We were fortunate (and organised) enough to be at the front of the queue. There were only four men in front of us. We were all waiting for returns and those tickets ordered but not claimed for a concert at the Palacio Villavicencia within the castle. On the day before I had purchased the last box office ticket for this performance, but there were four of us, so we queued.
We were there to see Antonio Agujefa, seventy-six year old singer from barrio San Miguel in Jerez and a bit of a legend. He was performing for half the set. The other singer performing was Juan Lara, a rather younger man. It was a popular event ( two of the men in front of us acquired tickets from somewhere, after one of them had disappeared outside for a time – ticket touts, we speculated, surely not ).
Eventually the young woman on the desk took our money and handed us three tickets and we hurried up the marble staircase into the performance hall. I have written before about the elegant surroundings of the Palacio, most intimate of Festival performance spaces, but I had never attended a performance sitting at the back of the hall. I didn’t realise just how many people it held, at least 200 at a guess. Fortunately there was room for most of the folk in the queue behind us.
It wasn’t long until Agujefa emerged, walking down the central aisle with his guitarist. His frail-looking body belied his jet black hair as he was helped on to the stage, though wide shoulders were testament to a once broad frame. The power of his voice was diminished with age, though not his vocal control, nor the delivery of the emotional songs. He was clearly held in great affection by his audience, who shouted appreciation and encouragement.
It is one endearing aspect of flamenco, the music of the people, that it can be performed by all and that means by all ages. As far as Agujefa’s voice was concerned, it was simply an old voice and old voices have their place, along side younger ones.
The power of Juan Lara’s voice is in no way diminished. Its sheer force took one’s breath away as the rounded sound filled the hall. Yet that power was tightly controlled and his delivery was crisp. Accompanied by guitar the Jerezano performed a selection of traditional songs, alegrias and bulerias, finishing with a flourish as palmistas came to join him.
The rhythmic clapping is very much a part of flamenco, forming part of the musical performance and it is taught as an art in itself ( courses run during the festival and are popular with visiting festival goers ). We came across two such students later in our visit, but I’ll leave that encounter until another article. Today there is even a palmas App for one’s phone. You can find out more at http://soniquete.es/en/
Both singers were very well received and, performance over, the audience spilled out into a darkened castle courtyard, talking excitedly about what they had seen. For us it had been worth the wait. We went off to enjoy some very good food and local wine.