Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Dancer Antonia “La Gallina”

Flamenco Dancer Antonia “La Gallina” Speaks – 1987 Interview with M. Herrera Rodas – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Sevilla Flamenca number 48, from mid-1987, carried a long interview by M. Herrera Rodas with an elderly dancer from Granada, Antonia “La Gallina”, born in 1917.  It offers a revealing look at a vanished world, and at the Granada tradition, so different from the flamenco world of the Seville-Jerez area.

Like many Gypsies who were raised in the caves, this woman has recently been relocated to a development (Poligono de la Cartuja) that may offer better physical conditions but lacks the atmosphere and charm of the Sacromonte.  In 1961 and 1963 I studied in the caves with guitarist Pepe Tranca, the son-in-law of the famous dancer and cave-owner María La Canastera, who is referred to in this interview.

Last summer I was at the venerable Peña La Plateria in Granada where Curro Albayzin — who comments on things during this interview — presented his new book giving biographies of hundreds of Granada’s noted flamenco figures.  [When I did this translation, I hadn't yet figured out how to add accent marks and enyas to Spanish words -- sorry]:

[The interviewer writes:]  Antonia Fernandez Heredia “La Gallina” is a gitana (Gypsy) from the Sacromonte of Granada, and in talking to her we hope to bring back to life an epoch, some dances and ways of dancing, and the history of a Granada and some people now gone forever.

Her own parents, “canasteros” [basketmakers] living in one of the humble caves carved into the Sacromonte mountainside, had ten children.  The father, Frasquito, made baskets (canastas) that he sold in the cortijos.  Her mother, also a “canastera” was finer (mas fina — more refined, having more class or status)…

– Yes, my father went around the Upper Sacromonte looking for cortijos (granges, farmhouses) where he could sell baskets.  Now, since my mother was finer, they called her La Canastera because she made very fine baskets for clothes, canastillas to put babies into, canastitos for the tourists, jewelry cases and the like.”

Int:  “Artists in the family?”

– No.  Well, they’d do their little songs (cantecitos) in family gatherings (fiestas de la familia).  And my mother did her little dances.  My mother was the aunt of my cousin Maria “La Canastera”, so I’m from all that branch (rama).”

Int:  “Always in the Sacromonte?”

– Yes, my parents were gitanos puros of the Sacromonte.  The Fernandezes and the Heredias, Gypsies forever.  My aunt was Micaela de la Alhambra, my father’s sister; she was the most famous gitana of the Sacromonte.  And the gitanos said that she was the “Queen” of the Gypsies.  You see her in photos of the Alhambra, at los Aljibes.  She told fortunes with cards.  And my aunt Antonia, my mothers sister, danced very well and was very pretty, very pretty (mu guapa, mu guapa).  And a very important gentleman (senor) fell in love with her, the fellow who built the roadway in the mountains.  He was named Don Juan Santacruz, and he was a Marquis.  And he married my aunt.  My aunt did all the dances that were done in the Sacromonte, and even made a movie called “El Nino de Oro”.  And my aunt Concha also danced in the Sacromonte…”

Int: “And you, Antonia, what do you remember of your childhood?

– Well, from the time we were very little, we’d go to dance and we’d do our dances, because it came from within us.  Of course, we learned from others, from the least important to the greatest.  Like La Chata, La Jampona, La Gazpacha, and all of them… And we’d hide behind the door to watch them dance, and that’s how we too started to dance.  And then we went to the Ave Maria school, with Don Andres Manjon [evidently the famous originator of an outdoor school for Gypsies]…

Int:  “Did you know Don Andres?”

– Yes, I remember him from when I was very young.  He always went around on a black burro.  And all that gitanitas and all the gitanitos went to kiss his hand.  And we’d say, “give us a limosnita (alms)”, and kiss his hand.  And he always, because he was so good, he’d tell us “Yes, yes, children, I’m going to give you something, but go tell your mothers that they should come and give us some garbanzo beans and habichuela chickpeas, and tell them to always take you to school…”

Int:  “And you went to school?

