"What are they singing here? What type of bulerías are these?" That is what a friend and flamenco dancer asked me the other day. It turned out that finding an answer led me into a far deeper analysis than she was asking for. My research inspired me to write this article. First, let’s have a look at the video she was talking about.
This is a very enjoyable number by dancer Pastora Galván (http://www.pastoragalvan.com/) with ¡mucho arte! You should also note that there is not a single step of zapateado or heel work.
There is a lot of material to dig out in this piece of beautiful art work. Pastora is accompanied, from the left of the screen by one of the staple palmeros in Sevilla, José Jiménez Santiago “El Bobote”; the triumphant breakout cantaor at the last Bienal de Flamenco 2012, José Valencia; the cantaor and palmero Cristian Guerrero and the veteran guitarist Ramón Amador, uncle of Raimundo and Rafael Amador of the legendary band Pata Negra and pianist Diego Amador “El Churri”.
The scene they are recreating here is straight out of a patio de vecinos in the popular Seville neighborhood of Triana (a patio de vecinos is a type of tenement building with an internal courtyard that was once the typical housing of Triana). Pastora Galván is wearing a bata or housecoat and slippers as if she was cozy at home just having fun with her family. The portrait is of a lady in a traditional setting, maybe in a time between the 1930s or 1960s that actually doesn't exist any more due to our modern-day life style and the gentrification of the neighborhood itself.
Let's start analyzing! As it is often the case in flamenco, this piece in bulería rhythm, is a medley of different excerpts of Spanish popular music and bulerías forms or compositions ranging over a century. Despite that, its amazing how seamless these artists make it look, not giving much indication of how diverse their sources are.
The intro to this piece is the music to a beautiful copla or Spanish popular song titled Echale guindas al pavo. This song was composed by Ramón Pelleró Ródenas for the movie Morena Clara (1936)-my grandfather’s favorite movie- in which the legendary coplera Imperio Argentina interpreted the role of a gypsy girl heartbroken by a señorito or rich boy from the high society.
The first sets of lyrics are, very sexually insinuating by the way, by the poet and writer José Manuel Caballero Bonald, a flamenco expert who appears several times in the documentary series from the 1970s Rito y Geografía del Cante Flamenco. They go:
I told her to come,
She told me to come.
Fire over fire.
They were recorded originally in the bulería "Siete Horitas Seguias" by El Turronero in his album "Cantes Viejos" from 1976. Go to minute 2:22 in this Spotify player to listen to them:
These artists continue drawing material from a true genius such as Manuel Molina, the artistic and former real life partner of Lole Montoya. The very own style of Manuel Molina, the poet from El Tardón, one of Triana’s quarters, is unmistakable in this stanza.
I’m going to meet my girl
Walking through the square, through the square
And she is waiting for me
Behind the gate, behind the gate
Because in Triana
The little children Sing to the dawn.
After that a typical Jeréz coletilla, refrain or tag comes along.
You only want money, gypsy girl
I’m going with you, gypsy girl.
As a curiosity, you can see Spanish pop music artist Alejandro Sanz singing this very set of lyrics in minute 2:05 of this video:
Back we go to Spanish copla when we hear ¡Triana, Triana! This song was interpreted by, yet again, Imperio Argentina for the movie titled Carmen la de Triana (1938). This movie was shot in Nazi Germany during the Spanish Civil War. This genre of movies, full of cheesy traditional lore, were very much part of the propaganda policies of Dictator Francisco Franco’s fascist regime. Despite the melodramatic character of these films you can find in them music of great quality. During the shooting of Carmen la de Triana it is said Adolph Hitler tried to date Imperio Argentina with not much luck.
Triana Ay my Triana!
How many times
I looked at your reflection
On the river, like a mirror.
In your jasmine scented streets
The moon kissed me on the forehead.
I don’t want for treasures or fortune
Only the neighborhood which is my cradle.
Ay the bells of Triana!
Soleáres from Triana
You hear them wherever you go.
I love you, my neighborhood,
Because of you I loose my mind.
The core of my belief.
Ay my Triana! Ay the bells!
Ay from Santa Ana!
Carmen la de Triana, Imperio Argentina, signs ¡Triana, Triana!
The number continues with what we could consider a set of lyrics much more part of the flamenco oral tradition. We hear lyrics from Jerez, the birth place of the bulería. At this moment the performance is building up into a climax, getting into a hypnotic mode, a paroxysm. The words of the song work as a scat.
Polka dotted shawl,
The only inheritance
My mother left.
Go to the river
And catch shrimp
With your dress. Go!
They are going to kick you out.
I’m a bullfighter From Bomba’s crew,
I’m a banderillero.
Utrera and Lebrija, these two cities in the province of Seville are very important in flamenco history, as you may very well know, but also because the gypsy artists there have preserved a set of romances (ballads, which used to be part of popular culture, thanks to blind traveling artists who performed them in the streets and squares) and alboreás (gypsy wedding songs) that have a very distinct and magnificent flavor.
I’m coming from Utrera
On the way I am selling
Pots and pans.
I love you Even more
Than the mother
Who gave birth to you.
In this video from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante Flamenco, we can see a very young Miguel Funi and guitarist Pedro Bacán, both from Lebrija, performing these romances and alboreás. In the minute 4:00 Miguel Funi interprets the stanza about coming from Utrera from Pastora Galván’s piece.
At this point everything that comes from José Valencia’s singing is almost unintelligible. It is as if the performers have achieved a trance-like state that can inspire nothing but joy. By now, no one can deny that this is the “real thing”.
You may say this is flamenco puro, but how can something that goes back and forth in time using material from the 19th Century, to the 1930s to the 1970s, back and forth and over again, be described as pure? This is a hybrid, a fusion of styles within flamenco which also draws from Spanish popular music. What standards do we use to qualify a performance like this as pure?
By using terminology like that we are limiting ourselves to a very biased and simplistic categorization. What flamenco “purists” may consider flamenco puro is a response to their own cultural references and adherence to styles which were acquired in a time when a certain trend was in vogue, perhaps when they were young, and they perceive it through a romantic lens mixed with nostalgia and melancholy.
A performance like this one is pure because it moves you. It is pure art and reaches into your core. That’s why I prefer the term arte puro because it describes the essence of the performance, deters discrimination and simplification.
I’d like to thank my mother, Alejandra Cid Pagador, for helping me with her knowledge of flamenco and Spanish copla; José Manuel Gamboa for the couple of very good leads about Ramón Amador, El Turronero and Manuel Molina; Martha Kessler, my dear wife for helping me with the editing and my friend and flamenco dancer Sabrina Aviles for pointing out to me this beautiful performance by Pastora Galván. Sabrina, I hope this answers your question!!