Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Song Forms – Bulerías

Flamenco Forms: The Bulerías

No flamenco form is as vital or ubiquitous as the bulerías. Its “inconfundible” — (unmistakable, “unconfoundable”) pulse powers fiestas in most flamenco territory. In Jerez, especially, it is everywhere — the song, the dance, the guitar, the local anthem expressed in endless variations that are normally joyous but can have astonishing emotional reach and power. In my years there, at countless sessions in bars and basements and in that city’s terrific flamenco peñas — associations open to everyone — it was a shared bond between every artist and aficionado.

It’s logical to see the bulerías as simply an outgrowth of the soleá — a sped-up version that still can serve as a windup or remate, often in the same flamenco mode and rhythm and basic melodic structure. Like many typical remates, would have a sort of natural tendency to leave the flamenco mode and go into the major key.

This debt to the soleá doesn’t fit with the idea that the bulerías may have originally been a major-key thing, just another variant in the major-key cantiñas/alegrías family with its folkloric (even jota-inspired) genesis. (This would imply a non-Gypsy origin, in musical terms.)

The big Diccionario del Flamenco reveals that most of the bigshot authorities lean toward the former theory. José Blas Vega calls the bulerías “the daughter of the solea” and links them to the “estribillo” that Loco Mateo used to rematar [wind up] his solea. J.M. Caballero Bonald says they are “direct inheritors of the soleá”, created primarily to accompany dancing. He adds “the gamut of bulerías styles is virtually uncontrollable, although one can distinguish two distinct groups: true “bulerías festeras” or bulerías for dancing, and the “bulerías al golpe”, or bulerías for singing, whose most defined variant is customarily called, with good reason, the bulerias por soleá. The former group is
especially fertile and flexible (? movedizo), allowing a series of improvizations and thematic borrowings even from exotically distant musicalstyles. The latter group, as its name indicates, is clearly derived from the soleá and its clear role as a song that isn’t danced gives it a hierarchical position among the noble forms derived from the primitive songs.”

Pedro Camacho writes: “Rhythmically, the bulería is a “cante bolero”, whose origin is almost certainly the earlier jaleo, or festive song (canción jaleada) that accompanied euphoric dancing. In this sense, it is a “boleria”. When the Gypsies incorporated into this dance the traditional verses of the soleá or soleariya [a term for a soleá using three-line rather than the more common four-line verses], and arbitrarily accommodated these melodies, the “bulería gitana” was born, still sometimes called the jaleo.”

Fernando Quiñones writes of bulerías “A song descended from the soleá … though more lively — there are even some bulerías a golpe, with much more of soleares than of bulerías. The original bulerías might have derived from the old “juguetillos”, and are still sometimes absurdly viewed as throw-away time-killers; but they are much more. The bulerías as a song has real merit.”

José Luís Ortiz Nuevo: “This relatively modern song comes to us from Loco Mateo via El Gloria, a perfect synthesis of deep expression. It is a condensation of the solea, with the essence of its rhythms and the light of its echoes and musical form. It flows from the palmas and the dance like a ceaseless cyclone, a flow of the emotions of the fiesta. Properly heard, it
incites a vertigo of courage and fury. But nowadays, all the “renovations” are carrying it in the opposite direction — stretching its tercios (verses) to excessive lengths, unnecessarily sweetening its laments, carelessly breaking up the precision of its compás. The cuples and coplas (verses based on popular songs rather than flamenco styles) are today disfiguring its true character, with the acquiescence of many aficionados.”

End of citations from the Diccionario.

Again, it’s true that lot of early versions of this relatively recent form (first taking shape in the late 1800′s) are in the major, so maybe the bulerías didn’t come directly from the soleá after all. I prefer to believe it did — it gives a certain borrowed gravitas to the bulerías

Nomenclature note: The soleá is the soleá. The bulerías is (are?) the bulerías. But I’m convinced that there is another form, distinct from either and with a its own tempo and melody (maybe just one single melody, unlike the soleá with dozens or the bulerías with several basic melodies and infinite modifications), and that it is most properly called either the bulerías por soleá, or the soleá por bulerías, or the bulerías al golpe or the bulerías pa’ escuchar (the bulerías to sit down, shut up and listen to.)