– Yes, to the Ave Maria schools because there the gave us food to eat.  But to learn — no.  I don’t know how to read or write.”

[The interviewer writes]:  Antonia has unwittingly reminded us of a whole chapter in Spanish pedagogy of early in this century.  She has taken us to one of the pillars of our pedagogy, Father Manjon, the founder of the Schools of Ave Maria, the first attempt to create open-air schools.  The well-remembered Professor Gil Muniz described it thus:  “In 1889, our worthy compatriot established the permanent open-air schools in the countryside (en pleno campo), before Germany established its Chalottemburg Schools, before other countries did the same, before this naturalist movement reached the apogee we see today.”

Yes, these schools in one of Granada’s loveliest spots, the Valle de Valparaiso, following the lead of a poor teacher of a sick friend who, for a few cents per child, taught the rudiments of learning in a Gypsy cave on the road between the Sacromonte and Granada.”  The objective:  “to pick up the poorest and most humble, to educate, dress and feed them.”

Antonia, like so many other Gypsy children of her time, went there to eat, to get clean clothes, and to seek what would become her reason for being:  the dance.  That, of course, is not found in a school.  If the good Don Andres had only incorporated dance into his curriculum in the open air school, our protagonist would surely not be illiterate today.  But that was impossible then, and Antonia, like so many other Gypsy children, went to school only for warm food to fill her stomach or for something to cover her naked body…

But we return to this Gallina (hen) of the Sacromonte, who learned the dance from her elders, pursuing a part of herself that she knew she had in her blood, as so many of her own people do, all those who’ve had seats in the caves and have created and transmitted an original and distinctive form of flamenco dance…

– I could talk all day, remembering the Sacromonte, because it is my whole life, the only place I want to be is there!

[The interviewer writes]:  It’s the eternal story.  The Sacromonte was her place.  As with other new barrios (neighborhoods) the Poligono de la Cartuja was granted to the Gypsies of the Sacromonte as a place where they, and others who did not have adequate housing, could be relocated.  “This Poligono development is the Gypsy barrio now”, Antonia says.  “[It's nothing but] a ghetto”, say Francisco Manuel Diaz and Curro Albaycin who have accompanied us and served to introduce us to Antonia on this visit.  A humble barrio, disconnected from the atmosphere of Camino, and poor.  A peripheral barrio, like so many others in big cities, uniform and drab, without personality, unable to satisfy the basic and artistic needs of its people.  For this reason, Gallina vehemently says today — in much the same way that the artists Tragapanes and la Calzona have said about their relocation from Seville’s Triana district to drab outlying developments:

“I want to live where I was!  In the Sacromonte!  In my cave!  That’s what I want!”

She doesn’t know of any cure for the rheumatism [that influenced her decision to finally move from the damp caves], or for these alleged urban necessities.  Now she has more rooms that she can use, but she lacks the warmth of her cave, and misses the warmth of her people [in their former communal lifestyle].

Int:  “When were you born, Antonia?”

– Ay, child, I have a very bad memory.  I don’t remember…

Her husband speaks:  “She’s seventy.”

– Yes, that’s it.  I married him when the war ended (1939), when I was about twenty.  In May, the most beautiful month.  When the flowers cover the fields, and the Sacromonte is so lovely.  And the almonds are in bloom.  That’s why they threw so many almonds at me on my wedding day.”

Int:  “What were the weddings like, Antonia?”

– I’ll tell you.  The most important thing was to prove that the bride was a virgin.  They did the test of the handkerchief, and if it didn’t emerge stained, it meant she was not a mocita (damsel).  When it did, that showed that she was virgin, and the fiesta began.”

[The interviewer writes this verse from the alboreas, the wedding song of Andalucia’s gitanos]:

“Alevanta, padrino honrao,

alevanta y no duermas mas

que ya la novia l’han coronao”

(Arise, honored godfather,

sleep no more,

The bride has been crowned.)

