Bulerías is one of flamenco's most flexible forms: constantly changing, spontaneous, humorous, equally at home on a concert stage or at a private juerga. It's the Rock'n Roll of flamenco - fast, rhythmic party music laced with social commentary that mocks the rich as it entertains them.
Cantes por bulerías began with Jerezano singer Loco Mateo (c. 1832-1890), who would conclude his specialty, the soleares, with a remate(ending) por bulerías. Bulerías is closely associated with the City of Jerez de la Frontera, specifically Barrio San Miguel, the home of many of flamenco's most influential artists, including Loco Mateo, Agujetas, and Don Antonio Chacón.
Rooted in the soleares, the bulerías also has aspects of older flamenco forms including jaleos and bamberas. The word 'bulerías" comes from the word "burlar," meaning to mock, outwit, or escape danger.
Reflecting its origin as a remate to the soleares, the underlying form of bulerías is simple. Bulerías cantes consist of three or four eight-syllable lines, and there is great flexibility in the way artists choose to treat those three or four lines. The singer may give one or two compáses to each line, or they can stretch them out, decorating each syllable with melismatic flourishes, or repeating them for rhythmic or emotional effect.
The guitarist follows the singer's phrasing, underscoring the implied harmony, adding falsetas and maintaining the rhythmic pulse. Performing without a singer, a guitarist will string together a series of falsetas in a way that may imitate the form of letras.
A dancer will usually dance while the letra is being sung, and also dance between letras. A dancer can also dance during short breaks within the letras (a respira for the singer; a remate for the dancer). A dancer will use transitional phrases, including palmas en contra tiempo, remates and llamadas, and desplante llamadas to move from one section of the dance to another, cueing the musicians at each transition.
There are distinctive differences in dance styles for the bulerías depending on where and when the dance is performed. If it is a professional performance at a concert or theatrical show, the dancer will include 1 to 2 letras, add an escobilla, and perform an ornate traveling exit, the salida (also often called the cierre). If the dancer is performing bulerías at a flamenco party (juerga), small event, or with family and friends, the dance takes on a more personal touch that may or may not include all of the above named sections. See below for a more detailed description of each section of the dance.
Bulerías Compás y Palmas
Bulerías has a 12-count compás with accents on 12, 3, 6 (or 7), 8, and 10. To get the feel of this, try this exercise that we do with our students, clapping out compás patterns with alternating accents on 6 and 7.
V V V V V V V V V V
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
There's no hard and fast rule about when to accent beat 6 or 7 in a given bulerías. Listen to the samples, and any other bulerías you can get your hands on, and you'll hear that there are musical reasons for accenting one or the other at any given moment.
In some traditional versions of bulerías, and particularly in Spain in Gypsy circles, the 12 beats are counted as two sets of 6 counts, the accents falling on counts 12 and 6. These accents can be held in silence or stamped.
V V V
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
As you can hear in the above sample, the accents are expressed not by hitting the beats harder, but by hitting them differently, something you'll find throughout flamenco.
Another common pattern is for the palmist to stamp out this pattern with their foot.
V V V V V V
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
This is a traditional palmas pattern from Andalucía:
In this pattern, the palmista/dancer claps out the contra tiempo, the "ands" between the beats, while stamping out the beats with her foot.
V V V V V V V V V V V V
12 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 11 +
Baile: Pilar Ogalla
In traditional cuadro flamenco and theatrical performances, bulerías is presented with each dancer performing a short variation and returning back into the cuadro flamenco formation as another dancer enters the performance area. Dancers often try to "out-dance" one another, dance teasingly about each other, spoof the audience, or dance one's mind. Intricate combinations of palmas and jaleo (shouts of encouragement, including "Olé") are provided by the other performers, and often by knowledgeable aficionados.
Though open to much variation and interpretation, the generally accepted skeletal framework for the dance includes:
Entrada/Salida - The dancer enters while the guitarist plays. The dancer can also enter during a song.
Llamada - A movement cue to the guitarist and singer that the dancer is about to perform a new letra.
Letras - The singer sings a letra while the dancer dances. A dancer can insert a remate (flashy punch of percussion and movement) between the 1st and 2nd lines of the song, while the singer pauses for 12 counts (respira).
Desplante llamada - A one- or two-compás footwork and movement break.
Dance variation/s- A number of things can occur at this point.
Choreography - The primary dance variation, often including codified movement patterns of counter- clockwise circles and diagonal patterns traveling across the floor. Many of these patterns are traditional, and have been passed down from artist to artist for generations.
Contra tiempo palmas
A second llamada leading to a second letra.
An escobilla - Long sets of footwork sequences
Closing desplante llamada - The final cue for an exit
Salida/Cierre - A closing dance pattern, generally moving across stage. Often also called the cierre.
As an accompanist, the guitarist's job is to respond to the cues from the singer and dancer. When the singer is singing, the harmony follows the singer.
With practice, you'll be able to hear the chord changes implied in the way singers emphasize chord tones in the melody.
Meanwhile, practice these one- and two-compás patterns to get the feel of bulerías. Compare these to the patterns for Alegrías.
Chord changes on 3 and 10 as in the llamada
A Bb A Bb A
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Chord changes on 12 and 6, common in letras
A E7 C F
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
In creating a solo bulerías, guitarists string together rhythmic patterns and pre-composed or improvised falsetas.
Bulerias Sample Cante
This is a sample of a traditional buleriás letra in the Jerez style.
Ay! Mira que Gitano(a) soy
Mira que Gitano(a) soy
Que la camisa que tengo
Me la quito y te la doy.Look, how Gypsy I am!
Look, how Gypsy I am!
I take the shirt off my back
and give it to you.
Here is an example of a valiente. The final letra the cantaora sings and a release of the dramatic tension built up through the piece.
Ay! Esta noche mando yo
Mañana mande quien quiera.
Ay! esta noche vi a pone
por la esquina bandera.
Ay! por la esquina bandera.Tonight I’m in charge
Tomorrow whoever wants to can be in
Tonight I’m going to place a flag on
Sample Cante por Bulelrías
La Luz de Aquella Farola
Cante: Camarón de la Isla
Toque: Tomatito, Raimundo Amador
This original bulerʼras by Cameron is from 1981.
La luz de aquella farola
era la luz de mi alma
compañera de las penas
y el reflejo de mi calma.
Era una noche de invierno
tu ventana yo miraba
grandes locuras de amarte
por mi sentío pasaban.
Quiero quitarme esta pena
que me hiere cuando estalla
porque no tengo el alma hecha a la pena
y mi cuerpo no se halla.
Son mis ojos sin los tuyos
dos cuencas vacías solitarias
no sé qué es de mi boca
sin tu aliento
sólo el calor de tu sangre
vida mía es lo que yo siento.
Noche de frío y viento
por mar yo náufrago
y ya no volveré a verte
me iré muriendo despacio
si no puedo yo tenerte.
Y yo creí que tu cuerpo era mío, ay, era mío
pero te fuiste en silencio como el agua de los ríos.
The light of that lamp
It was the light of my soul
companion of the penalties
and the reflection of my calmness.
It was a winter night
your window I looked
great madness to love you
I passed through my heart.
I want to get rid of this pain
that hurts me when it explodes
because I do not have the soul made to the pain
and my body is not found.
They are my eyes without yours
two empty solitary basins
I do not know what's in my mouth
without your breath
just the warmth of your blood
My life is what I feel.
Night of cold and wind
by sea I shipwrecked
and I will not see you again
I will die slowly
if I cannot have you.
And I thought your body was mine, oh, it was mine
but you went in silence like the water of the rivers.