The ‘golden triangle’ or the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Flamenco music – the heart and soul of this traditional style – is said to be an area contained within the cities of Cádiz and Jerez de la Frontera and the barrio of Triana in Seville. This is the home of flamenco.
Jerez itself – with its large Gypsy quarter and Moorish castle – is at the very heart of this unique art form, with its beguiling amalgam of cantes (songs), bailes (dances) and guitarra (guitar). You can discover flamenco at its best every day of the year in Jerez in the plentiful Peñas or clubs to be found dotted around the city as well as in the more commercialised venues for the tourist-orientated tablaos. At the beginning of March each year, though, the whole town allows itself to be completely taken over, with the International Flamenco Festival.
It is at this time of the year that the very best Flamenco artists from around the world make their way ‘home’ to give a variety of concerts, workshops, master classes or simply impromptu performances in hidden away atmospheric bars.
Ostensibly, the central venue for the Jerez International Flamenco Festival is the impressive Villamarta Theatre and, indeed, this is where the main ‘headline’ shows will be found. However, there are other important sites – the Plaza Romero Martinez, the Palacio de Villavicencio and the Bodega Los Apostoles, for example – where significant concerts occur. But it is the bars of places such as those in the Santiago quarter where the authentic, raw flamenco will stand out.
The Jerez Festival is equally as important because of its flamenco courses as for the quality of its public performances. Classes are available for everyone from beginners through to experts in all of the various styles of singing and dancing. In recent years around 40% of all the available places have been taken after the first day of registration for these courses with students coming from more than 30 different countries.
Additionally, there are also many excellent exhibitions, displays and similar cultural events organised throughout the city – notably at the Andalusian Flamenco Centre, in the Palacio de Penmartín.
There are many reasons for wanting to spend time in Jerez. It is a town that has a centre small enough to be able to comfortably see on foot, with some impressive architecture, some fascinating sherry bodegas offering enticing visitor tours and, of course, its incomparable equestrian heritage. It is, though, as the city that, since the beginning of the twentieth century, has produced the most – and the best – flamenco singers, dancers and musicians in the whole of Andalucía, that Jerez prides itself so much.
And, during those two weeks in February and March devoted to the International Flamenco Festival, the whole city echoes to the captivating clack of castanets; the intense emotions of the cantos and the spontaneity and audience participation of the jaleo – the handclapping, foot stamping and often discordant shouting that adds to that unique Flamenco atmosphere.