Hand Clapping in Andalucía, Spain

This morning a friend called and asked me whether I was familiar with Andalucía (Spain) since he was planning his trip over there. While talking to him, memories rolled back into my consciousness. Memories of Jeréz de la Frontera, where attending a show of Lipizzaner horses at the famous Spanish riding school and, of course, sipping sherry at a local bodega. Also, I remember visiting the local flamenco school, and sitting in, on some of their dance lessons. Córdoba, it’s impressive mosque and the scent of orange blossom. Beautiful Ronda, situated in the mountains some 750 m above sea level. One of the highlights of the town; its oldest bullfighting ring in Spain.

But, the most memorable one was the one of a cave near Ronda where I spent an afternoon with a couple of Spaniards who had lived there all their lives. It was there I was first introduced to the famous flamenco-clapping tradition. I took the train, direction Algeciras and think I got off at a little town called “Arcos de la Frontera, although I’m not sure about that anymore. What I do remember is that everything in this little town seemed to take place at a bar at the train’s platform, shaded by orange trees. To reach the cave, you had to walk alongside the train tracks and I recall how hot it was. Then, all of a sudden there was a cave with a lake immersing from its belly, it’s azure blue still stuck in my mind. We swam, we ate, we talked and then, when all was done my friends broke out into a clapping session. No use trying to join in, you really have to be born around there to catch those complicated patterns.

Hand clapping patterns in the flamenco music of Andalucía
The flamenco music of Andalucía in Southern Spain is characterized by hand clapping patterns in which the underlying meter is manifested through accented claps. A phylogenetic analysis of the five 12/8 time metric timelines used in Flamenco music is presented using two distance measures: the chronotonic distance of Gustafson and a new distance measure called the directed swap distance. The results support several established musicological tenets. For example, the fandango and soleá are “centers” of this family of rhythmic patterns. More surprisingly, the chronotonic distance gives the Cuban (Sub-Saharan African) influenced guajira a prominent position. Finally, the directed swap distance yields an interesting “ancestral” rhythm.

Imagine that you are at a concert in Seville, after a stunning flamenco performance, clapping at a fast uniform pace, much like a heart beat while jogging. Even better, try it out right now, but stop after you reach twelve claps. Then do it again but this time execute the first, third, fifth, eighth, and eleventh claps loudly, and the remaining seven claps softly. Your clapping pattern could then be represented like this: [1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12], where the claps shown in bold face are the ones you clap loudly. It may also be helpful to count aloud the twelve claps in groups as follows: [121212312312] and to clap loudly only on the one’s. If you repeat this pattern over and over, you will be clapping the rhythm of the seguiriya from Andalucía in Southern Spain.
The flamenco music of Andalucía uses for the most part a 12/8 time meter that is typically marked by accented claps. To be sure, there also exist flamenco styles that use exclusively binary meters in 2/4 or 4/4 time. These include the tango and its variants such as the tanguillo, the rumba, the farruca, the garrot ́ın, the zambra and the mariana. All these binary styles use one and the same meter or clapping pattern given by [. x x x], where “.” denotes a soft clap and “x” denotes a loud clap. A popular method for representing flamenco clapping patterns is to use numbers indicating the pulses, with the accented pulses written in bold. (El Compás Flamenco: A Phylogenetic Analysis)