Friday Night Flamenco 1 – Las Alegrías

The different Flamenco palos cover a wide range of emotions and feelings: from the most dramatic, sad or romantic to the pure joy and hectic excitement of the fiesta! Las Alegrías are an example of the latter. Alegría means happiness and joy. Las Alegrías are sung, danced in groups or individually and can be performed both by the greatest figures of the flamenco world or by anyone with a smidgeon of arte either on the noblest of stages or the humblest of patios and tablaos at the ferias across Andalusia. Although Las Alegrías are sung throughout Andalusia, when one speaks of this palo, we can only think of Cadiz.

The style has its origins in the emigration from Aragón to the Cadiz area at the beginning of the nineteenth century during the Napoleonic Wars. The Aragoneses brought the Jota, the Gaditanos adopted the style and transformed it into what we now know as Alegrías.

Here’s an example from Chano Lobato along with a great selection of photos of the city and its charms. Welcome to “La Tacita de Plata” – the city is known as the “Little Silver Cup” because the buildings are white and shine like silver in the Andalusian sun as it reflects off the sea:

Las Alegrías start with the following four (or sometimes more!) line burst:
Tirititrán, tran , tran
Tirititrán, tran , tran
Tirititrán, tran, tran
Tirititrán, tran , tran

followed by verses of five eight syllable lines. The last two lines of each are then repeated as a chorus. They are rounded off with another short burst, known as the juguetillos. Little games (or wordplays) where the singer synthesises or adorns the message of the song.

These are songs that describe local customs, local traditions and use metaphor and allusion to express joy and very often they contain piropos – ingenious often flirtatious comments in praise of a place or (more often) a woman.

The dance can be very structured, especially when danced as a group. Here is a master class from Carlos Saura’s film Flamenco:

When two real specialists of the genre get together things can be a little looser and spectacular. Notice that although they follow a strict pattern – singer (cantaor) and dancer (bailaora) together, followed by dancer alone, building up to singer and dancer together again – there is room for both to improvise. The terms cantaor and bailaora refer only to flamenco artists. (Earnestly recommend you watch on full screen and right to the end!)

Las Alegrías are one of the basic palos. We can see them as the trunk of a tree from which, lesser but no less beautiful branches grow. One of the most important branches to sprout from this particular tree are the Caracoles. They are in many ways a lighter version but they are no easier to sing. Here is an example from one of the most important singers of Caracoles, Gracia de Triana (recorded in 1964).

Next week: Soleá and Soleares

Thanks Blimpy for adding a Flamenco category for these posts!

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11 thoughts on “Friday Night Flamenco 1 – Las Alegrías

  1. Lovely stuff, Maki – particularly enjoyed the second clip.

    I’m sure you’ll fill us in when you know anything concrete, but any news on Quique? Hope the op went well.

  2. Thanks bish, glad you enjoyed it.

    The only news we have is that there is no bad news. The post op process is slow and extremely painful and it’ll be some time before there is any real indication of how well he will recover.

    • Well, I guess that’s something. And at least you know that he’s being looked after by the best in the business. We’ll continue to send those happy vibes!

  3. Thanks for that! Loved the guitars and dancing, still have to get my head around some of the vocals.

    I have a paranoid fear that we’re going to get quizzed after the series is complete!

    • Amy, for ’tis you, is it not?

      Mrs Maki says you have to come to Spain to take the dancing exam. She says she’ll let you off the singing bit seeing as we’re all beginners here.

      • Ha, i didn’t even notice that i used a different moniker! Got confused with my business email.

        And wouldn’t i just love to come to Spain. I might possibly be able to croak out a few words too, but they’d probably be just enough to order food and i actually do understand the swear words. Most of the Spanish i learned was from Dominicans, who have a very odd accent, so that should be interesting too.

  4. Coming to this late this week, Maki, but thanks for doing it.
    I do find the control and co-ordination, particularly in the third clip, mightily impressive. It would be interesting to compare this performance with either another version by the same artists or one by a different group. I still can’t get my head round how much is rehearsed and how much improvised.
    I found the last clip the most interesting musically. Much of the other clips’ music comes across, to me, primarily as (brilliant) rhythmic playing of the same two chords but the last one was melodically more appealing.
    This week’s dumb question: is the time signature always 3/4 or 6/8?

  5. Thanks Chris

    We’ll try to find clips to help you compare and contrast with regard to the improvisation element.

    As far as the time signature is concerned, Las Alegrías and the cantiñas (such as Caracoles) that derive from the basic palo do all have the same signature. Other palos do as well. Others don’t. As we have tried to demonstrate after your question in last week’s post, many were adaptations of other popular genres. This week’s Alegrías, for example, are an Andalusian adaptation of the Aragonese Jota – they were taken with the rhythm of the form and as such the signature is respected.

    Later on we’ll be taking a look at the guitarists in their own right. We think you’ll hear the improvisation there. It all depends on how much the guitarist is there to provide rhythmic accompaniment (I was going to say strum along, oops!) or to take an active part in the creative process. Guitarists such as Paco de Lucía or Tomatito are expected (and expect) to take a more active role.

  6. Pingback: Friday Night Flamenco 2 – Soleá, Soleares and Bulerías « The 'Spill

  7. I’m loving this, Maki! They really are joyful, and beautiful, too!! Shane’s right about the hand movements, too. amazing.

    (I’m catching up on about 2 weeks of spill listening today, let’s see how far I get.)

    Thanks for the series.

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