Traveling, Translating Jaleo

Walking through Granada, Málaga, Sevilla, and the streets of other cities, towns, and villages in Andalucía (the southernmost region of Spain), you will most likely see signs that feature phrases like “aqui se habla andaluz.” The phrase — “here we speak Andaluz” or “Andaluz is spoken here” — became the catch slogan of an Andalusia regional political party (el Partido Andalucista).

You may even be lucky enough to see the following sign:

To translate, “speak well, speak Andaluz”: an affirmation of Andalusia’s own language variety, and a jab    at a history of Castillian linguistic imposition. Andaluz is to some a language, to others a dialect, and to others who don’t care much for labels, a fascinating code that holds within in its lexicon and syntax, centuries of history and cultures in contact.

Alé and Olé — words that are used to celebrate splendor, to congratulate, to emphasize grandeur, and to applaud – come out of Andalusia’s Islmic-influenced period (711-forever) in which thirty-plus generations were speaking in numerous varieties of Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew, Calé, and several West African languages. Those words came out of the Arabic and signify praise of Allah – Alé, Olé. Ojalá – “hopefully” — is another example of Arabic influence on Spanish. The term literarlly means, “if Allah wishes,” and it is used as often as “si dios quiere” or “god willing.” Ojalá, a word that conjures up Spain’s eight centuries at the center of the Islamic world, and crossed the Atlantic along with hundreds of thousands of Andalusians after 1492. In the New World, it is a living reminder of cultural crossroads and continues to nourish American Spanish, from Tierra del Fuego to Toronto. Cultural memory is crystalized in lexicon.

Like “Olé” and “Alé”, “Jaleo” is another example of words from the Arabic that have transfored Spanish language and culture, both in Andalusia and beyond. Most linguists argue that “Jaleo” is derived from the Spanish word of praise, “¡Hala!” As seen in the footnote below, “¡Hala!” is used to express splendor or surprise, to encourage (perhaps with the objective of persuading a person to do something). “Hala” is often spelled “Ala” – a denomination that indicates a strong connection to “Allah” (as we saw in the word, “Alé.” Interstingly but not suprisingly, La Real Academia does not even mention the possibility of a connection between “Ala” and “Allah”, between “Hala” and its Arabic history.

“Jaleo” — the action or result of “Jalear”, synonymous with “Alé” and “Olé” in seeral contexts — refers to festivity, the party of all parties, excitement rooted in centruies of celebrations. As an utterance it signifies encouragement, approval, and “recognition of the duende” – the moment at which spiritual and physical realms intersect, opening possibilities, transforming space and time as we know them (see Lorca). That recognition is accompanied, propelled, and animated by palmeadas (“handclapping”), ademánes (a word also from the Arabic aḍḍíman or aḍḍamán that refers to “body movements and gestures” that incite energy), and expressions like “toma que toma, aire, alé, olé, canta bien, toca bien” that bestow praise upon an artist or performer, and encourage him or her to push the limits; to transcend. Loud, transcendental noise – often in the form of shouting — is implied in the term, as is confusion and disorder: lines and boundaries blur and new potentialities arise.

And “Jaleo” also denotes the “ojear de la caza” – to chase away, to make an animal or person flee until they are trapped, or more simply, to force a person or animal to leave. “Ojear” / “Ojeo” does come from the Arabic, “ušš” – and it conjures up images of a powerful chase, followed by the surrounding of a body. The action of surrounding implied in the term “jaleo” may also conjure up the circle formations that are integral to the flow of the spirit in Flamenco as seen in the song, Arrincónamela – “surround her” – in Tony Gatlif’s film Vengo and described in a previous lenguamente artcle, “Following Gatlif’s Sirrocco.”

“Jaleo” is also the name of a style of Flamenco said to have its origins in the Andalusian cities of Jerez de la Frontera and Cádiz. It is considered by Flamenco historians to be an integral part of the Roma (“Gypsy”) musical tradition; in fact, the “complex rhythmic hand-clapping, guitar-slapping, finger-snapping and vocal outbursts” known as “jaleo” is at the center of duende — the point at which the music transcends and can transport the listener to new dimensions (SaudiAramco).  The word itself is featured in the powerful flamenco song, “Anda Jaleo” performed by Carmen Linares and countless others: an homage to a Roma tradition of “jaleo” and “duende” that refers back to itself.

