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The Culture Vulture

About cultural things: music, dance, literature and theatre.

Saturday, December 4, 2021 @ 7:21 PM

The zambomba is two things. It’s a musical instrument, but also a traditional  Christmas “fiesta” of carols where said instrument is played. The Culture Vulture, who has just been to one of these zambombas flamencas for the second time, having made his debut in 2020, explains.

The zambomba is a friction musical instrument. In Spain, the zambomba is an instrument that frequently accompanies the singing of Christmas carols and popular songs. It is also used in many other Latin American countries in their traditional music.

It consists of a more or less large hollow cylinder that can be made of different materials (ceramic, wood, etc.) with one of its ends closed with a piece of leather. This is crossed through the centre with a rod, which can be made of wood or other materials. This rod is sometimes replaced by a rope. By rubbing the rod or rope with both hands, the vibration produced by the rod or rope is transmitted to the leather, producing a low and peculiar sound.

Zambomba is also the name of a typical Christmas fiesta in some parts of Spain, especially in Andalucía, at which Christmas carols are sung accompanied by said instrument.

In 2020 in Ronda, the local group La Marmorena presented two different zambombas at the Teatro Vicente Espinel. One was a group of twelve actors, musicians and singers, entitled Ven a mi casa por Navidad; the other a collection of flamenco singers and players called Ronda suena a Navidad.  

Because of the Covid-19-limited capacity of the theatre, the tickets, which were free-of-charge, went quickly. My wife and I had the good fortune to get two seats for a performance of Ven a mi casa por Navidad.

The stage was set as the Last Supper, with the 12 participants sitting at a long table decked with food and wine. The quintet of women were the singers, five of the men formed the band and the two remaining men and one of the women were the actors that linked the songs, with their optimistic observations on the difficult times we were experiencing and how Christmas could be a way of lighting up our lives.

Over the course of an hour and a bit, the audience was treated to a fiesta of singing and dancing of the greatest variety and highest quality. Songs ranged from traditional flamenco to jazz to Irving Berlin, most with a Christmassy theme. There was no programme, so we did not know who was who, although I did find out subsequently that the redheaded lady with the magnificent singing voice was a rondeña called Martha Pérez. She was outstanding, but the other four were extremely good too! They each had about three solos, as well as contributing backing vocals.

The band, comprising two Spanish classical guitarists, one of whom sometimes played what looked like a ukulele; an electric guitarist-cum-bassist; a keyboard player; and a percussionist, who played the zambomba on some numbers, were really tight and played the various musical genres on offer with great skill.

This was our first ever experience of a zambomba and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Worth every penny!

This year the zambomba was performed by a group from Jerez de la Frontera, believed to be the home of flamenco. A less imaginative set – just a line of chairs, each with a mike.

There were seven women singers, several of whom performed solos, three male singers, two guitarists and two males on percussion, one of whom, a young lad of about 14, was the star of the show for the subtlety and verve of his performance. He also did a dance in the encore at the end which brought the house down..

This was out-and-out flamenco: hoarse, agonised voices, accompanied by vibrant guitar-playing and  lots of toque (clapping). The theatre was full to bursting and the locals really got stuck in with their calls of Olé, Anda, Vamos etc. 90 minutes of pure fun.

If you get the chance to see a zambomba, I recommend you take it.

¡Feliz Navidad!

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