The jaleo (hahLAYoh) is the exciting but sometimes, to the novice listener, confusing wall of sound that supports a performance of flamenco, the gypsy music of southern Spain.

The spontaneous shouts of approval, rhythmic clapping, the finger-snapping and stomping of feet are all part of this ancient-but-constantly-changing art. If one's eyes are closed, or if the music is a recording, three or four jaleadores may seem like a dozen. Primarily this is because of the variety of techniques utilized, and also because of the nature of the music itself.

Each flamenco form has its own compas, or rhythm, and style of presentation. All the performers have the compas ingrained within them, having heard the music virtually from the cradle. This is the great strength of flamenco. It's like jazz--the performer can soar off into the wildest excursions of improvisation, but because everyone knows the compas, it all comes out perfectly in the end.

The hand-clapping (palmas) is accomplished in a number of ways. The middle three fingers of one hand may strike the flattened palm of the other, producing a stacatto, percussive sound. Sometimes this will be accompanied with a clicking, clacking or clucking sound of the tongue, which itself can approximate a hand-clap when done with the force that a good jaleador can muster. When both palms are cupped, the sound is softer, hollow.

One jaleador will keep the compas while a second works against the rhythm. This is contratiempo. Yet another performer will weave in and out of these two accompaniments at will, producing an unbelievably complex rhythm section for the singer, the guitarist, and the dancer who is--let's not forget--also a percussionist, using heels and hands as his or her instrument.

When the shouts of encouragement are added, the "ole!" ("yes!") or "asi se canta" ("way to sing!"), the effect is absolutely mesmerizing, bringing even the most naive listener to appreciative attention and admiration.

Add good wine and a simpatico companion and you've got the recipe for living like a king, flamenco style.

The 'confusing wall of sound' element described in riverrun's writeup is backed up by the literal translation of jaleo; noise, din, chaos, confusion.
Often used in the expression armar un jaleo which is roughly equivalent to "to kick up a fuss/wreak havoc"

Taken from princess loulou's Colloquial Spanish Dictionary.

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