Posted by: puebloman | April 5, 2009

The Stammerers

Almachar’s theatre is a recent addition to its civic buildings. It’s called the “Cultural Centre” (Casa de la Cultura). Some events traditionally associated with the open air such as trestle stage events or parades, are now drearily exhibited upon the municipal stage. The advantage of the theatre is that it has a roof. This gives it the edge over traditional venues during the dark months when it might, it just might,  rain.

Last night Jude and I went to the Casa de la Cultura to see performance of Flamenco singing. Almachar is rightly proud of its patronage of the Flamenco. It has an ongoing programme of Flamenco events, a bar called the “Refuge of the poets” that stages Flamenco, and a glorious programme of Flamenco at the Autumn festival of Garlic Soup, the “Ajo Blanco”.

Unusually for expats, Jude and I both love Flamenco and on this evening we were the only foreigners among a very large audience, a mixture of elderly and quite young Spaniards. The middle generation, ours, seemed to be missing in both languages.

The first half of the programme consisted of a Homage to the Cante singer Paco Toronjo. We understood (just) from the ponderous introductions that, although Paco was not from Almachar he wished he had been, and even when performing in Cordoba or Seville longed for the audiences of Almachar, whose taste and expertise in the forms and traditions of Cante and Flamenco were unsurpassed anywhere in Andalucia.

The homage was performed by a narrator whose sometimes humorous anecdotes were punctuated by songs performed by the brilliant flamenco guitarist Manuel Rodriguez Portillo, and a singer of great expression and passion, Rafael Becerra Lima. Rafael is a man in his absolute physical and vocal prime, but whose professional nickname is “El Tato”, which means “The Stammerer”.

The title has a long pedigree. Notker the Stammerer 840-912, was the poet, teacher and storyteller to the court of Charlemagne. Notker was described as “delicate of body but not of mind, stuttering of tongue but not of intellect, pushing boldly forward in things Divine, a vessel of the Holy Spirit without equal in his time”.

In a more up to date evocation of “El Tato” , the reverend Gary Davis’s “Can I get you now? Oh Lord must I hesitate?”

Garcia Lorca’s gave a lecture on the Deep Song (Cante Jondo) at the university of Madrid just before the festival that he and the composer Manuel de Falla organised in1922. Lorca’s description of unaccompanied gypsy song goes thus:

“Like the primitive Indian musical system, deep song is a stammer, a wavering emission of the voice, a marvelous bucchal undulation that destroys the the resonant cells of our tempered scale and eludes the cold rigid staves of modern music, turning the tightly closed flowers of the semitone blossom into a thousand petals.”                             (Trans: Will Kirkland 1999)

So the title “Stammerer” is a compliment, and contributes to that hair-raising phenomenon the “Duende”, about which more another time. . . .

The  second half was performed by the glorious Encarna Anillo, who topped the bill.  Her programme was entitled “Dulzura y Maneras” (Style and sweet words). She began with an extraordinary sung-without-guitar song, a siguiriya. To Lorca, this is the older music of the Cante Jondo. She sang passionately and precisely –  silencing the audience and thickening the air with expectation.

After this, on came her accompanist, Juan Requena, a callow youthful guitar playing boy who looked liked he’d just been dragged out of bed –  his shirt hanging out of  his trousers, his face puffy and wan, his hair lank and greasy. He sat in his chair and slowly tuned his instrument as though he’d never done it before. Slowly he let his eyes settle upon Encarna. He was a stutterer, she was the style.

Although he got technically better as he warmed up, technique was beside the point. His eyes locked upon her. As his fingers rippling across the strings and rapping the box of the guitar. He licked his lips while he played as though in a sexual paroxysm, and at the climax of each piece she would turn her eyes upon him so that together they would lose themselves in the music.

An  evening  of stammering passion, communicated by force and hestitation – passion pouring through vessels not altogether able to contain it.


  1. I feel I was there! I wouldn’t have appreciated the history and nuance that Puebloman did and has passed on – but I can taste the utter, thick & alluring foreign-ness of the evening. Andalusia is a short plane-trip from the UK, and it’s easy to begin to think it’s stark beauties are familiar friends. How good to be reminded that its core is not to packaged for export or convenience! Near and far. Thanks, Puebloman, for this installment of the evolving & unchanging soul of Almachar……


  2. All right all right. No need to go on. . .see ou next week!


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