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Getting initiated in Jerez. A neophyte's chronicle of the Fiesta de la Bulería
Jerez de la Frontera's Bullring
Cádiz. September 15th, 2001-09-20

Silvia Calado Olivo

So it's settled: in the Fiesta de la Bulería they don't only sing bulerías. It's not even the centerpiece of the fiesta, although it is the glue which holds together the nightlong flamenco marathon where there are neither bulls nor bullfighters. Stationed by the barrier, just in case, the neophyte sits down to digest the event which is unfolding before her eyes in Jerez on a warm September night (in the year 2001 to be exact).

The stage rises out of the plaza, with a simplistic backdrop that portrays the popular architecture of the unique neighborhoods that characterize this city of cante and wine: rooftiles, whitewash, and even clothes on the line drying to the rhythm of the east wind. From one of the balconies a silhouette is hanging...that of Sordera, the singer from this heartland and to whom is dedicated this thirty-fourth edition (because ordinal numbers do exist, my dear master of ceremonies), of the festival. The finishing touch, only noticeable to the most curious observer, two stage doors, one at each side, incorporated into the decor. So far so good. But the thing is, over one door it says "Santiago", and over the other "San Miguel". The explanation given to the inquisitive: "That's how it is in Jerez". I see.

Round about ten p.m., the folding chairs fill the bullring, although there were those who, upon learning via an announcement posted at the ticket-booth that La Paquera was not going to appear, went straight back home murmuring "in that case, forget it". Those who decided to put up with the absence of the singer who normally finishes off this event, took their seats and accepted the consequences, children, old folks and teenie-boppers included. As it promised to be a long night, there were plenty of provisions. The neophyte, from her still uncertain position in the back, spotted beach coolers over here, sacks of sandwiches over there, potato omelettes everywhere. Beverages, it goes without saying. The same scene everywhere you looked, from 'sol' to 'sombra'. But mind you, in spite of the picnic baskets and the aluminum foil, a certain elegance reigned. "And where's that tantalizing smell of fried goodies coming from?" wonders the neophyte. Well, from the spectaculuar fried potato stand in situ that one German visitor is studying with true admiration, and from the paper cones of fried squid sold by weight at the bar. Victuals for the starving...

What about bulerías? It was in the air, in the stands, among the seats, in the back rooms... An audience of five thousand people, huddled here and there, singing together, prologuing the scheduled artists. The numerous cuadro of Fernando Terremoto broke in the stage with popular songs danced and sung por bulerías. The neophyte decides to head for the shrimp vendor with his basket on a folding stand thats lends movability to the enterprise. You had to see it to believe it. The strong voice of Elu de Jerez was unable to completely hush the constant chatter despite the soleá and the fandangos that Parrilla de Jerez masterfully accompanied. Vicente Soto under his father's watchful shadow, took on some alegrías which, amazingly, were not only accompanied by the audience's palmas, but they all managed to end in compás! He withdrew into seguiriyas with Parrilla's spare accompaniment, afterwards relaxing with some fandangos...but the rapt aficionado, the family, the boozers, everyone was clamoring for fiesta. And they got it, por bulerías of course. And if Sordera's eldest dances his way off stage, it makes no difference, the people are self-sufficient with the Jerez sound. At least until the dancer María del Mar Moreno comes out with her romeras, romance, and bulerías. Nevertheless it wasn't her, nor the others who put the icing on the cake in the first part, but rather the round of tonás offered by Antonio de Malena, Luis Moneo and Luis de Pacote who all came front-stage... Silence... The audience on its feet.

Around intermission time the neophyte had begun to understand that no horned animal was going to assault her on the way to the bar so, famished but brave, she blended in with the other five thousand not without first stopping alongside the German to admire the magical antique potato-frying machine. Nor without having a stroll around the ring spotted with nests of improvised bulerías groups made up of aficionados. While struggling to decide whether to return to the stands or snatch a chair, options which rivaled each other in terms of sheer discomfort, the second part got under way. And with one of the best bulerías presentations of the night, offered complete with knuckle-rapping, by the Zambo family, recreating the atmosphere of old Jerez. Indeed these people took the name of the festival seriously right up to the end of their performance, when they were accompanied by the dancers La Yoya y La Curra, along with the guitar accompaniment of two Parrillas. Suddenly the neophyte is taken aback. Juana la del Pipa hoarsely requests silence "because my voice is shot". Tough as nails, she half sings, half dances, half acts out the verses. Tientos and soleares and the touch of Manuel Parrilla.

Vicente Soto

And so it went until Fernando Terremoto came on stage after launching a long powerful intro from the sidelines. But he was able to get it all together and bring the fiesta to its high point with some malagueñas that the 'competition' turned into mincemeat. But the neophyte felt hairs on end. And the echo of Enrique El Mellizo... A tug at the gut in the seguiriyas, then fandangos, jumping up from the seat for....bulerías, with a Parrilla de Jerez who fulfilled his obligation as accompanist, wisely and with restraint. A whirlwind of energy called Aurora Vargas made the stage shake and shimmy. Powerful, uncontainedly festera, the woman from Seville, the only out-of-towner of the night, appeared with Niño de Pura saying 'good morning' to round off the night. The neophyte strolls through the crowd. The potato slices are no longer shooting out of the magic machine, the folding chairs are askew, children (and some adults as well) are dozing off in their seats. What happened to the shrimp guy? And Capullo de Jerez? Someone was heard to say that this time the fiesta hadn't been quite up to par. Maybe because of the extreme length of the festival, or Paquera's absence perhaps...

Six hours later, the crickets are no longer heard. Dawn is getting ready to make its appearance. The taste of tonás and malagueñas... Time to find a place to get replenished...


More information

La zambomba. Flamenco christmas in Jerez.

Seville's Fair . "The great paradox: from saeta to bulería"

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