In 2003 Taller de Compás de Almanjáyar toured America and Canada. Over 20 days they played 15 concerts and a live radio broadcast, taking in the Arts Festival of Detroit, the Chicago World Music festival, Northern Illlinois University, the Willy Street Festival in Madison, Wisconsin, the Small World Music Festival in Toronto and the Lotus Festival in Bloomington Indiana.
Howard Reich, Arts Critic for the Chicago Tribune wrote
"The sheer energy, innocence, muscularity and rhythmic drive of the sextet's work clearly merits a broadly international audience, as does the uniqueness of repertoire and technique.
Essentially, the band merges classic flamenco rhythmic patterns with ancient vocal chant while interweaving Iberian and Afro-Caribbean musical influences.
Yet the delivery is simplicity itself. Four male percussionists fire off brilliant riffs on mostly hand held percussion instruments while two female vocalists - 17 year old Carmen Gimenez and 14 years old Zaira Santiago - sing intricate melismatic phrases in nearly perfect unison.
The result is a sound born of the streets thoroughly transportable to the concert hall. To hear ( and see) performers in their teens and 20's celebrating folkloric music with such verve and commitment is to have new hope for music that flourishes outside the juggernaut of the United States Music Industry"
The name Taller de Compás means Rhythm Workshop in Spanish and Almanjáyar is the Gypsy neighbourhood in Granada, Southern Spain where these young musicians live.
The group met at a music workshop created by the Gypsy Association Anaquerando ( which means 'we are talking' in Calo³, the language of the Spanish Gypsies) formed to improve social conditions and housing in the marginalised neighbourhood of Almanjáyar.
At that time the youngest member of the group was only 11 years old but despite their young age they were invited to play at festivals and flamenco clubs.
Their music is based on the rhythms of traditional Gypsy flamenco, but also encompasses the sounds of Africa, Cuba, Brazil and American rap. Anything with rhythm. Working only with percussion and voice, the group has a raw energy pierced by the deep song (Cante Jondo) of the Gypsies and the dancer's feet join in as an instrument in their own right along with darbuka, djembe, congas, Moroccan percussion and, of course the cajón. Brought from Peru to Spain in the seventies the cajón is a rhythm box which quickly became integrated into flamenco. Sometimes they don't even need instruments just clicking their fingers, rapping knuckles on a table and they are always accompanied by 'palmas', a very precise and rhythmic clapping. It's infectious and mesmeric and has what the Gypsies of Spain call duende, a sensation of being transported onto another level of consciousness.
In 1999 the record producer Harold Burgon ( whose work began in the 70's with British artists such as Ten Years After, Ronnie Wood, George Harrison ) saw them play live and was knocked out by their energy and precision. At the time he was working with the flamenco artist Estrella Morente and her father Enrique Morente but still he began a series of recordings which was to result in Taller de Compás de Almanjáyar's first album Cale Calé (meaning Gypsy Rhythms in Calo).
Several artists who were also recording with Harold were invited to contribute which resulted in the wonderful track with Pablo Rubén Maldonado on piano, called "Jam Session por Bulerías". A bulería is an intricate 12 beat flamenco rhythm much loved in Granada. Other artists include the highly respected flamenco singer Enrique Morente singing the chorus on Por Fandango with Emilio Maya on guitar. On "Camelamos Asaselar", which means "We want to enjoy" you can hear Cuban trumpet player Eric Sánchez which reminded the elder Gypsies of their days travelling and meeting Gypsy musicians from Eastern Europe. Another Cuban artist, the bass player Miguel Peréz, joins them for "Rap del Primo".
Cale Calé was released independently in April 2002 and received some splendid reviews, such as the following.
fRoots Magazine, Special summer double issue Aug/Sept.
Taller de CompÃ¡s de Almanjáyar 'Cale Calé'
Dynamic disc evolved from a wonderful project in Granada 2001-2002 creating flamenco and a host of associated styles from rumba to rap, with 11-15 years olds and adult experts. A vibrant cocktail of percussion and voices pulsating with energy.
Alma100 Flamenco Magazine
Numero 40 Enero 2003
Taller de Compás de Almanjáyar
"Cale-calé" ( 2002)
How exciting! This CD is marvellous. Taller de Compás, a group of children from 14 -15 years old, is the result of a educational social and cultural experience which was born out of a housing project in Calle Molino Nuevo, a street in Almanjáyar, Granada. With the percussion group Los Activos in mind this CD was recorded between 2000 and 2002. The children sing and play flamenco, Brazilian, Cuban and African percussion. They have a 'raw' energy as in the film by Torete ( Perros callejeros) from the 70's, that type of street kid energy. The sound of the recording is not perfect but it has the beauty of imperfection. The children sing "This crazy boy says such things, that he has not told me a lie, nor told me the truth" Brilliant ! And on the last track, to round it off, suddenly, Enrique Morente joins the chorus. Ole, ole. Keiko
In February 2002 Taller de Compás de Almanjáyar were invited to the Flamenco Hoy awards ceremony in Madrid where 'Cale calé' received the NATIONAL CRITICS AWARD FOR BEST FLAMENCO PERCUSSION ALBUM of 2002. Called "The Flamenco Oscars" by one music critic , this award ceremony celebrated some of the best flamenco artists in the business and Taller de Compás de Almanjáyar found themselves alongside some of the biggest stars in the Spanish flamenco world.
Below is a translation of the lyrics to one of their songs, which sums up their attitude to their music.
(We want to enjoy)
music: Taller de Compás / Eric Sánchez
lyrics: José Luis García Puche
Tran-tran, how I like it
Tran-tran, how you like it
you've got to give it all you've got.
If you want to dance with me
I've got Cuba and Africa,
I give you whatever you want
Talk to me of peace, talk to me of love
tell me one day we shall be the same colour
You've got to try it with this universal rhythm
these fine Gypsies are going to show you how