The most sacred rite of the Gypsy people (esta raza) is here, in the proof of virginity of the female (hembra).  In fact, the entire Sacromonte would develop around these intimate rituals that flowered among these people who never stopped appreciating their significance.  It was the song and dance of the “alborea” that became the great celebration of feminine purity.  What other group gives such emphasis to the cult of the virginity of its women?  We don’t know how it would break the hermeticism (sealed-off, private quality) of the family if it is converted into a public spectacle.  But one can guess — and surely, what it presented to the public is nothing but a bad copy of this great and intimate fiesta of the families, celebrating honor maintained, the purity of the heritage, the glory of the caste, sublimated into the purity of the damsel.

Dichosa la mare

que tiene, pa dar,

rosas y claveles

por la madruga.

(Happy the mother

who has and can give

roses and carnations

for the morning).

[The "roses and carnations" would refer to the proof of virginity of the daughter.]

The male, born to become a patriarch, head of household (dueno) and master (senor) of honor and life, would raise a glass of wine in the universal toast.  No one would be more important that night than the father who offered his daughter, “casta y pura” (with her breeding and purity?), to guarantee the continuity of the “raza”.  No one could take from the young Gypsy boy the glory of taking unto himself a virgin who would then have to exemplify the tribe (tribu).  These were the attributes of the Gypsy.  His highest gift.

Esta noche mando yo

que manana mande quienquiera.

Que esta noche v’y a pone

por las esquinas, banderas.

(Tonight, I am in command (in charge; the boss).

I don’t care who’s the boss tomorrow.

But tonight, I’m going to

put flags on every corner.)

– Yes, the weddings would last three or four days.  They’d throw lots of almonds at the bride and drink wine from the shoe of the groom.  Wine and aguardiente.  The dance of the bodas (weddings) was the “albola” (alborea).  The “albola” ended with the “ana” [?].”

Int:  “And your wedding?”

[The interviewer writes]:

Antonia looks at her husband who has remained respectfully silent during the interview, and smiles at him.  The man, a solid Gypsy (bien plantado) is named Juan Heredia Gomez and he is from Santa Fe, though following his marriage he lived in the Sacromonte.  He has done everything, working the fields, selling goods from a burro, as a tradesman — everything that people did in that bygone Sacromonte to make a living.  Singing was something he only did in family fiestas, weddings and baptisms.  He does his little Gypsy songs (cantecitos gitanos) por solea, por martinetes… Military service and the war took him to Granada, and when he went up to the Sacromonte he met Antonia….

– My wedding (Antonia continues) was like all Gypsy weddings.  I was a virgin.  My husband when he came as a soldier to the Sacromonte — How handsome he was, he looked like an alferez (ensign)!  Well, he told me “You must be mine” (Que tu tienes que ser pa mi).  “Tota(l) que” (The upshot was) he carried me off (me rapto), and took me to the house of one of his aunts in Santa Fe, who gave me a bed next to her daughter, and said to her nephew as soon as she saw me, “My boy, yes, she is a beauty (si, es mozuela!); you can be proud…”  And then came the wedding, in the Sacromonte, and it lasted all day and all night.  All the Gypsies of Santa Fe and all those of the Sacromonte.  And there was singing and dancing, as in every Gypsy wedding.  And they made me a bed full of almond blossoms (llenica de almendras).  Afterwards, they kept singing and dancing…”

Int: “Did you keep working as a dancer after the wedding?”

– Of course!  It is my life!  Even if I arose at two or three o’clock, I wouldn’t miss it.  I endured such cold in that Camino — that’s the way I am!”

[The interviewer writes]:

The dance, always the dance in El Camino.  We’ll return to it.

We’ve come close, but it’s good to spell this out:  In the Sacromote, all the dances had something to do with the ritual of marriage between the Gypsy macho and the Gypsy virgin.  The “rapto” or carrying off, despite how it may appear, served as nothing more than a guarantee of virginity.  The bride was deposited in a secure domicile of a family member.  Then the groom went to her father and begged his partdon.  The dance that evokes this stealing of the bride is the Cachucha:

La cachucha de mi mare

s l’ha llevaito el viento

y yo de ti m’ha levantao

la luz del entendimiento.