Is it all perfectly clear?

Well, maybe this will help. The bulerías is characterized by its unique rhythmic pattern or compás. Like the soleá, it can be heard as having accents on the third, sixth, tenth and twelfth beats; like nothing else, it can be heard (and clapped to) with beats on the first and second, fourth and fifth, seventh and eighth, and tenth and eleventh beats; it is often clapped with beats on one two three, seven eight, ten. Oh, and there’s often an underlying emphasis on every other beat: two, four, six, eight, ten and twelve.

Happy to have cleared that up for you.

Brook Zern

P.S. An artist friend of my father, who also played flamenco, asked me to come to his class on abstract art at Cooper Union in New York and bring my guitar. I did, and he asked me to play some bulerías, which I also did. He asked the class what they thought of this musical interlude and they said, basically, “It was so free, so wild, so impulsive.”

He then turned to me and asked what I was doing, and I started to explain and diagram all those strict and inviolable rules, the underpinning that made it really work.

When they got bored and restless, he turned to them and said: “Why am I telling you about this? Because a lot of you think you can become abstract impressionists without ever learning how to draw.”

Well, I thought that was pretty illuminating — only a firm underlying structure, a basic knowledge, can provide the true freedom required to improvise and to express your vision.

In fact, I wrote that little story in this blog several years ago, confident that it would be as thoroughly unread as nearly everything else in these virtual pages. Imagine my surprise and, yes, delight, when I read the headline of an interview with perhaps the greatest and free-est tradition-minded flamenco dancer, Farruquito. “You have to learn to draw before you can become an abstract expressionist, he said.

That interview is somewhere in this blog, and I can’t help thinking that maybe somebody mentioned it to him. Okay, I flatter myself — what else is new, you say.

BZ

February 5, 2017   No Comments

Singer José Valencia and Dancer Pepe Torres at the 2014 Nimes Flamenco Festival – deflamenco.com report by Estela Zatania – translated by Brook Zern

Flamenco’s Geographic and Human “Interior”

Thursday’s flamenco schedule at the Nimes Festival began with a noontime conference by our friend José Manuel Gamboa about France’s contribution to flamenco, a history of French fascination with the art in the Nineteenth Century when it was rejected within Spain.  As Gamboa explained, and as is verified every year in Nimes, those early links have never been broken.

At night in the theater, it was the turn of the best of Morón de la Frontera and Lebrija, two indispensable elements in the flamenco axis centered on Seville, each town with its special and unmistakable perspective.  If the Morón scene was dominated by the relaxed aire of Diego del Gastor’s “cuerda pelá” or stripped-down guitar, Lebrija was propelled by the intensity and urgency of the flamenco of Jerez and Cádiz.  That’s the source of the musical personality of singer José Valencia.  A still-young yet mature singer, who is striving to open a professional path as headline in the art after decades singing as part of the finest dance companies, unwavering in his defense of classic flamenco song.  No ditties, no bouncy pop.  (Ni temitas ni temitas.)

The winner of the Giraldillo al Cante prize at Seville’s last flamenco Bienal as well as on two earlier wins for cante accompaniment of dancers and as the Revelation prize for new talent, he was accompanied by the Malaga guitarist Juan Requena, who received the Giraldillos prize for Song Accompaniment.  With his first recording now two years old, and another in preparation, and with the admiration of his colleagues as well as aficionados, Manuel Valencia is now at his finest professional phase.

