Las Alegrías/Cantiñas

Originally, the word cantiña referred to any popular song: Cantinear, or canturrear, means to hum along to. It was originally a word used to denominate medieval songs from Galicia in northern Spain. The word is though to have arrived at Cádiz shipboard, where it was adopted by the local gaditanos (natives of Cádiz). Whether the galician songs became flamencofied or whether the word was used to denominate local gaditano songs is unsure. Whatever the case, these early cantiñas developed into what are now known as caracoles, mirabrás, romeras and alegrías. All these cantes share the same compás as the soleá, but with a phrasing which makes them distinct.

Caracoles

A slow and majestic style of cantiña, which although shares the same 12-beat compás is sung in a rather unflamenco like paused fashion.

Its creation is usually attributed to Tio Jose el Granaino, also known as Jose el Gaditano and Jose el de Sanlúcar. A contemporary of El Tobalo (see polo/caña post), he was equally attributed with the shortening of the laments of the polo/caña. Jose was trained by several people and worked as a bandillero in Chiclana, Cuchares and other centers but was a miserable failure at this occupation. Eventually he dedicated himself to the cante; in this sphere he quickly gained respect and prestige.

Nevertheless, although he is often attributed to the creation of the caracoles, it is though more likely that he developed it from an existing form, making it in the process more “flamenco”. Another example of people taking an existing song form and moulding it into what we now call flamenco.

Other cantaores (singers) though to have been influencial in the creation of the caracoles include: Francisco Hidalgo, El Lebrijano, Paco el Gandúl and Ana Maria la Mica. La Mica, from Sanlúcar, is said to have develped the caracoles so that her cousins could dance it. The word refers to the coming and going of mobile snail sellers (edible snails) on the road from Sanlúcar to El Puerto, which was being built by the prisoners of the local jail, one of whom was La Mica’s husband. The following words are attributed to La Mica:-

De Sanluca al Puerto
hay un carril
que lo han hecho las Mirris
de ir y venir
la Mirri chica
la Mirri grande
las dos estan hechas
de azucar cande.

From Sanlucar to El Puerto
there is a track
which has been made by the Mirris
by their coming and going
the youngest Mirri
the oldest Mirri
they both are made of
sugar-candy.

Que es lo que suena?
los presidiarios
con sus cadenas.

What is that sound?
It is the prisoners
with their chains.

Mirabrás

Another cante that was probably developed, even composed in Sanlúcar by Tío José. Many of the words refer to the War of Independence (1808-12), when Cádiz maintained a front against both the King Fernando VII and Napoleon. In as far as its name is concerned there are two hypotheses. The first maintains that the name is a phonetic degeneration of “mira Blas” (look, Blas; Blas being a name) and the second that it was a degeration of “mira y verás” (look and see).

¿A mi que me importa
que un rey me culpe
si el pueblo es grande
y me abona?

What do I care
if a kings finds me guilty
if the country is large
and it supports me?

Romeras

The nephew of Tio Jose de Sanlúcar, born in the quarter renowned for flamenco, Santa Maria de Cádiz, enjoyed huge popularity in the cafe cantantes during the last decades of the last century. He is reported to have had an uncannily firm compás, and it is for this reason he was in constant demand to sing pa’atras, that is, in a supporting role to a dancer. His name was Romero El Tito, and the style he created was named after him.

There is however another hypothesis/myth about the creation of this rather artificial palo. The myth mentions that a woman of unusual beauty, La Romera, created this palo.

Whatever may be the case, all of these three palos; caracoles, mirabrás, and romeras were creations hastily conceived during an auge in flamenco that occurred in the last third of the XIX century, during the period known as the café cantantes period, typical taverns which offered flamenco during a period approximately from 1850-1900. During this “Golden Age” of flamenco the result of sudden popularity and demand for flamenco meant that artists had to “mass produce” acts.

Due to this, many palos such as the three described can be thought of as the poor relations to the more “naturally” developed cante of alegría. They do not approximate the natural wit, charm, grace and “saltiness” of the true alegría, a cante which was developed rather than being conceived/manufactured.

Perhaps as a consequence of this the mirabras and romeras have almost become extinct, and many of their words are now sang as if they were alegrías. Only the caracoles refuses to die, being resucitated by different singers and given a new if albeit short lease of life.

alegrías

The translation of alegrías in the Collins English/Spanish Dictionary is “public rejoicing, festivities”. In the minds of aficionados, alegrías is synonimous with Cádiz; the gaditanos are renowned for thie wit, charm and grace. From my own personal experiences I can vouch that when the gaditanos are in the mood for a juerga (in this case a flamenco spree, or fling), sleep is considered a complete waste of time…

There has been two main influences in the development of this cante, neither of which are doubted by aficionados. The first is compás, which though lighter and faster in the alegrías, is identical to that of the soleá. The second influence is the aragonese jota – a song-dance typical of northern Spain.

The common resistance of Zaragoza (the capital of the aragonese province) and Cádiz to the Napoleonic inveaders (early XIX century) linked the two cities together with the consequence that in the first half of the last century a form of light and rhythmic jota began to be sang in Cádiz:-

Baluarte invencible
Isla de León
donde se rindio
el celoso Napoleon.

Invincible bastion
Island of Leon
where surrendered
the jealous Napoleon.

This, and other similar verses became known as the jota de Cádiz, which became flamencofied, probably by gypsies, as it adopted the compás of the soleá. There is a myth in Cádiz which tells of a guitarrist who found himself trapped in Cádiz during the 1808-12 war who had the humour to accompany the jota by playing the soleá in a major key instead of the more usual dorian mode.

Enrique El Mellizo 1848-1906

Today, the alegría is characterized by the richness of its toque, the difficulty of its baile and the rhythmic vitality of its rhythm. The singers who are attributed with much of its develpment include Enrique El Mellizo and his brother-in-law Igacio Espeleta. According to venerable flamenco tradition, i.e., oral history, Ignacio Espeleta (1871-1938) stood out from the crowd due to both his artistic qualities and vital and innovative personality. He is attributed with the creation of the tarantrantran, so typical of the alegría, to help him out when he forgot or was unable to improvise any owrds. By trade he was a butcher who was sacked due to some kilos of meat that went missing. He later found work as a Park Warden whose main responsibility was to keep the cats out of the municipal park. To this end he made a whip of some 20 metres which he used to ward off the most persistent felines from his favourite park bench.

Originally, the word cantiña referred to any popular song: Cantinear, or canturrear, means to hum along to. It was originally a word used to denominate medieval songs from Galicia in northern Spain. The word is though to have arrived at Cádiz shipboard, where it was adopted by the local gaditanos (natives of Cádiz). Whether the galician songs became flamencofied or the word was used to denominate local gaditano songs is unsure.

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