Ven a mi,

ven a mi,

junto a mi vera

ven a mi.

The cachucha [?] of my mother

is gone with the wind,

just as I’ve taken from you

the light of understanding [?]

This dance, according to Ca[n?]dido Ortiz de Villajos in his book “Gitanos de Granada” was the apotheosis of the zambra.  All the singers, dancers and musicians took part in it, making a circle of song and jaleo (cheering) around the couple.  Other dances, much more piquant, completed the trio of dances of the zambra.  The were the mosca, and the petaco (the latter always danced by the oldest gitana with some movements of the belly (vientre), some “recortes de la barriga” [possibly movements implying pregnancy], that, because it was done by the eldest, took away the frivolity that would have characterized the same dance had it been done by young women), and they came to represent the mirth after the wedding — the jokes and carnal insinuations, far from the lyricism that imbues the alborea, or, as they call it, the “albola”.

When the dance lost its intimate character and emerged into the light, the gitanas found a means of making a living through the dance.  That is what all the gitanas of the Sacromonte would do.  And it’s what Antonia, too, would do.

– When I was ten, I went to become a dancer (iba a la danza).  I learned in the cave of “La Coja”, which was the first place there was.  We all wanted to learn better, so we could go to the cave of Manolo Maya where they had the best danzas and you could earn a little more money.  When I was fifteen, I went to dance in the cave of Manolo Maya.”

[The interviewer writes/says]:  “Nonetheless, as a historical fact we note the the first recordings made of the songs and dances of the Sacromonte were those of the “Cueva de la Coja”.

– That’s true.  It’s just that we went there first, when we were younger and starting out, and then moved on to Manolo Maya’s.  When I was in the cueva of Manolo Maya, that’s when (the very well-known dancer) Vicente Escudero came and took us to America, to New York.  And there we were, all of us — in America, without knowing anything about life there, or anything!  And all the gaches (non-Gypsies) there were staring at us because we didn’t even have hats, like other artists…  And la Jardin said “Let’s go buy some hats, so these gachos don’t look at us like that.”  I bought one, and Pepa la Gazpacha bought a beret (boina) and when her husband saw it he said “Take that evil-looking thing off your head!”  Anyway, all kinds of things happened there.  Vicente Escudero taught me to dance “El Amor Brujo”.  I did my little bailecitos, but when Vicente saw me he changed my role of ?echando cartas” so an older woman did it, and he made me the bailarina doing the dance of “Amor Brujo” which was a classical dance.”

Int:  “What were the dances you used to do, Antonia?”

– Bueno, I knew all the dances of Granada.  The fandango del Albaicin, la mosca, la cachucha, la albola, la zarabandilla, la buleria corri(d)a, which is a special dance of El Camino, la manchega, los tangos…”

Curro Albaycin [a key figure in Granada flamenco] says “Her strongest number was the “tango de falseta” [falseta usually means a melodic guitar variation, as opposed to rhythmic strumming] that only two great dancers have done — her, and Pepa la Gazpacha.  The two best dancers we’ve had in all our known history.  It’s a dance with many Arab influences.  The woman has to bend (doblar) at the waist a lot, and does a turn, completely doubled over, on the ground (al suelo).  And it has a very rhythmic step (paso).  It’s very much our own dance (Es un baile muy nuestro).”

Int:  “What costume (ropa) is customary in the danza?”

– A vesti(d)o de volantes, of percale, that we wash, iron, and put on clean every day.  And the flowers!  We carried a maceta of flowers on our head, flowers from the paths and fields.”

Int:  “Your favorite color for costumes?”

