Writings and essays about flamenco

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

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