We arrived to Jerez de la Frontera just after lunchtime. In Andalucía, that means it will probably be difficult to meet anybody: people love their siestas. This granted us that none of our contacts would actually appear, or even communicate by phone.
We were lost in Jerez, that’s a fact, wandering all over the streets, calling our people by phone without any answer. Nothing was happening, we walked up and down, up and down the streets with no change. That’s the deliciously absurd situation we lived.
Sevilla had been full of traffic police blocking the streets for a marathon run, which made us to get out of the city very late. When we finally left Sevilla, the GPS point us to a different place. After crossing Andalucía for over an hour, imagine our confusion: we were turning onto roads that cut across fields, while according to the GPS we were in Jerez. The situation became more and more confusing until we asked one old man who confirmed our fears. We were not in Jerez.
Neither of us knew how Jerez actually looked, whether it was like a legendary small town or a big cosmopolitan city. When we finally arrived we realized it was both at the same time.
Jerez de la Frontera, the place of birth of Bulerias, and the place of birth of a never-ending list of Flamenco musicians.
We saw so many tourist, Germans, French, Japanese… I was afraid that we would be perceived as just two more of the pack. The worst thing that can happen ever to Bekah and me during our project it is to be perceived as a couple of Dr. Livingstones.
But in the end we were alone, without contacts or sense, wandering through the streets trying to find something or someone with whom to talk about Roma and to maybe make some interview. My instinct doesn’t allow me to assault some of the few persons we saw in the streets, but we needed to go to Santiago’s neighborhood, where most of Roma live.
Once there we really felt lost. Bekah wanted to go back to Sevilla. It is ok she said, next time we can prepare ourselves better and ensure the contacts are available. I told her ok, you are right, but lets just flow, lets wander, 15 minutes will make no difference, so we walked back to the car by a different way… Bekah accepted, insisting during all the way, we are lost Vince, we are lost, the car is not this way… Indeed she was right but I didn’t mind, I love to get lost, totally out of space and time.
We stopped in a little bakery to get some food and once we got out we just kept walking through the streets. Finally I saw 2 guys. One of them was tall, with dark skin, a scarf around his neck, pointed toe shoes, Zara clothes, singing Bulerias, and walking is such a way, there was no possible misunderstanding, he was Roma.
–primo Sinelas Kalo?
I asked him, and he answer me very confused;
-Kalo, well…what’s Kalo?
He tried to pretend he was not Kalo, Spanish Roma, because he saw me speaking English with Bekah and he felt strange. Later on he confessed to me during our lunch,”I was amazed to find a guy speaking Kalo and English at the same time with a Canadian woman, you make me crazy!”
When he understood I was Roma, he became comfortable, and he presented himself and his friend. They where both Roma, Miguel Angel and Jose, from some of the most famous Roma families of Jerez, the Carrasco and the Nuñez. They were 14 and 16 years old but even being so young, their lives as artist allowed them to visit New York, L.A, Las Vegas and Japan.
I was amazed to meet them, so I proposed to go for a beer; they suggested we go to a Chinese restaurant instead.
I found our conversation fantastic; it made me understand Grassroots are not always related to poverty, but indeed to a certain kind of vulnerability. They were successful at a very young age but they came back home every time. We were discussing Roma artist life there, and Roma identity in modernity.
We talked how Roma from the entire world loved Michael Jackson, how we love American mass culture. We discussed how nice it could be to put together all kind of Roma musicians, to make a show to protest antigipsyism.
“To be Roma is nothing forced, it is nothing I pretend. I was born Roma, it is a way of life” Miguel Angel said. ”It is everything, I go sleep every night being Roma and I wake up Roma in the morning.”
And what’s a Pallo, whats a gadjo? Bekah asked them;
That’s a question I’m always afraid to ask, because few Roma grassroots will answer honestly, but they were stunning, honest and brilliant.
“There’s many ways to explain what’s a Pallo, for me it can be someone who don’t have art, so even one gitano can be Pallo, a Roma who don’t have heart is also Jambo.”
Jose, with just 14 years old, gave an example: If I go McDonalds with my cousin and I get mad for some stupid reason, my cousin will tell me, how can you be so Jambo?
To be Roma is something you were born with. Their statement was very clear, it is not something you can learn how to become — you can have the essence of Roma, but is not the same.
They said that in Jerez there’s no racism problem, “we are all together. But sometimes because your Roma, gadjo look at you as inferior, and there’s always a complex. You are raised, even being an artist, as full of fear because the ones who have power are the non-Roma.”
In Jerez, everyday there’s a history. Roma here lived from the field; the Solea, the Saeta, the Bulerias, this music was born in the field. If you sell shrimps you will sing even to the shrimps, art is everywhere.
Miguel Angel starts to sing, keeping the beat on the table, one small musical piece “cante del tio Choza.” Then the Chinese woman came, interrupting his song, inviting us to go outside.
Once outside, Miguel followed his story. “Roma here we were once poor, but we shared everything. We love Roma form everywhere and Roma all over Spain know we are noble, they know they have a place here.”
Most of the famous Roma Flamenco singers were born in this place. And as Paquera de Jerez said once, if you want to sing, you need to transmit your pain, you need to sing from you stomach, from your deep, you need to sing with blood on your mouth.
Camaron was the greatest singer of all times, the boys said. He started to sing as a child, he transmitted so much; he is one of the strongest pillars of the Cante, as Luis de la Pica or el Torta.
But they said they give value to everybody who comes here, it is fake that we depreciate people who sing that come from other places. Even if gadjo come here singing Bulerias, if they sing well we will respect them.
Gloria Bendita is the key word, they said. This is a Spanish expression to denote that which is purely good and nice. Jerez Roma are Gloria Bendita.
We are all humans, they concluded. There’s a lot of evil in the world. God created the world like this, and God exists as the devil exists, if you leave an open door hate can enter into your life. But we are all humans, all formed from flesh and bone.