– Well, it depends.  Sometimes, granate [presumably the deep red color of cut pomegranates, seen in the liquer called Grenadine; Granada is the Spanish word for pomegranate], other times blue dots on a white dress.  And now I have one that I made to work in the galas that feature us old folks (the circuit of the ITEAF, an organization intended to benefit elderly artists, which later evidently failed), that’s very pretty, black with white polka dots, and the panoleta is the reverse.”

Int: Have you danced with “pololos”? [? --could it mean palillos -- castanets?]

– No, not me.  That was the very old days, la Jampona, la Jardin, the mother of Maria la Bizca, la Trinidad…”

Int:  “Who were the women who danced best in the Sacromonte?”

– Many.  For example, Maria la Gazpacha, who also sang very well, and who in Barcelona won a prize for singing saetas that was given to her by (the famous singer Manuel) Vallejo.  Also there was La Nina de los Peines, though she was not competing in the contest.  And Carmen Amaya, who was very little.”

Now, of dancers, the best of all was Chata la Jampona who did the soleares of back then (de antes)…  Then, also, Pepa la Gazpacha who was the dancer I learned from first because she was much older than I, and wonderful to watch.  My favorite was la Jardin who did the most gracioso (wonderfully graceful or appealing) things with her hands — and what desplantes (heelwork)!  That was the part I took from her — she was some gitana (una gitana de bandera).”

Int:  “Older than you?”

– Uy, she could’ve been my mother!”

Int:  “Others?”

– My aunt Antonia who also danced very well.  La Faraona, Los Cotorreros.  And the newer ones, Pepa la del Morote [could this be a member of the family of the brilliant guitarist Juan Maya "Marote", despite the spelling difference?], la Pata Perro…”

Int:  “Antonia, tell us some things you remember about people…”

– Well, the musician Angel Barrios often came to see me dance.  And a man named Franco who’d give us the bills of veinte duros (100 pesetas) each month.  He came to the Alhambra, and they sent me up there to dance…”

Int:  “Do you recall the tavern of Polinario and the atmosphere there?”

– Of course, it was on Agua street by the Royal Alhambra street, where my aunt Micaela lived.  But I don’t remember the artists there because I was so young — but there’s still a gitana here who was in the cuadro of that concurso they had in Granada [the famed 1922 Concurso de Cante Jondo].

Curro adds:  “There are two survivors, in fact — one, the one who danced the Petaco, Maria Amaya, who is 87.  And my aunt Angustias, who was a singer and is 84 or 85.”

Int:  “What are the cantes of Granada’s Gypsies?”

– The tangos!”

Curro agrees:  “The tangos, yes, with a lot of richness and variety.  The ones that Camaron does, and Lole y Manuel, and Morente, and Panseco (Pansequito) — well, they’re all from here, from this rich place.”

Int:  “The best singer?”

– Juanillo el Gitano, who was a monster.  And Paquillo el Gitano, but Juanillo was the best of all.  He sang the verse:

!Valgame Dios!

!Que alegria tiene toito el mundo,

que duquelas tengo yo!

(My God,

how happy everyone is,

and what sorrows I bear.)

Curro says:  “Anyway, in Granada, what we have is fundamentally the dance.  As for singing, not so much — but what there is, is good.  But the dance above all.”

Now Francisco Manuel speaks up:  “And the guitar”.  And a tertulia (discussion group) begins, giving our protagonist more time to speak freely.

Int:  “What guitarists do you remember from the caves, Antonia?”

– The Ovejillas — one was Juan, the other was Manuel.  They were payos (non-Gypsies) and very good artists.  And Manolo Maya, El Cotorrero, Tio Pata Perro, El Tranca (Pepe Tranca — Jose Maldonado Cortes), the Fajardos [possibly the same family as the late singer Rafael Fajardo]…”

Int: “Do you remember Tia Marina?”

– From the time I was a little girl, she would look for little beans on the streets.  Her father, who was called El Mandeli, played the guitar [presumably the dedicatee of the recording by the outstanding guitarist Pepe Habichuela called "A Mandeli"], and she sang, sitting in a chair.  And she did her little dances in the taverns.  Then she was in the zambras, in the cave of La Golondrina.”

