Finding the art at the source, so easy and so difficult
Text & photos: Tamara Marbán Gil
Don’t worry dear reader when that lady coming from the market on any Jerez street shrugs her shoulders when you ask, full of hope: “Excuse me, where can I see flamenco in Jerez?” Above all, don’t give up: fortunately, in Jerez there are so many people who move within, live from or dream of flamenco, that with just a couple of tries, map in hand, you’ll pinpoint the place. The precise technique, approach or sound will depend on each individual’s taste, or also what day of the week.
It’s said that in Jerez you can find flamenco action on any corner of the Santiago or San Miguel neighborhoods, on Cerro Fuerte or in the Asunción, San Mateo or La Plata. Well, yes and no. YES, because the range of flamenco knowledge is the customary manner of celebrating and sharing in this part of the world and NO,because unless you have a specific relationship with some native, it’s hard to be invited to certain circles. This tells us it’s not going to be easy, but also leaves the possibility open for any corner to hold what you’re looking for.
Even so, it’s paradoxical that in one of the major centers of flamenco singing, dance and guitar, that it should be so hard to find, at least nowadays, regular hangouts for that which so attracts whomever is reading this, and who is writing these lines. “This is our thing, it comes from the land” is what they say around here. The words resound with such a mysterious aura that it seems to indicate that no one knows where nor when to experience it. But we do know a few things.
What does it depend on? Basically, the calendar. As opposed to what there is in places such as Madrid, Barcelona or Seville, where the tablaos have a permanent program, and tend to maintain formats, schedules and prices, in Jerez, EVERYTHING depends on what moment you arrive. Specifically: in January or June you can cry your heart out because of the dearth of activity, and in February, August and December, you can again cry a river with the same intensity, but it would be because of the overabundance of programming. An all-points bulletin is out for the happy medium, so due to the uncertainty involved, here are a few guidelines.
The regular places
-Tablao Puro Arte. Calle Madre de Dios, 10. Run by Raúl Ortega and Sara Salado, this is a sprawling place where you can enjoy local cuisine, and afterwards, flamenco. The fact that they have a show midday and nighttime every single day of the year, rain or shine, says more about the venue than about the show itself, and that’s not the least of it. The best thing is the logistics: a techno stage, lighting equipment and infrastructure, first-class sound, even the photos on the walls are by professionals. And it’s not permitted to photograph or record during the show. In this way they support the culture of enjoyment in the natural habitat, instead of consuming what we see on the screens. And like every recreation, you can like the artists, or not like them, but this venue, without a doubt, offers the most technically professional show in the city.
-La Guarida del Ángel. Calle Porvenir, 1. Traditional “café-cantante” style in the 21st century. Run by Mario González, the place is noted for its versatile functionality: from attending to small groups to receiving “zambombas”, Christmas celebrations, concerts of every musical genre, artistic exhibits, flamenco recitals, gatherings, jam sessions and end-of-season dance school shows. And above all, it’s known for organizing a wide array of complementary first-class shows that supplement the official program in particular of the Festival de Jerez. The activity transcends the venue itself when it joins hands with other initiatives such as the Festival Internacional de Guitarra Flamenca. For this reason it’s a good idea to always follow the information on its social media or web to keep up-to-date on everything they organize.
-Tabanco El Pasaje. Calle Santa María, 8. A typical Jerez “tabanco” (with tapas served on brown paper) with daily performances in two sessions: one around midday (1:00 – 2:00pm), and the second around dinnertime (9:30 – 10:00pm). Free entrance, which is why it’s always packed.
-Tablao Flamenco Calé (Calle Muro, 14) Old flamenco tavern. Flamenco show on demand, in other words, they only open when so requested by groups of visitors. Cuisine and live flamenco with local artists.
-Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (CADF). Plaza San Juan, 1. Worth a visit if only to see the Pemartín palace, a wonderful 15th century building in which it’s located. With free entrance, it’s the place to visit if you love investigation and the ins and outs of everything that brings us here, because if you’re hooked on flamenco like many of us, you’ll enjoy checking out the book collection and other documents, and visiting the exposition or watching the videos projected every morning from 9 to 2pm (today it was Siete colores, siete sentimientos, a panoramic view of the art of flamenco in 26 minutes, and El flamenco, patrimonio de la humanidad, 10 minutes). Also well-known is the summer nighttime series Cine y flamenco (one day a week throughout the month of August).