Yo me subí a un pino verde
por ver si la divisaba,
y sólo divisé el polvo
del coche que la llevaba.

Anda jaleo, jaleo;
ya se acabó el alboroto
y ahora empieza el tiroteo.

En la calle de los muros
mataron a una paloma.
Yo cortaré con mis manos
las flores de su corona.

Anda jaleo, jaleo;
ya se acabó el alboroto
y ahora empieza el tiroteo.

No salgas, paloma, al campo,
mira que soy cazador,
y si te tiro y te mato
para mi será el dolor,
para mi será el quebranto.

Anda jaleo, jaleo;
ya se acabó el alboroto
y ahora empieza el tiroteo.

The song comes from Federico García Lorca’s poem, “Anda Jaleo”, and we see in its lyrics the reference to shouting, loud noise, and to the hunter who engages in the pursuit and surrounding of the hunted; a “paloma” or dove laced with refrences to the bible, Spanish Roma philosophy, and multi-layered symbolism that links North Africa, India (the Roma motherlnd), West Africa, Spain, and the Americas. We see a rhythmic pattern that is centered on the repeating utterance of “jaleo”, a word that seems to epitomize seeing from above, perception, perhaps of the crashing/clashing of worlds re-encountering each other that is to come throught the onset of duende. To acheive this duende, sacrifice is necessary: en la calle de los muros (“in the walled street”, a reference to the interior labryinth of the medina in Andalusia’s urban center districts SEE IMAGE) / mataron a una paloma (a dove was killed). How it was killed is steeped in ritual that points to a Sirocco continuum — Yo cortaré con mis manos / las flores de su corona (With my hands I will cut / the flowers of its crown) — that, like the wind patterns, could very well link cultural and religious practices from West and North Africa to Spain an then the New World.

In the Carmen Linares interpreatation, the encouragement aspect of the term “jaleo” is in the form of the song itself. Dualties come from all sides: Anda Jaleo: “anda” being a celebratory exclamation of the power of the word, concept, and the duende that song song reaches, (see “Anda Guiro”, Cuban Rumba’s exclamation, one that comes out of the “Jaleo” form of Flamenco, of the power of the Guiro), a testement of the mysterious opening. Indirectly, “anda jaleo” may also imply how Jaleo moves (jaleo anda / jaleo walks or moves) through cultures, nations, and menaings. And there is no question that “Anda Jaleo” gets deep into the realm of spirit work that is alive and in-tact in Andalusia – one of many reasons why we see New World altars showered with Gitana imagery (see Robert Farris Thompson’s book on African and African American religious altars, Face of the Gods).

Jaleo — word, aesthetic practice and philosphy, music style, and song/poem — crossed the Atlantic to the New World and enlivened aesthettic, philosophical, and cultural practices with a proud spirit of celebration. As a word, “jaleo” found its way into all registers of speech from Montevideo, to Santo Domingo, to New York City. As a musical style, “Jaleo” has deeply influenced Cuban Rumba, Mambo, and later Salsa (among other musical forms). It enters Salvador da Bahia’s Samba de Raiz, the Perico Ripiao of the Dominican Republic, the Milongas of Buenos Aires that inspired writers like Jorge Luís Borges (see Robert Farris Thompson’s book, “Tango: Art History of Love” for more on those endless labryinths of influence), and it is the name of the final part of traditional Dominican Merengue. And the song/poem, “Anda Jaleo”, taps into the realm of spirit work that links and re-links religious and cultural practices in the Roma Iberian Peninsula and the black Atlantic. “Jaleo” illuminates crossroads stacked upon each other; that multi-layered, multi-directional contact becomes part of the “celebration” that the words signifies.

The word “jaleo” is what many linguists call a “regionalism.” The word is an example of lexicon — derived from Arabic — that was once particular to Andalusia, later to other regions of Spain like Extremadura (see “jaleo de extremadura) and to the New World. But “jaleo” quickly moves beyond a “regionalism”: it is one of thousands of words of Arabic origin that have transformed the language of Andalusia and the Spanish-speaking world. So what is implied when one states: “Habla bien, habla Andaluz”? Speak well, speak and know Mozarabe, Andalusi, Arabic. “Here we speak Andaluz”: words rooted in Spain’s most advanced period of enlightenment, its proudest contributions to the world of science, math, astronomy, physics, medicine, water management, architecture: an affirmation of pride.


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