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Special. Bernarda de Utrera

Bernarda de Utrera, la fiesta más jonda
November 2, 2009



Bernarda de Utrera, la fiesta más jonda

Estela Zatania

Entre lágrimas y penas
el silencio es un crespón,
a los gitanos de Utrera
les han partido el corazón

[Between tears and sorrow
the silence is piercing,
the gypsies of Utrera
have broken hearts]

After a full day following Bernarda on her short but long final journey, I am overwhelmed with the emotion expressed by so many of her friends and colleagues, and which I’ve tried to communicate here with some brief quotes of what they said.  We are all in mourning for a great singer, and also for her sister who left us only three years ago, for a flamenco town that must now navegate without a rudder and for a form of expression harder and harder to find with each passing day.

Nombramiento como hija predilecta de Utrera
Fernanda de Utrera, Perla de Cádiz, Bernarda de Utrera, Pepa de Utrera

With the death of Bernarda Jiménez Peña at 82, everyone is talking about a loss that cannot possibly be assimilated, and the end of an era.  In everyone’s mind is the image of the two sisters, Bernarda and Fernanda, finally reunited.  Why does Bernarda’s passing seem to hurt even more than previous ones?  We have lost so many, and each time we said it was “the end of an era”.  However this time, it is no longer a looming future, but an unavoidable reality.  Just as in other flamenco towns, the prolific generation of interpreters that shined with such intensity in the second half of the twentieth century, and which made a world-famous monument of this genre, is slipping away.

“As far as I’m concerned, the cante is gone.  I like a lot of the new people, but there are no more personalities, that’s what is unforgettable.  Bernarda de Utrera is a fundamental part of the history which has been lost and will never return”.  MAYTE PULPÓN, Artistic representative.

 “Flamenco is in wonderful health” they tell us.  But it’s mostly the word “flamenco” that’s on everyone’s lips, and without a doubt it has come to represent a kind of music that many flamenco fans no longer identify with.  Flamenco has been house-broken and domesticated, it’s learned good manners to satisfy a sophisticated international audience, and is now interpreted in controlled environments that don’t smell of garlic or plastic tablecloths.  Bernarda represented everything we so gleefully filed away, and only now does the magnitude of the loss come into focus.

“I made Bernarda’s last recording.  She was a very versatile singer, few people realize this.  Bernarda was much more than a fiesta singer, she had command of all the cantes.  Always somewhat eclipsed by Fernanda, but one of the greats.  This is a tremendous loss for flamenco”.  TERE PEÑA, Journalist and producer.

Bernarda de Utrera
Bernarda de Utrera con Camern Amaya

Artistically anchored in the compact flamenco cosmos of Utrera-Lebrija with an unmistakable flavor all its own, Bernarda de Utrera is known above all for her bulerías, although experts insist she had profound knowledge of the cantes, and it is mistake to pigeon-hole her as limited to fiesta singing.  I would go further and say her deep bulerías were a multi-function vehicle she used to travel to desolate mysterious places, as well as tender nostalgic ones, always sounding profoundly flamenco.  In any case, bulerías in Utrera is not a cante, nor a “palo” but a way of being.  Everything fits and it’s all emotion to compás.  Not the aggressive compás of Jerez, but a seductive swaying rhythm Bernarda knew how to work into the “black sounds” others fail to reach even por siguiriyas.

“Not only me, not only the flamencos, but all the gypsies are in mourning.   Aside from how she sang, there won’t be another like her.  All the happy moments she gave us…she loved flamenco, and felt it deeply.  Even talking to her was enriching, there was no sadness when you were with her”.  CURRO FERNÁNDEZ, Flamenco singer.