-Academia José Ignacio Franco. Avenida de Medina Sidonia, 12. Perhaps this really shouldn’t be included among the “regular places” because it’s actually a guitar school and as such, the focus is teaching. However, when José Ignacio manages to organize a concert for his series En Íntimo, every once in a rare while, and without keeping to a fixed calendar, it’s classy. Artists such as Rafael Riqueni, Diego del Morao and Israel Fernández have been featured. But since it doesn’t keep to a regular program, be sure to always check the web or social media of the school to confirm what’s organized for the days you need.
The flamenco associations (“peñas”) in Jerez should be everything
The network of flamenco peñas in Jerez dot the city’s geography has always been a good example of each zone. Although it’s true that at the present time the peñas are going through a period of restructuring that makes their annual programming somewhat unpredictable. And it’s not because of any lack of enthusiasm on the part of the people in charge of these places, but rather a different problem (for example, that of meeting expenses and getting the right permits all year, which is so expensive), which forces them to cut back and tighten their belts because you may not know this, but none of this type of venue charges entrance to the recitals and other acts offered.
Which is why, if I were you, I’d take a look at the activity at the Peña Flamenca Los Cernícalos (Calle Sancho Vizcaíno, 25), la Peña Flamenca Buena Gente (Nave del Aceite, Pza. Belén. s/n), la de Tío José de Paula (Calle Merced, 13) with a historic group of older ladies, perhaps the only peña with a history of women’s participation still ongoing, also the Peña Flamenca La Bulería (Calle Empedrada, 20), the Asociación Cultural Flamenca Fernando Terremoto (Calle Terremoto de Jerez, s/n. Pago de San José), the Antonio Chacón (Calle Salas, 2) and the Luis de la Pica (Calle Carpinteros, 5). The latter is possibly the only constant sanctuary where you can nearly be sure to continue the night (and the following day as often occurs). And I say “nearly” because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for daring to predict, with no margin of error, a flamenco party. Like I said: sometimes it’s programed, but others, people just get inspired and all hell breaks loose with no warning. So you might find some of that if you drop by because everyone, each in his or her own way, with specific abilities and possibilities, has contributed, and continues to contribute to the local artistic impulse with energy that is little rewarded.
Places to check out (and just see what happens)
In addition to the places with specific programing, generally speaking, in Jerez, you wander into a little place, flop down on a chair, have some local wine and pray to the gods who inhabit the neighborhood that someone with a gifted voice may be thirsty enough to go to the same pit-stop and you, who have been wondering for weeks where the true flamenco spirits hide out, suddenly feel like crying for joy, you feel like the gods paid attention and you’re already scheduling your next visit.
Appendix by dates
-January: continuation of fall and winter programs
-February and/or March: Festival de Jerez. Courses and endless parallel activities in specialized schools in the city, as well as at numerous flamenco peñas and, at night, between one show and another, at the La Guarida del Ángel.
-March and/or April: Easter week (Series Saeta al paso, Saeta contest at the Peña Flamenca Buena Gente and improvised interpretations during the established route of each brotherhood).
-May: Feria del Caballo (local fair). Flamenco at the peñas. Find each stand on the map of the González Hontoria park.
-June, July and August: Summer programming by the Jerez city hall (Viernes Flamencos for example).
-July: Festival Internacional de Guitarra Flamenca.
-August: Fiesta de la Bulería (flashmob, courses, conferences and parallel activities). Series Cine y flamenco at the Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco.
-September: Fiesta de la Vendimia (grape harvest).
-October, November and December: Program of Autumn at the Peñas. Otoño es flamenco at the Peña Buena Gente, Noches a compás at the Asociación Cultural Flamenca Fernando Terremoto, Otoño flamenco at the Peña Tío José de Paula.
-November and December: Christmas Zambomba. We recommened the event at the Hierba plaza, the one at the Asociación Cultural Flamenca Fernando Terremoto, as well as La Bulería and la Buena Gente ones, the Chacón and Luis de la Pica venues (to name only a few out of hundreds); and if you need a more formal setting, the Villamarta theater, organized by the Federación Local de Peñas Flamencas de Jerez which each year presents a zambomba.
Footnote: Needless to say, this article is not a closed, eternal or unmovable document. It’s actually quite the contrary, and will gladly benefit from suggestions to enrich the content. For this reason, let’s all keep cool, and nobody take offense if their favorite place isn’t mentioned, or if they think we’ve left something out: just speak up. Of course, the information gathered here was valid in the moment it was written, so it is always necessary to confirm the data offered about the venue you wish to attend. And that’s enough recommendation, let’s get down to enjoying flamenco, which is why we’re here in the first place.