Utrera cradle of Flamenco
Seville, the capital of Andalusia, has a long and distinguished history that stretches back to the Iberian period, but it was the wonderful 'golden age' of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that gave Seville its storybook image.
Travelers from all parts of Europe began to tell of the strange religious traditions and fiestas that played a key role in the lives of these colorful people.
Crying virgins, surreal Christ's, banditry, bullfighting, gypsies and flamenco were the elements that added excitement and mystery to this Arabic paradise, and much of the folk-lore of this area is set around these seducing aspects.
This, of course, is a much-debated subject and there are many differing theories concerning flamenco's evolution, but Seville was once the epitome of the art.
Much of the traditional flamenco way of life has disappeared from the capital of Andalusia and even district of Triana has lost the magical feel of its flamenco glory days.
The surrounding towns of Utrera and Lebrija, however, are way off the average tourist's route and remain somewhat undiscovered, but if one was to venture into the countryside that surrounds Seville, one would find that the traditional gypsy flamenco tradition is thriving: these towns are among the few places where orthodox flamenco is performed on a daily bases.
It is no easy task to reveal the mysteries of this gypsy art, and one must try to understand that flamenco is not just a style of music; it is a complex cultural way of life that requires a deep understanding.
Many foreigners are attracted to the colour and showmanship of the kitsch tourist tablaos of Seville, yet most would probably make no connection between this and the antiquated styles of song and dance that thrives in Utrera.
Famed for its Potage Gitano flamenco festival, the first flamenco festival of its kind, Utrera has an age-old flamenco essence that distinguishes it from all others.
Juaniqui de Utrera and Rosario La Colorao are considered two of the main creators of the 'Utrera School of cante', but they are said to have been greatly influenced by La Serneta.
Maria de la Mercedes Fernández Vargas - La Serneta - was born in the San Pedro district of Jerez de la Frontera in 1840, but she spent many years living in Utrera and ended her days there.
There are many versions of her biography, although there is little evidence to support them, but whatever the case may be, La Serneta is credited with the creation of what has become the soleares de Utrera.
As is customary with most of flamenco's history, some confusion surrounds the life of Juaniqui de Utrera, also acknowledged as Juaniqui de Lebrija. Some will put his birthplace as Lebrija in 1860, whilst others declare he was born in Jerez de la Frontera in 1862.
Juaniqui lived most of his life in a small hut close to Utrera and he spent much of his time in that town.
He worked as an agricultural labourer and was renowned for his willingness to engage in flamenco fiestas, and his ramshackle abode is said to have been the scene of many great Gypsy juergas.
ROSARIO LA COLORAO
Rosario La Colorao was another significant name to emerge from Utrera in the nineteenth century and she spent almost her entire life in the Calle Nueva.
Born in 1869, Rosario la Colorao is said to have sung with more force than La Serneta, and she became a legend in her own time because she possessed such great knowledge of the Gypsy cantes of that area.
She excelled in the cantiñas, alegrias and bulerias, although she is best remembered for singing the soleares.
The gypsies would come from the surrounding towns and villages in order to listen to her phenomenal style of singing, but she was not a professional artiste; instead, she made her living selling whitewash in Calle Nueva.
The Gypsy families of Utrera and Lebrija consist of numerous anonymous singers and dancers who only perform during private family celebrations, yet many of them have earned great respect and admiration for their individuality.
Fernando Peña Soto, one of Utrera's most notable characters, was born in the nearby town of Lebrija in 1863, but he spent almost his entire life living in the Calle Nueva in Utrera.
El Pinini, as he was affectionately known, was patriarch of one of the most illustrious dynasties connected to the art of flamenco and he created an extremely personal style of singing the cantiñas, and this haunting mode is instantly recognizable.
The cantiña originated in Galicia and its name derives from the verb cantiñear, which means improvised or spontaneous song.
The gypsies put them to the rhythm of the alegria, and as they began to reach Jerez de la Frontera and the surrounding towns of Seville, they developed into the style that would eventually become the buleria.
The cantiñas were the most popular style of festive songs, before the buleria took over in the late nineteenth century, although they were not called bulerias: they became fiestas in Lebrija, and jaleos in Utrera, but these cantes, regardless of the names they were given, fell into the category of the modern buleria.
The best advocates of the Cantiñas de Pinini were his daughters, La Fernanda La Vieja and Maria Peña Vargas, and today, El Pinini's great-grandson, Miguel El Funi, continues with them.
El Pinini never recorded his voice, and so his daughters were the only way in which we could associate with his cante.
