posted in performance on march 29th, 2009
I had always thought the Spanish word "juerga" translated more or less to "party" in English. This isn’t strictly wrong … but, as with most things in flamenco, it’s more complicated than that. The venerable D.E. Pohren defines "juerga" as "a flamenco jam session." Robin Totton says it’s "a get-together of flamencos among themselves" ( … and "also may mean a lively party"—vindication is mine!).
This all jives pretty well with the general impression I’ve had. It may be from the interwebs, however, that we get the unvarnished truth: according to babylon.com, a juerga is a "binge, spree, period of excessive indulgence … A festive binge of drinking and merrymaking." Oh my!
Whatever the truth, I think all of these descriptions effectively sum up the all-night bout of flamenco-steeped mirthery that Savannah Fuentes hosted at her house last Saturday. I knew this night would at least be blog-worthy before I ever stepped foot inside the house: as I was looking for a place to park, I stumbled upon my friend Rachel Sprague—who happened to be standing in the middle of the street, holding her truck’s side-view mirror in her hand. ("It just fell off!" claimed she.)
After assuring that Sprague had the situation under control (the mirror "fell off," evidently, while she was trying to park next to—or perhaps in—a rather large oak), I got myself situated and found Savannah’s house. I’ll spare you the mingling minutia; let it suffice to say that there was plenty of wine (it never did run out) and lots of open space for dancing.
And were there musicians! My god! I expected there to be a few guitar players, perhaps a cajon player or two, some singers. But then the violin player showed up (Sallah—who is awesome). And the oud player (Yousef—also awesome). And the cello player (again: awesome (I am wearing this word out, I know—but it’s the only word that fits!)).
To be honest, I was totally intimidated. I remember thinking, holy crap, these guys are going to be awesome and I’m going to feel like a tool, fumbling at my poor guitar with ten thumbs or flippers or something. As it turns out, they were totally awesome (okay fine, I’ll find another word)—but they were also all about collaborating. And I think that’s finally what made the whole thing really take off: no one was trying to impress anyone, or put on a show; everyone was there just to make music, sing, and dance.
I know, this sounds obvious. Like, why else would a bunch of musicians get together? Unfortunately, musicians tend to be egotistical (I’m no exception) and they generally want to sound good. Which means they (I) don’t like to take risks in public. Which means that trying out new musical ideas is generally strained at best.
But behind closed doors (and undoubtedly helped along with no trivial amount of wine), it’s easier to set aside the musical inhibitions and try something new. When it’s just me and a cellist, say, it can be hard to find a groove. Inspired collaboration can happen, but there would have to be some rare chemistry (and genius) to turn such an outing into an all night party. But when there are musicians and palmistas and dancers all into a tangos or buleria one gets carried on the current of it. The energy draws you in. (Hmmm—this is starting to sound like nudist colony propaganda—but that comes later … ). Anyway, enough with the chit-chat. How about some pictures? (Quick—before I use the "a-word" again!):
… And then the photographer left. But this was still only 2:00 or 3:00 (I think I finally staggered home around 5:00—and I was not the last to leave). I can definitely see why the word "binge" would come into play here—not only for the "excess," but also for the sheer "carried-awayness" of it.
Lucky for me, the hangover was limited to a little bit of cotton-mouth and a slight ringing in the ears—neither of which kept me from a healthy (if sleepy) dose of playing the next day.
And speaking of playing, isn’t that what you should be doing right now?