Curro intervenes:  “Tia Marina was a gitana whose singing improved with age (ha ganado con los anos).  How long she lived!  She had some granainas that were espeluznantes (set your hair on end).  And also some tangos that are her own, because she didn’t live in the Sacromonte but in las Cuestas which is another barrio, and she adopted those tangos and made something priceless…”

Int:  “Getting back to the Sacromonte and its caves.  You told us, Antonia, about two specific caves, those of la Coja and Manolo Maya.  But what other caves, what other zambras were there in El Camino?”

– In the 1940′s they started those of La Golondrina, la Faraona, la de Rocio, la de Maria la Canastera…and the cueva de la Coja went to her nuera (son-in-law?) and became la Vitirola.”

Int:  “And now, what remains?”

– Well, there’s the cave of Rocio, and that of Chato which was mine…”

Int:  “You mean you owned a cueva?”

– Yes; look, all us bailaoras aspired to have our own zambra (cave), but in reality it couldn’t be.”

Her husband Juan, after his long silence, intervenes to clarify:  “It’s hard to explain, but there, when we had the cave, we couldn’t really live.  There were jealousies (envidias) and also the guardias (Guardia Civil troops?  Regular police?) were there all the time.  And they never let us alone.  It was all legal in my case, but there were other problems, because not all Gypsies are the same, if you get what I mean…

Int:  “How long did you have your own zambra, Antonia?”

– About three months.  The cave was very beautiful, and my daughter Trini and I danced there.”

The interviewer writes:  “Antonia tells us all that happened in selling her cueva — or her “zambra” as she calls it, to differentiate it from the casa-cueva or house-cave where she lived.  She talks of the pressures and the problems they had with someone we shouldn’t mention here, because it’s not our intention to reignite old rancors.  She angrily recalls how she had to abandon the cave without even getting her pictures, or her “Virgen de las Angustias”.  And how, pained even with her own spouse, she decided to leave and spend time with a daughter who was married and living in Torremolinos.”

– Yes, I went to live with my daughter.  And I set to work polishing everything, but then I told myself, “What with all I could earn with my little dances and with my “cartas” [cards -- for telling fortunes]…”

Int:  “You told fortunes with cards?  (Echaba las cartas?)”

– Of course!   I went into the cave, and did the cards.  Well, you know how it is.  I would guess what each person wanted most to hear, and that’s exactly what I would tell them.  If they were foreigners (extranjeras), I’d tell them they were going to meet a handsome Gypsy and fall in love with him — things like that…”

Int:  “Did you tell them all the same thing?”

– Hombre, I tried to tell them what I’d guessed they wanted to hear.  And I’d tell them never to tell anyone else what I had told them, or else the dream would not come true…”

[The interviewer writes]:  Antonia shows us a picture of her daughter Trini that they made for the entry tickets.  At the bottom you can see the cave full of peroles (copper pots) that they’d then try to sell to the foreigners.  Of course, they wouldn’t sell the antique ones.  Their zambra didn’t last long, as we’ve noted, but Juan and Antonia, with their many children, kept on living in their Sacromonte cave, behind the road, until just over a year ago, when her rheumatism and her children obliged her to move to the little house in the new Poligono.”

Int:  “Tell us about your cave-house, Antonita.”

– Well, it was like all of them.  It had three rooms.  The old folks slept in one, the men (machos) in another and the women (hembras) in the other.  To wash up we went outside, to the lebrillo.  And we made our meals in the jornillon (large oven).”

Int:  “What did you live on?”

– Whatever my husband made, selling things from his little burro, or in the tratos (as a tradesman), or from the little lettuces that he sold with vinegar for folks going up to the caves.  And what I earned from my danzas.”

Int:  “Did you earn a lot?”