The family resided at number twenty-nine Calle Nueva, but the street was not exclusive to El Pinini and his descendants, because the ancestors of El Perrate de Utrera also resided here during the nineteenth century.
El Pinini married Josepha Vargas Torres in 1881, and they produced nine children: Antonia, Diego, Inés, Fernanda, Dolores, Benito, Mercedes, Maria and Luisa, all of whom were confident flamenco performers, although none of them professional artistes.
All of his children are remembered for their contribution to the art of the Gypsy flamenco; not only because of their singing or participation, but also because of the children they produced.
The most celebrated of the grandchildren were La Fernanda and La Bernarda de Utrera, two of the most respected singers in the history of flamenco.
La Fernanda's cante was charged with an aching duende and she possessed one of the purest flamenco voices in recent times. Her resonance was what best described the meaning of this art and one need look no further for a better example of it.
El Pinini's grandchildren maintained the family's flamenco custom, and his great-grandchildren continue to perform the Cantiñas de Pinini with unwavering exactitude.
Many of the most pioneering singers of the twentieth century are descendants of El Pinini and the members of this illustrious family read like a who's who of flamenco.
Miguel El Funi recreates the styles of his family with great refinement, and his exceptional dominance of the rhythms has gained him a reputation as being one of the greatest fiesteros of his time.
El Funi's voice is now old and broken, but he still has that wonderful duende evoking tone that makes one's stomach ache. He is probably the closest one can get to the genuine aura of El Pinini, because he is one of the last remaining strands of the original basket.
The clan of El Pinini also includes Pepa de Utrera, a much-revered singer who earned her reputation by performing at the festivals, and her presence in Madrid during the 1950s and 60s earned Pepa celebrity status.
Others include Fernandillo de Morón, El Marquesito, El Feongo, Inés de Lebrija, Pepa de Benito and Inés Bacán; but this barely scratches the surface.
The clan of El Pinini also has connections to the family of El Perrate de Utrera, and this family has also produced many artistes of great merit: they include Manuel de Angustias, Bambino, Gaspar de Utrera, El Turronero, Maria La Perrata and El Lebriajno.
Utrera is responsible for producing so many renowned flamenco performers and, even though the majority of them did not become international artistes, they have etched their names into the history of this wonderful culture.
The town has however, produced a few commercially successful artistes and these people took the Utrera flamenco tradition to all corners of the world.
The most commercially successful of them all was Miguel Vargas Jiménez - Bambino.
Bambino's style of music was not flamenco in the orthodox sense of the word, but his rumba-flamenco, and the fact that he made thirty-five long-play records, has earned him a high-ranking place in the history of modern Spanish music.
Utrera has played a significant role in the evolution and preservation of flamenco, and although the town is not exclusive in this, it has produced some of the most distinguished flamenco performers of all time.
The history of Utrera is particularly interesting and is by no means limited to flamenco, because it is a town with an illustrious past.
Utrera was also the birthplace of two of Spain's most distinguished writers, Los Hermanos Quinteros. Their father, who was mayor of Utrera in the late nineteenth century, was said to have had an illicit affair with La Serneta, although the certainty of this has never been established.
This has added much fuel to the ongoing debate about La Serneta and her connection to Utrera, but there are a few people who dismiss her association with the town as 'invented nonsense': in the eyes of the people of Utrera, La Serneta and her soleares will always be synonymous with their town.
How to get TO UTRERA
Utrera is easily accessible by train, and the short journey from Seville will take approximately twenty-minutes.
There is also a bus service from Seville, so it is easy, and cheap, to get to Utrera by means of public transport if you don't have a car.
If you travel by car from Seville capital, the best route would be to follow the A-376, which will take you directly to Utrera: the journey should take no longer than thirty minutes.
If you travel by train from the station of Maria Zambrano in Málaga, then you must change at Dos Hermanas in Seville. Trains run fairly regularly and the journey takes a little over two hours.
The train from Dos Hermanas to Utrera runs every thirty minutes during peak hours, and the journey takes just ten minutes.
By car, you will need to take the A-45 out of Malaga until you come to the N334 at Pedrera. You will pass exits for Osuna, Marchena and Arahal, before seeing signs to Utrera. This route is fairly direct and well sign posted, and will take approximately two hours.
Tony Bryant is the author of
Flamenco; an Englishman's passion
Flamenco Heritage; the clan of El Pinini
Gitanerias; the essence of flamenco
All books can be purchased at http://www.amazon.com/Tony-Brya%E2%80%A6/e/B00S19QOWK/ref=sr_tc_2_0
Or see Tony's website for more details http://www.tonybryant.searchgi.com/
Read our Blog about Tony in Utrera and the making of a BBC radio documentary