Our Guest Blogger Amarita Vargas has studied Flamenco in Spain and performs and teaches in the UK. She tells us why Sherry and Flamenco are inextricably linked and why the two have more in common than you may think.
“I’m on the threshold of a room - a tiny room - crammed full of people singing, playing guitars and tambourines, dancing, laughing, shouting and joking to each other. The air is thick with heat, sweat, cigarettes and spontaneity. There is hardly enough room for even one couple to dance. The tables are knocked over twice (to loud cheers) as two men stand on chairs to give more force to their playing and singing. A woman dances – flame and bird and feeling – another is tension and playfulness – and the youngest like a young mare – growing into herself. Broken glass, wet floor, strong bodies, hands, attention.”
Thus began my initiation into flamenco in Sevilla back in 1998. The journey has been a long one … Gradually each compás was unveiled and I embraced the mystery of an emotive world that ranges from the joy of Alegrías to the desolation of Soleá.
Fast forward to 2016 and I am in Tabanco el Pasaje in Jerez de la Frontera – a magical establishment where fraternity, sherry and flamenco intertwine. The setting is unique. Old posters of bullfighters and flamenco artists adorn the walls and a tempting display of fine sherries from the Bodegas Maestra Sierra are displayed behind the long wooden bar. Sunlight streams through the open doors on both sides illuminating the transparency of a Fino and the rich depth of a Dulce. There is always animation, conversation and conviviality here whether it be a gathering of locals enjoying Rumbas and Sevillanas or a display of Flamenco Puro by renowned artists. All the senses are stimulated – song, guitar and dance are savoured along with tapas of cheese, jam or – speciality of the house – delicious artichokes in Pedro Ximenez.
It is this marriage of tradition in cuisine, artisanal sherry production, started by Jose Antonio Sierra in 1830, and flamenco which creates the characteristic warmth and informality of each gathering which moves the assembled crowd to participate in the show with appreciative cries of “Olé”.
Flamenco grows slowly … you cannot be in a rush … tiny shifts in physical awareness, rhythmic understanding and attunement to the guitar and song take years to synthesise and mature. Droplets of understanding gradually build with each fresh exposure to this deep, expressive art. Just like the Sherry solera in the bodega it is about waiting. Gradually the essence trickles through – mixing old and new – until the result has the required intensity to satisfy the palate of a connoisseur …