There were push-chair toting families, couples entwined, a group of smartly dressed women of a certain age all wearing matching black trilbies, groups of young men and groups of young women, each group eyeing the other, the latter from vertiginous heels which looked ankle-dangerous on the cobbles. It was Saturday night and all the people of the town were out and many from far beyond it. We sat and sipped our sherries as the stream of humanity flowed passed us, sometimes coming to a complete halt because of sheer weight of numbers in the relatively narrow street. This was the paseo, the early evening promenade, but not as we knew it.
On the far side of the street a perfect half-moon hung in an inky black sky above ancient city walls. The fronds of palm trees waved gently in silhouette against a bright Christmas tree of coloured lights. In the main square, where the tree stood, the Christmas market sold candied nuts, honey, local leather-ware and tiny nativity figurines. There were toys, jewellery and books, lots of books. Skaters swished around the pop-up ice rink through a rising white mist the fountains playing behind them.
Occasionally we heard the hollow thumping of a zambomba drum beneath the froth of chatter. Behind us a large and diverse party of tambourine carrying women began rearranging the cafe’s metal tables into one long line. Laughing they sat around it, ordering food and drink. Too varied in looks for a family party, but of all ages, we guessed that they were work colleagues out on the town before Christmas. After all, it was Saturday night in old Jerez town and the zambombas were in full swing.
This year there seemed to be more than ever. Some were organised and arranged in advance, others, often the best, were impromptu – a spontaneous grouping of people around a drummer who begins to play. That is all that is needed to start a zambomba. People carry their percussion round with them and their voices of course, because singing is the point of a zambomba. Plaza Plateros, at the heart of the old town and not far from where we were sitting, was particularly busy. A friend who lives there went to take his dog for a walk but retreated back inside his front door when he saw the press of people. Ugo didn’t get his walk that evening.
Earlier that day we had almost been surrounded by an organised zambomba as we sat in the little courtyard of La Pandilla, an old tabanco slightly out of the main centre. Its Christmas tree was made from wood and the baubles upon it were sherry bottles and glasses, most inventive, we thought as we purchased our comestibles and went to sit in the courtyard. Half an hour later the instruments arrived and were stacked in the corner. Then came the heater for the fish stew, plates and plates of delicious looking food and then lots of people. These were the regular visitors to the bar and their families, the neighbourhood congregating in the traditional way to eat and drink and sing and dance – just like the original zambombas.
In vain we waited for the music to begin, but the talking and the eating and drinking went on and on. It would be late in the afternoon before the musicians and the singing started. So we moved on to sample the other delights which Jerez has to offer in the run-up to Christmas – of which there are many. But that’s another story.
Thanks to Helen Hughes for the photographs.