His appearance onstage was met with clamorous applause. And soon that big, round and flamenco voice filled the air with cantiñas with the distinctive flavor of Lebrija.  In the soleá, he started well, but suddenly something went wrong with his throat that resisted an easy resolution.   With great musical expertise, Valencia sought out less brilliant tones and less demanding song styles, saving the situation thanks to his knowledge and professionalism.  The free-rhythm malagueñas leading into the rhythmic or abandolao version went well.  In the siguiriyas, the instability of his  throat gave an added touch of warmth to José’s normally Pavarottian singing.  He then decided to take a real chance [cortar por lo sano] with a marathon round of bulerías, out front and alone before the possible danger, with no other accompaniment than the discreet handclaps of Juan Diego Valencia and Manuel Valencia, and the muted knocking of Requena on his guitar.  The singer loosened his necktie and spoke into the mike: “I don’t want to defraud you.  I’m going to die right here!”  He then launched into a series of classic bulerías with great taste and gusto, and some semi-danced touches; even his vocal chords obeyed, and with those bulerías all the rest would have been too much.  Animated, José Valencia rounded off this difficult recital with a martinete in the style of Antonio Mairena.

After a rest, we returned to our seats to receive a outburst of Moronism though the art of Pepe Torres and his group.

Morón de la Frontera has produced a surprising number of dancers, of whom the maximum present-day example is Pepe Torres.  His work is held in high esteem by aficionados because despite his youth, he conserves the art of the older generation, not as a museum-bound relic but by giving new life and validity to the approaches of El Farruco, Rafael el Negro, Pepe Ríos, Paco Valdepeñas, Antonio el Marsellés and even el Gineto de Cádiz, all reflected in his dance.

Pepe, polyfaceted as he is, added the beautiful touch of opening with his rendition of siguiriyas on guitar, an homage to his granduncle Diego del Gastor.  He then danced to the tonás and the siguiriyas, with an interlude for a vocal and guitar rendition of the tarantas.

His danced alegrías is one of the high points of the recital, done to the song of Luís Moneo, Moi de Morón, Guillermo Manzano and David el Galli, and the immense guitars of Paco Iglesias and Antonio Moya.

A solo rendition of the sung tientos tangos, and afterwards the soleá, the form most closely identified with the Morón locale, and a long and tasty finale por bulerías.  Pepe then called José Valencia and his group, and it all ended up in a classical fin de fiesta to the delight of the audience.

End of article by Estela Zatania in deflamenco.com  The original is seen at:

http://www.deflamenco.com/revista/resenas-actuaciones/jose-valencia-pepe-torres-festival-flamenco-de-nimes-2014-1.html#.UtoV1OD0DoB

January 17, 2014   1 Comment

1996 Potaje Flamenco de Utrera (an homage to female singers) – Report by L.G. Caviedes – Translated by Brook Zern

The Madrid paper, El Mundo, reviewed the 1996 Potaje de Utrera — perhaps the original annual flamenco festival from which all others took their inspiration.  The article by Luís García Caviedes was headlined “All the Essences of Cante Gitano: The ‘Girls’ (Niñas) of Utrera Triumphed in the 40th Edition of the Potaje.”  It said in part (I had trouble with many of his stylish words):

“The brejes (what’s a breje? a wrinkle?) do not erode the cante when it is true.  They may diminish the faculties, but not the worth of the song.  That’s the way it is with Fernanda and Bernarda.  The eternal “Niñas de Utrera” remain a touchstone in the cante gitano andaluz.

The 40th Potaje Gitano de Utrera was conceived as an homage to women singers.  And for the second time — the 18th edition, in 1968, was an homage to the Fernanda and Bernarda — it centered on these geniuses from Utrera.  It was a time to find out just who carries the sceptre, and just what the cante really is.

Bernarda is the compás made into woman.  She can sing the Official Government Regulations on Housing por bulerías.  She interpreted bulerías of every stripe: bulerías cortas, bulerías al golpe, romances por bulerías, fandangos por bulerías, and tarantos por bulerías.

But her genius isn’t limited to this.  She dominates like no one the technique of cante, she knows the secrets of breathing and the exact points to pause.  Moreover, when she knows there’s a problem ahead, she is capable of lowering her cante a full octave (una escala entera) and continuing to sing with full harmony, tone and compás.

