Solo Residency in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain
November - December 2015
I spent two months on an erasmus-funded solo residency to study and participate in the traditional flamenco culture in Jerez, culminating in a film which I showed at my final performance at Central Saint Martins the following year.
In Spain ‘duende’ means evil spirit, goblin or mythical creature. Flamenco culture has re-appropriated it as some kind of ephemeral spirit, which possesses performers with the most sensitivity, the strongest ability to reach those listening. A cantaor(a), a guitarrista, bailoar(a) can create a ripple-effect of shivers around their enraptured audiences if they have duende.
Singers like Camaron de la Isla, La Pacquera de Jerez or guitarist, Paco de Lucia, are all Flamenco artists that would most likely be described as having duende. Although within the flamenco world, it is isn’t really a term in frequent use. It was championed and famously lectured about by Federico García Lorca, an Andalusian writer hugely inspired by the wild gypsy spirit in flamenco.
Lorca’s impassioned treatise on the duende ends with, “Where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed glass and a medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of created things.”
I had a wild hope that my visit to Jerez de la Frontera the ‘cuña’ (crib) of flamenco would get me closer to whatever this is. I took lessons with a whacky cante teacher who rasped out bulerias beautifully in a strong Jerezano accent. But, whilst I can belt out a few karaoke tunes back home, I hit wasn't easy to get a grasp of the Arabic style melodies effortlessly flung out by honey-voiced cantaore’s such as Estrella Morente and Lole, or bellowed from the stomach like La Pacquera or the Utrera sisters.
Or to pick up the basics of the crazy, irregular flamenco palmas (hand-clapping) which exist only in Jerez and takes years of practice to perfect. I wanted to try and locate that uncontrolled, spontaneity of performance that you find in flamenco – from the calles to the tabancos, and even the seated audiences in peñas who get up out of their seats to dance a ‘fiesta buleria’.
It evokes the spirit of traditional music hall, folk music from an oral culture such as Ireland, and is almost impossible to find in London – a supposed hotbed of live performance. In London, and many cosmopolitan cities around the world, theatre and performance is largely for an elite – the bourgeoisie stalwarts that patronise theatres or those who studied or work in the arts.
Adapting with the times, it has become clunky with technology, adopted the ways and forms of the film industry and television. Even if live performance attempts to challenge the dominant form, it seems dwarfed and burdened with its more successful ‘pre-recorded’ cousin. In Jerez and the rest of Andalusia, flamenco is for everyone – it can happen anywhere and it is pure joy.
At the top is a film I made about my time in Jerez, followed by a few recordings of impromptu performances, conciertos, audiences and artists in practice.