The oral transmission of traditional cantes learned in the family, is the key to a way of singing that in geniuses like Bernarda, establishes a direct communication with listeners.  She was brought up on the legendary Calle Nueva where poverty was palliated with cante at a time when there was an abundance of both.  Get-togethers, fiestas and well-to-do patrons were the daily routine for flamenco artists in the nineteen-forties.  Bernarda already proved to have a powerful personality when she appeared in 1952 in the classic film “Duende y Misterio del Flamenco”.  Another high point was her participation several years later in the historic recording “Sevilla, Cuna del Cante” followed by an important prize at the second Córdoba cante contest.

“Bernarda was unique in her specialty, there won’t be another like her.  She stood your hair on end.  I always had a great friendship with both the sisters, and I love them.   There will never again be artists in this century like those two.  High art of the kind that no longer exists”.  GRACIA MONTES, Singer of lyrical Spanish song.

Monumento en Utrera
Bernarda y Fernanda de Utrera

Because of social and family tradition, few women became professional flamenco singers during Bernarda’s and Fernanda’s youth, and in this sense the sisters were ahead of their time.  With this panorama the maestro Antonio Mairena had to convince the girls’ father to let them travel to Madrid to perform at the tablao Zambra.  From the sixties on, Bernarda spread the name of her hometown appearing at the most important tablaos of the time, such as Corral de la Morería and Las Brujas.  In general, the Madrid ambience had a lot to offer professionally, and one important accomplishment was the now classic recording with Granada guitarist Juan Maya “Marote”, who knew how to bring out the best in Bernarda and her sister with his able accompaniment.  On other occasions, she was accompanied by a long list of guitarists, including Eduardo de la Malena, Melchor de Marchena, Paco del Gastor, Diego del Gastor, Juan and Pepe Habichuela, Ramón de Algeciras, Manolo Domínguez, Pedro Bacán, Pedro Peña, Enrique de Melchor, Enrique Escudero, Justo de Badajoz and most recently, Antonio Moya.

“A truly complete singer, but she never liked the spotlight, the cante was all she cared about.  The morning after my wedding I found her singing in the street with two French gypsies, friends of mine”.  ANTONIO MOYA, Guitarist.

In 1964 she travelled to New York to sing for the great Manuela Vargas at the World’s Fair, taking part in one of the first and most important records of flamenco dance with Manuela, and a line-up of top stars of those years, among them singers Beni de Cádiz and Naranjito de Triana, and guitarists Juan Habichuela, José Cala “El Poeta” and Paco de Antequera.

Bernarda, Lola Flores, Fernanda de Utrera

The age of the great festivals got underway with that of her town, the Potaje Gitano de Utrera, and in 1968 Pinini’s grand-daughters were honored at the twelfth edition of this festival.  Bernarda participated in all the great festivals of the time, including the Reunión de Cante Jondo de la Puebla de Cazalla, the Festival de Cante Jondo de Mairena del Alcor, the Caracolá de Lebrija and the Gazpacho Andaluz de Morón de la Frontera.  There were also various appearances at Seville’s Bienal de Flamenco, and her historic participation in the anthology “Archivo de Cante Flamenco”, in addition to the legendary TV series, “Rito y Geografía del Cante”.

“With Bernarda, we have lost the other queen of soleá cante, and the last link to the Pinini family.  A true classic.  These people are disappearing, this generation that never depended on academic studies to learn how to sing”.  SEGUNDO FALCÓN, Flamenco singer.

Her solo recording in 1999, “Ahora”, with the guitar of Antonio Moya, gives an idea of her versatility and repertoire, and an entire life given over to cante.  The National Prize for Cante of the Cátedra de Flamencología of Jerez, Favorite Daughter of Utrera and of the province of Sevilla, Silver Medal of Andalucía and of Mérito en el Trabajo and the gold one for Bellas Artes…so many and so well-deserved honors.  But now who is left to give us the deep song of Utrera?


Acal, Miguel y Martín Martín, Manuel. Cantes inéditos, Fernanda y Bernarda de Utrera. Sevilla, 1999.
Peña Narvaez, Manuel. Arte y artistas flamencos de Utrera.  Utrera, 2000.

Antonio Torres