Zambomba – or how to celebrate a flamenco Christmas

zambomba flamenca

The earliest memory I have of a zambomba (or friction drum) is of my uncle Pedro playing it in a very a-musical fashion while the rest of the family sang one of the four Christmas carols that constituted our repertoire.

It was usually Christmas eve dinner (Nochebuena) and my uncle was usually a few glasses of wine in. When uncle Pedro was done playing the zambomba, he’d move on to playing another instrument, like a bottle of anise.

You get the idea…

But zambombas are much more than a percussion instrument in Spanish – it’s also a celebration that takes place in Andalusia in the run-up to Christmas. Friends and relatives gather in courtyards, squares or flamenco peñas (associations) to sing flamenco Christmas carols – accompanied by instruments such as zambombas, tambourines or even guitars, and spiced up with local wines, traditional sweets and cold meats.  There is usually a mix of religious and profane lyrics, and participants sometimes dance briefly to the music. The focus is on the communal singing. These days zambombas are especially popular in the city of Jerez, with dozens scheduled around the city from the end of November. Be sure not to miss them if you’re lucky enough to be in Jerez during the silly season!

Everyone is welcome in a zambomba, kids included.

Flamenco zambombas are way more participative than other flamenco styles, which are usually focused on one or two singers , one or two guitar players and one or two dancers. When it comes to zambombas, the more, the merrier – everyone can sing or play an instrument – as long as they know the music and lyrics. If not, then sit back and enjoy the warmth of the Christmas carols.

A particularly multitudinary zambomba in La Bulería flamenco association in Jerez last year

If you’re not planning to be anywhere near Jerez, but are spending Christmas in Madrid, check out my flamenco calendar, where I have posted the zambombas scheduled in the capital (for example at the Sala García Lorca and at Teatro La Latina), and get ready for some flamenco Christmas craziness!

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