When was the last time you encountered people singing in your local bar? And I mean good singing. Not a band, not a performer, but your everyday locals that are loyal customers…just busting out some tunes at the bar. Maybe it was you doing the singing?
I was recently in Spain for the holidays and had a first-hand encounter with the fact that Spaniards are not shy to sing. Of course, there are plenty of other things that they are not shy about either, but I think one of the public displays they’re more bold about is using their voice melodically. It reminds me of the tradition in the Dominican Republic, where my mother is from, that involves groups of people called “Pericos Ripiaos“. They go from door to door at Christmas time and sing till the inhabitants of the home let them in and feed them. Sounds like fun to me! And I can vouch that it is fun since I’ve done it with my Dominican family in years past.
It seems that Spain does not have the same tradition, however they enjoy something pretty similar. My encounter took place a couple of days before Christmas Eve in the small village of Higuera la Real, located in the region of Extremadura. I was visiting my mother for the holidays and we decided to stop in at one of the local bars. Located right along the main town square, it promised delicious coffee with brandy or red wine. By the end of our time there we ended up enjoying both.
My mother and I were talking with one of her friends by the large stone fireplace when in through the door burst a group of older men, one of which was holding a guitar. They were boisterously singing traditional holiday songs and smoking cigars at the same time. As they sauntered into the center of the bar, they began to dance. The oldest gentlemen, who I later learned is in his 80’s, gathered my mother in his arms and began to dance with her, complete with twirls and spins.
As this was occurring, I thought about how the culture of Spain along with many other Latin countries, is rich in music. The classical guitar is especially important. I had always wanted to experience the local music in Spain and this was just the occasion. After the first couple of songs, the singing Spaniards moved to a table by the fireplace. It happened to be the one my mother and I had been sitting at and now it was laden with bottles of red wine and plates of food being served for the enjoyment of the musical troupe.
At the table the guitar was passed to another gentleman and what I had always wanted to experience finally took place…local flamenco guitar was being played and sung in a local bar in rural Spain. The man strummed the guitar and sang in the traditional style of flamenco. His voice was rough and deep, with immense passion. Flamenco is energetic and conveys strong emotions because for Spaniards it’s an expression of life. Originating in the Spanish region of Andalusia, the most important aspect of the Flamenco music to this day is the cantaores (singers). This was strongly evident to me as I listened to this authentic live performance and realized that nothing else was needed…no other instruments, no other voices…just this old Spanish man’s voice and his strumming. Others were singing along with him. The entire bar was for that matter. We had a bit of a hard time making our way out of the bar since every progress we made towards the door was interrupted with dancing and more singing. If it hadn’t been for the fact that dinner plans were awaiting us, we would certainly have stayed.
Hopefully you’re getting the gist of what I mean by Spaniards not being shy to sing. A few days after our exciting flamenco experience in the bar, we created our own “jam session” of sorts. My mother and her friends took me to a nearby village for a late lunch with friends. The day was unusually warm for this time of year so we sat outside enjoying the sun and open view of the countryside. Plates of jamon (ham) and cheeses were brought out for us to enjoy and in some way the conversation turned from food to music. A very typical thing that happened frequently on this trip. The owner of the small restaurant proceeded to bring out his classical guitar for my mother to play and sing. I accompanied her on some of the songs – songs I remember from growing up when I would be falling asleep and hear her down the hall practicing or when we were visiting her family in the Dominican Republic and singing songs on the porch. Here I was now, an adult, and singing these songs in Spain.
It is neat to see where we can go in life. As our enjoyable afternoon turned into evening, the restaurant owner played and sang with us. Many of the songs were the traditional Flamenco songs and others who had come to the establishment began to join in, some young and some old. It was good to see that across the generations it is still valued and practiced.
So take a little bit of Spain with you and next time you’re in a bar, perhaps bust out into song! Let me know how it goes.