Sunday, 17 November 2013

What You Need to Know about Zambombas

Every December, in the run up to Christmas, zambombas can be heard accompanying carols in homes, streets, bars etc. It is an old tradition in Andalucia, dating back to the XVIII century at least, where  leading up to Christmas Eve people join in with the singing and sometimes dancing with a slightly flamenco edge. It is a terrific atmosphere; everyone is happy, especially as they are usually enjoying a glass of anis (a clear aniseed liqueur), ponche (a brandy and orange based liqueur) or local wine and a pestiña de navidad (lovely seasonal sweetmeats made from flour dough cooked in olive oil and dipped in honey).

So what is a zambomba? It is an ancient instrument made from a large clay jar with an animal skin fixed tightly to the top, like a drum, but a long stick has been pushed through the skin, and on moving it up and down, it gives off a distinct sound. The clay jars vary in size between about 35cm and 80cm long, so that they are either played vertically sitting down, or horizontally by sitting on the zambomba itself.

Gente de Jerez (quite peaceful this one!)
Typical anis bottle
Other rudimentary instruments are often on hand to accompany things, such as an empty anis bottle rattled with a knife, bells or tambourines, and, of course, song. There is a subtle difference between the traditional flamenco mass, which is slightly more flamenco and formal, and the lively laid-back zambombas (the word has now come to mean the event as much as the instrument). Jerez has a long tradition of zambombas, flamenco and flamenco masses, most of which, along with many carols (villancicos) have been passed down orally through the generations. So if you're going to be in Jerez soon, here are some useful dates:

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