– No, que va!  (No — are you crazy?)  They paid very badly in the danzas.  I think the most I ever made was veinte duros (100 pesetas).  Very little.  The only time you’d make money was when you left here.  With Vicente Escudero in New York, and in Paris.  I went there, doing “El Amor Brujo” and the Sacromonte dances .  And here in Granada, the time we made a “penicula” (pelicula — film) with Carmen Amaya, called “Maria de la O”.  That would’ve been the year 1936 or so.  And now, when they take us for the galas (presenting old artists).”

Int:  “How many of you went on the trip with Vicente Escudero?

– He took ten of us.  Mara la Pata Perro, el Cotorrero with the pandero, two guitarists — yes, about ten of us.  And imagine — we had to go on airplanes, and in elevators — we who had never once left our caves!”

Int:  “Other espectaculos?”

– I was in Madrid three times.  With the empresario named Vedrines, who also took us to Tetuan (a Spanish colony on the African coast);  And in 1929 we went to the Barcelona Exposition.  I was there twice, because we also went there to continue the shooting of the picture “Maria de la O”.  (Curro intervenes:  “You went there to make “Forja de Armas”, which my mother also appears in.”)  “No,” Antonio continues, “that was another one that we made later.  The first was “Maria de la O” that we started here and ended in Barcelona.  Here, La Lidia is where Carmen danced por alegrias.  And we danced the fandango, and Pastora Imperio — ay, how gracioso she was with her hat! — danced the tanguillos de Cadiz.  And then we danced the “albola” of the bride.”

Int:  “What did you think of Pastora Imperio and Carmen Amaya?”

– Carmen Amaya was the phenomenon, the best of all.  La Pastora was very graciosa, dancing and moving her arms.  But Carmen Amaya was the best ever.”

Int:  “How should the dances be done, Antonia?”

– Well, you have to know how to move the hands, the arms, the torso…  Everything has to be related.  And you have to know what to do with your feet (saber meter los pies).”

Int:  “Are your dances related closely to Arab dances?”

It is the three who answer: “Mucho!  (Very much so!)”  Curro Albaycin says:  “You have to remember that the Gypsies entered Granada with the Catholic Kings (Ferdinand and Isabelle, who reconquered it from the Moors).  And they were with the moriscos (remaining Moors) who lived on the mount (el Monte) and in the surrounding area of Granada.  From them the Gypsies learned their dances (sus bailes, sus danzas), and their way of life.  Just think that the Arabs were in Granada a lot longer that the Christians have been since the reconquest — they haven’t been here five hundred years (yet), while the Arabs were here for 800 years.”

Francisco Manuel says:  “The very word ‘zambra’ is an Arabic word.  Rhythmically, that flamenco form falls between the tangos and the tientos, and it is a very majestic dance that requries a bailaora (female dancer) of real stature (“hechura”) to dance it well.”

[The interviewer writes]:  Indeed, according to Ortiz de Villajos in his cited work, the word “zambra” is Arabic and, etymologically, it means “flute”.  It was originally danced accompanied by “zabeles” or Moorish flutes and other wind instruments similar to the dulzaina.  And for how long were these dances proscribed, forbidden by the dominant society?  How could the Gypsies, with the imitative abilites (facilidad mimetica) that characterizes them, adopt this folklore, and mix it with their own rituals and their own musical expression, archaic and Oriental?  How was this osmosis possible, and how did new and different rhythms appear, and a new and distinct art?  How long was it before they realized that their own musical fermentations would interest the broader society?  What did this have to do with the literary current of “costumbrismo” (interest in popular culture and folk customs) that characterized the first third of the Nineteenth Century?  Was the American writer Washington Irving, who lived for some time in the Alhambra, one who contributed most to building appreciation for this music, for these rhythms?

