luis Moneo and Juan Ma Moneo. Check out the details and schedule for FREE and authentic FLAMENCO shows this fall at Peña Buena Gente and Peña Tio Jose de Paula (Otoño Flamenco en Jerez).

See you there! Enjoy the shows!


Schedule of performances of the 35th Otono Flamenco @ Peña Flamenca (PF) Tio Jose de Paula
35th Otoño Flamenco @ Peña Flamenca (PF) Tio Jose de Paula

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