When most non-Spaniards, and those new to Flamenco pick up the guitar, the first thing they are consumed by is the concept of the 12 and in turn, starting on the 12. I guess it’s not their fault. I realized that it’s the way it’s taught by a lot of folks, Spaniards included, and to be honest, it’s the way that I learned and am only now realizing that it should have been explained in a different way. Now, before we get too deep, let me preface this little jaunt with the following. I am not a Flamencologist and only make feeble attempts to play Flamenco based off of the time I have spent playing for dancers since 1994, starting at Juanita Franco’s studio and later participating with different groups in and around the San Diego, California area. This post is an opinion piece and by no means is meant to have folks going to their instructors and saying, “Agu said.” In addition, I will go as far as saying that I am and will forever be “chiquillo” in this aspect, so as you read this, take what I have to offer with a grain of salt, and please leave a comment down below. I love discussing the ins and outs of compas and music in general.
My big beef with the 12 count compas, especially in Bulerias, is that it is one dimensional and is touted as the only thing that is going on when a Buleria is being played. I even had a non/new-Flamenco try and correct me while I was trying to show him something. I have my own beliefs for why he ventured in to the shit storm he was about to receive, but I’ll leave that for another day. Anyway, It took every ounce of my control to not curse him out and not go super flamenco on him. He said, “No, it’s 12-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-1…” His compas was non existent and because of his other guitar skills, he believed that he was accomplishing the goal of playing a Bulerias. But this post isn’t meant to bash the young man, but instead shed light on the method by which he was shared something as a gateway into I world I have been living in since 1992 when I first went to Spain, and roamed the streets of Granada and the Sacramonte and Albaicin, with a Sony Walkman in my pocket and my favorite flamenco tape playing and replaying over and over again.
When we look at the 12 count, the first thing I think of, especially now that I have a couple of years under my belt, is this: how many times can a 12 be divided and by what? I can do it in 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, and 6’s. Admittedly, I haven’t really found myself breaking a Buleria into 4’s, but I have done it in 2’s, 3’s and definitely 6’s. One of my favorite and most elusive rhythms happens to be the Waltz rhythm in a Bulerias, forever entrenched in my brain because when I returned from Spain, I discovered Pedro Bacan and his family, specifically the four CD set, “Noches Gitanas en Lebrija: Solera, Al Alba, Luna and Fiesta”, and it altered the way that I wanted to play Flamenco, although I didn’t or wasn’t able to find anyone to help me discover what Pedro was doing until I met Ethan Margolis. Ethan opened up the nature of breaking the 12 into different parts, and I began to see and comprehend the Waltz within. I also credit Juan Moro, for getting me to learn how to stay in one chord and play a 12, which made me more comfortable with my compas. And without question, credit goes to Paco Sevilla, my first teacher when I returned to the U.S. because he helped me with a lot of my Diego falsettas and that in itself was a rhythmic adventure.
When I sit down to Bulerias, because of my music studies, I am less and less drawn to the traditional falsettas, and the traditional means of counting out that compas. There is only one thing that I consider from a traditional standpoint, and that has to deal with the structure. What is a falsetta? It is a call, response and resolution. It is essentially a story based off of something I’ve always believed, in and feel is crucial to our way of thinking under a Western mindset: the concept of 1, 2, 3. It is constructed of a beginning, middle and end, a three act play. The concept of 3 permeates it, as it does a lot that goes into our thinking. For religion, it is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s the 3 points of the cross. It’s the essence of our thinking, and when it comes to Bulerieas, although I am not a religious man, I find myself drawn to a series of threes, whether with a rhythmic falsetta or a melodic one, more than anything else, and then I go into the 12. It makes things complete and fills me with a sense of accomplishment. Leave the 12 alone, if only for a little while, my sister and brethren. Who knows, you may breath new light into your compas!