(Photo by Ale)
Love is so wonderful, because it is not restrictive. You can love as much as you want, as many times as you want, as many creatures as you want. I probably could not count all the flamencos I am constantly in love with… but I clearly remember the first flamenco I fell in love with.
First name Carlos
Job title Clapper/ Palmero
As a good feminist, I will not write about how handsome he is, rather about what he does: he claps. He claps for a living!
The basis of flamenco is the rhythm, or compás, as they call it in flamenco. In my previous article Compás and co. I have written about the importance of the compás: “The base, the starting point, the walls, the structure of flamenco.” This can be provided by many instruments: firstly, by percussion, drums or the cajón. Among the famous flamenco drummers you can find El Piraña, or my friend, Javi Ruibal. Secondly, rhythm can be provided by clapping, and believe it or not, there are people in flamenco whose main job is to clap only! Clapping basically plays the role of another instrument, without actually having any instrument, other than your hands! To be fair, most clappers also sing or play the guitar, but their primary job on the concerts is to clap. And how they control the rhythm, the sounds, the claps… I find it absolutely fascinating!
Fascinating the rhythm itself, the different base for different flamenco forms called ‘palos’, the different accents within the same base. For example the alegría and the bulería have the same 12 beat pattern, but the accents are different, therefore the accompanying clapping is different. Same goes for the tango and the farruca, which have the 4/4 pattern, but the accents are different, hence the clapping is different.
Now if this isn’t beautiful (or complicated) enough, another layer is added with the so called ‘contratiempo’. The space between the beats, a.k.a. the rhythm half way between the whole beats. The use of these half beats and all the variations they allow to create, makes clapping play such an essential role in flamenco. Adding that flamencos love playing with the rhythm, and especially with contratiempo, and you see how it becomes so diverse and difficult! Just listen to Lole and Manuel’s El Río de mi Sevilla.
Sometimes clapping is accompanied by the feet – adding another instrument to the music- to support the rhythm and help emphasise, but also allowing the clapper to play with the rhythm and the contratiempo between his “instruments”.
Clapping is always accompanied by ‘jaleo’. Jaleo are words of encouragement, support and enjoyment, that can be added by anyone listening and enjoying flamenco. These vary greatly from olé, arsa, toma que toma, to the names of the artists, like Lucía, Manuel, or just words like agua. Flamenco is very inclusive and probably any word of encouragement is welcome by the artists, but bear in mind the importance of rhythm and that being out of the rhythm is like profanity in flamenco, and make sure you know when and what to say.
In 2013 (when I still had time and money…), I went to the Festival in Jerez to participate on two courses organised during the festival: one dancing, one clapping. Back in the day, if you participated in a course, you got free entry to all of the concerts during the festival, which is the greatest deal I have ever known. Even though I was knackered after the two classes, I tirelessly went to the concerts in the evenings and saw the most flamencos within the shortest period of time.
Not sure if the deal still exists, but in any case, the experience is highly recommended to any flamenco lover. Jerez is buzzing during the two weeks of the festival: filled with flamenco lovers, concerts and events, and the smell of spring in the air.
I met people from all around the world, who came to Jerez just for the festival: Brazilians, Japanese, Italians, French, Germans, Slovakians, and also Spanish. It was a wonderful experience and excellent learning opportunity. The festival in 2019 is dedicated to women (checkout the beautiful poster) and actually starts this week, on the 22nd of February, if anyone has the time and money…
Going back to my clapping class, it started with each of us just clapping one or two, so we can listen to the sound of our clap. Before thinking of the rhythm, the compás, the contratiempo, the variations or anything else, we had to make sure, our clap sounded right. I would have never imagined that this would be the difficult part, but there were many people who really struggled producing the right sound. Our teacher, Jerónimo Utrilla was the most patient teacher ever.
Next, we learned about the ‘palma viva’, the vivid clap, and the ‘palma sorda’, the softer clap, and how you can combine them, play with them within the same song, depending on what the music requires and allows. The softer clap is normally used when then singer sings or the guitar has a solo, so it doesn’t interfere, only accompanies.
The variation between the claps adds another layer of beauty and complication to clapping and to flamenco.
Worth to mention, that flamenco should not always be imagined with strong and loud clapping; it really depends on the palo, the artists, the production.
Listening to another song from Lole y Manuel La plazuela y el tardon, let’s lose ourselves in the rhythm and the claps, and remember all the wonderful people who dedicate their lives to flamenco clapping, like Jerónimo Utrilla, Los Mellis, and my all time favourite, Carlos Grilo…