ZAMBOMBA IN JEREZ… between folklore and flamenco
texto: Estela Zatania
The authoritative Dictionary of Current Spanish Usage defines “zambomba” as “rustic musical instrument in the form of a cylinder, open at one end and closed at the other by a taut animal skin to which is attached a stick or reed, which, when rubbed with the hands, produces a rough sound”. But in the hermetic microcosm that is Jerez, worldly rules don’t always apply, and Jerez natives have their own reality that serves them well to create a flamenco feeling that is half real, half imagined. Here, a “zambomba” is a unique event, the popular manifestation of a tradition that came close being lost forever, but which today is once again in circulation, mostly thanks to the work of investigation and conservation carried out by guitarist Manuel Parrilla.
Since the beginning of December, there have been numerous zambombas, and many more to come…some more organized, some more spontaneous and informal, but the obligatory date at Christmas is always the zambomba at the Villamarta theater which each year commissions a different organization or individual to create the event. This time, it was the Peña el Garbanzo who presented a show titled “Navidad Flamenca, Aquellos Años de Gloria”, a zambomba that aspired to recall the past. Other years, there were complaints that the Villamarta zambomba had strayed too far from the popular spirit of the occasion, becoming a sort of Broadway musical. But this year’s artistic director, young singer Juan Zarzuela “Zarzuelita”, managed to create the feeling of a return to the past which, when you come down to it, is what people really want this time of year.
This frontier of the imagination…the euphoria of Jerez at Christmastime
The big name of the evening was the beloved lyrical singer María José Santiago, but the only real star of the show is the Christmas spirit that colors everything. The line-up of participants turns out to be mostly people from the San Miguel neighborhood, with many non-professionals, as well as guest artists such as Tomás Torre “Torrito”, José Méndez, Tamara de Tañé, Antonio Carpio ”El Tolo”, El Quini and Juan Zarzuela himself. The fine guitars of José Ignacio Franco, Domingo Rubichi and Juan Diego Santos put the musical accompaniment, and three men in berets provided the characteristic sound of the instrument for which these parties are named.
The attractive staging is a typical courtyard in a communal dwelling, with the illumination of a full moon. The first part of the long show was dominated by the most folkloric Christmas songs, or “villancicos”, sung in chorus with simple repetitive melodies and beloved traditional verses. But after intermission, little by little the primitive sound of three-quarter time, morphed inevitably into the complexity and stylization of bulerías sung by individuals as opposed to the chorus. Antonio Carpio “El Garbanzo”, for whom the peña is named, with craggy face and time-worn voice, offered an expressive interpretation.
The theater was packed to overflowing, everyone’s favorite Christmas music was flowing freely, see-sawing between folklore and flamenco to reflect the true nature of this frontier of the imagination, and once again we are transported by the euphoria of Jerez at Christmastime.