Books don’t give very many answers.  According to Ortiz de Villajos, the first public zambra performance took place in the Placeta del Humilladero and was organized by Antonio Torcuato Martin, apparently called “El Cojon” (the chronicler didn’t dare to give his name), or “El Cujon”, according to Francisco Manuel, who still has an early-style guitar that belonged to this Gypsy.  In that Zambra appeared the dancer Talones, Frasquirri with his wife Carmen la Pella, the Cagachines (the Cortes family), the Amayas, the Mayas…  It was evidently a non-Gypsy from Cordoba, named Marmol, who died in the local jail, who robbed the proceeds and ruined the proceedings.  Things continued at the hands of Pepe and Juan Amaya and their sisters Pepa and Trinidad, who started up the spectacle in a cave then called Ave Maria.  Manuela, the wife of Pepe Amaya, was a genius who ened up dancing in Brazil.  Chorrojumo was a Gypsy who danced in the Eighteenth-Century style.

The dance, in all its forms, was on the street, and so there appeaed, for whatever reason, a new cultural expression in Andalusia.  And many others, of unknown origin, from other roots, emerged in our country.

Putting aside these complications to return to realities, we see that Antonia has put on her shawl and flowers for photos.  ‘

Int:  “What singers moved you the most, Antonia?”

– Juanillo el Gitano, who sang por solea, por siguiriyas, por bulerias.  And Frasquito Yerbaguena!  He was very gracioso, and did some cantes that were so beautiful.  And la Gazpacha…”

Int:  “Guitarists?”

– Miguel de los Santos, who played for Frasquito.  And the ones I’ve mentioned from the cuevas.  And now, the Habichuelas.  But my memory is failing, and I keep forgetting names.”

Int:  “Why do you dance?”

– The Gypsies dance because we carry it in our blood.  And because we have to eat.  But our hearts call us to dance.  And from this joy the dance emerges.”

Int:  “Can the non-Gypsies (payos) do these dances?”

– Yes, though there’s that little special thing (pellizquito, from pellizco) that the Gypsies bring to it.  But there are castellanos (Castillians=non-Gypsies) who do these dances very well.  I’ll tell you something.   In the caves, not all the dancers were Gypsy, but were given to the Sacromonte.  You see, it often happened that Gypsy women picked up abandoned children or those who needed help, and they were raised among us.  And in other cases, Gypsy men married Castellano women or vice versa, but when we lived in El Camino or on the sides of the Sacromonte, well, we were all equal (toas eramos iguales).  My own children are almos all married to Castellanos.  My Tini, no — she’s married to a grandson of la Micaela.  But that’s the way it is here, we’re all the same (iguales), the Gypsies and the Castellanos…”

The interviewer writes:  “Time is passing.  We could keep talking to this woman for hours, for days, learning more about the history of her pueblo, this Sacromonte now virtually uninhabited and without the splendorous life that it used to have, when the dance was the unique and exclusive reason for being, for these people born for dancing.  Now virtually everything is lost.  These elderly Gypsies are a reserve of knowledge that is on the verge of extinction.  Those four galas a year for elderly artists serve as much to revalidate old forms and modes of expression, beautiful and rich in matrixes, as to bring some material help to these living relics, now spent by the years, in pain from the effects of years of dancing on their bodies and joints, their health — the only thing of value they had — now ruined by smoke and by rheumatism…

But we have benefitted from having found the heart and soul of the Sacromonte through the genius, the duende and the memory of this gitana who still conserves in her face traces of the beauty of her now-distant youth, and in her essence as a dance displays the ancestral manners of a people who knew how to maintain their existence and their purity through dance, through movement, through the divine rhythms of their timeless dances (bailes milenarios).  With this Antonia La Gallina, a pure Gypsy (gitana de pura cepa), from the branch of the Canasteras, Granadan by postin [?], this dancer from El Camino who has appeared in the great theaters of America and Europoe, who has appeared in two motion pictures, who lives, nonetheless, in the artistic anonymity of the humble people of the zambra, we have learned a little more about this lovely and important corner of the flamenco world that is the Sacromonte.

May God bless you, Antonia!  (“Que Dios se lo pague” — usually said to someone who has given one precious alms or assistance.)”

End of translation of interview by M. Herrera Rodas in Sevilla Flamenca number 48 of 1987.  Thanks for listening.

Brook Zern

October 25, 2011   No Comments