Fernanda is the empress of the queen of the cantes: the soleá.  She is the inheritor of the musical conception of Mercedes “La Serneta” and Rosario “La del Colorao”.  She follows their guidelines (pautas) but recreates them as well.  Her cante is now the solea de Fernanda.  Her way of teasing the lines (burlar los tercios), the flavor and insight (sabor y tino) with which she sings, form a majestic, torn (desgarrado) and vital whole.  She is the essence of the cante.

Angelita Vargas opened the event.  She danced por soleá as the Gypsies dance: moving (meciendo — swinging, swaying) her whole body to the compás and with primary emphasis (predominio) on the waistline and above (“de cintura para arriba“), without abusing the legs and feet.  Force and bodily expression are her primary powers.  She put a face on the evening (Puso cara la noche).

In this line continued Inés and Pepa de Utrera.  Inés knows every inch of Utrera, which is something indeed.  The niece of Fernanda and Bernarda, with her own very personal style (sello), she displays elegance (galanura) and knowledge to spare.  In this day of bait-and-switch, of substituting inferior goods for the real thing (“En calendas de tanto gato por liebre” (passing off cats as hares), she does not enjoy the recognition she deserves.  The flavor and prestancia (elegance, prestige, taste, style, grace) of Inés should have more resonance with the public (debería tener otra resonancia para el público).

Pepa de Utrera is the flamenco fiesta itself.  In the opinion of maestro Miguel Acal, she is the finest festera (festive-style performer) in Spain.  She has a clear voice and the force to knock out (sacar) seven or eight other cantaoras.  Manuel Romero “El Divino”, the singer from Las Cabezas, walked out and said that Pepa is cabable of playing dominoes with the bulería.  And she must be quite an artist, to have commanded the stage for twenty minutes with a single palo (the bulerías) without wearing out her welcome (y no hacerse jartible).

Antonia “La Negra” and her daughter Angelita Montoya marked another climactic moment of the night.  “La Negra” is already known for her strength (garra) and expressive force.  She is a maestra in the tangos; terrific (desgarrada) in bulerías, and impressive por soleá.  Working with Angelita Montoya, she had a great success (una noche redonda).  Angelita Montoya was the surprise. She integrates all the wealth (caudal) of her family, which is no small thing.  Loaded with faculties, and with a cannon of a voice, she almost reached the level of her mother.  There are differences between those who assimilate musical experiences and concepts in the true school of flamenco – the family — and those who decide to study recordings and recreate the music by calculation.  The former artists evolve and create; the others never get beyond merely reheating the meal.  (Aquellos evolucionan y crean, estos no pasan del refrito.)

Tomasa “La Macanita” is one of the bright hopes of aficionados.  This Gypsy from Jerez, with the surprising and interesting guitar of Moraíto Chico (hijo), drew the cante (dibujo el cante).  The flavor of Jerez was in her tientos, while her tangos were reminiscent of the Plaza Alta of Badajoz.  Por soleá she scraped (rozo) perfection, and por bulerías, there was the pure aura of the [Jerez] barrio de Santiago and of la Perla de Cadiz.  “La Macanita” and Moraíto Chico almost decided (casi sentenciaron) the night.

End of report.

Translator’s note from 1996:   That’s the poop from the Potaje.  Quite an event.

I’ll close by noting that the female bullfighter Cristina Sánchez is off to an excellent start.  She just started fighting full-sized bulls, and has already proved herself capable.  She did very well in Burgos, cutting an ear (awarded after a good performance, and much harder to earn in major rings like this than in small provincial rings) from a bull that weighed nearly 600 kilos.  No easy task for any 60-kilo person.  Lots of devoted fans and publicity for this revolutionary figure, the first to successfully penetrate this macho domain.  I may disapprove in theory, but she walks it like she talks it.  Olé, torera.

Brook Zern

January 17, 2014   No Comments