Women enter the select male world of Spanish ham cutters

In Spain, cutting "jamon" is a fully-fledged job that brings prestige and money, a man's world which women are only just starting to take on. (AFP)
Updated 03 February 2019
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Women enter the select male world of Spanish ham cutters

  • This new image has allowed women — who say they cut ham with more “finesse” than their male counterparts — to enter the ham cutters’ world

MADRID: In Spain, cutting “jamon” is a fully-fledged job that brings prestige and money, a man’s world which women are only just starting to take on.
High-level cutters of the country’s world-famous dry-cured ham legs, which can fetch 3,000 euros ($3,400) in markets like China, are employed by top restaurants, at weddings or glitzy events.
But women are still a rarity among these “rock stars” of the ham sector.
Puri Garabaya, 31, was the first so-called cortadora (cutter) to take part in the final of the Spanish Championships for Jamon Cutters in southern Jabugo last weekend.
She didn’t win but told AFP before the competition that her presence was crucial “for all women who can now say: ‘Look, we too can get there’.”

For this select group, cutting ham is an art, the slices so thin they’re near transparent, among other techniques.
“For a ‘cortador’ to become a master, he must be capable of transforming the cutting process into sensations, into harmony and emotions,” says Florencio Sanchidrian.
A well-known “cortador,” Sanchidrian has cut jamon for the likes of actors Robert de Niro and Al Pacino, Pope John Paul II, the Spanish king and former US president Barack Obama.
He has earned 3,500 euros ($4,000) for just one cutting session, “sometimes more.”
“We’re a little like rock stars, each of us has their own reputation,” jokes Raquel Acosta, another “cortadora” — the “a” at the end indicating the feminine classification of the noun as opposed to “cortador” for a man.
Aged 27, Acosta is a pioneer in this very masculine world along with Garabaya.
She started off in a jamon store in the western city of Salamanca.
At the time though, “I didn’t know of any woman who had taken part in a competition,” she says.
“You didn’t even hear the word ‘cortadora’. If you looked it up on Google, you came up with a machine that cuts ham.”
Now though, she has traveled to Berlin, Paris, Marseille and London to promote Iberian ham, an opportunity that would have been “unimaginable” before.
Still, she says there are very few women who work at that level, between five and 10.

“Women were forced to work harder to enter this world,” acknowledges Manuel Pradas, an adviser to “cortadores” in Barcelona and an expert on the sector.
He says ham was “long cut in a rudimentary manner,” a reflection of the Spain of the past that was “more chauvinistic.”
But at the turn of the century emerged “a new image of the cortador who has studied all the different cutting techniques” and focuses more on presentation in a bid to give the job more prestige, he adds.
This new image has allowed women — who say they cut ham with more “finesse” than their male counterparts — to enter the ham cutters’ world.
Social media also contributed to bettering the visibility of “cortadoras,” according to Miriam Lopez, founder of the specialized blog Jamon Lovers.
With 11,000 followers on her Instagram account, Raquel Acosta is “the most famous,” says Lopez.
“Raquel is an example,” agrees Luz Maria Zamorano, 35, who in her three years as a “cortadora” has cut some 2,000 ham legs.
“It’s a masculine world but I believed that you could bring a feminine touch,” she says.
And at a time when women’s rights are more than ever on the agenda, jamon producers, hotels and television channels are banking on this.
Pradas himself manages in Barcelona a team of 25 “cortadores” that includes seven women who bring “freshness” to the group, he says.


Iraqi rapper gives angry youth in city of Basra music outlet

Updated 21 February 2019
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Iraqi rapper gives angry youth in city of Basra music outlet

  • Basra fell under conservative rule after Shiite clerics and militias took over the city in the vacuum caused by the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq
  • Amid the revolt, rap offered Basra’s youth an opportunity for lyrics blistering with criticism

BASRA, Iraq: A youth-led protest movement in the southern Iraqi port city of Basra, which saw riots last summer over failing services and soaring unemployment, has found an artistic outlet in the words and beats of homegrown rapper Ahmed Chayeb.
The 22-year-old rapper, also known as Mr. Guti, says his generation is fed up with the false piety of politicians and religious authorities who preach about faith and duty but have let Basra fall apart.
“We need to be critical of everything that’s not right,” Chayeb told The Associated Press in a recent interview in his home studio, where he recorded “This is Basra ,” lashing out at the powerful Shiite religious establishment.
Mr. Guti’s expertly produced music videos have drawn tens of thousands of YouTube viewers but his new-found fame has also brought danger: threats from hard-liners are common and two of the city’s protest organizers have been killed in recent attacks. Their killers remain at large.
Basra, long known around the Arabian Gulf for its drinking establishments and its maritime vibe, fell under conservative rule after Shiite clerics and militias took over the city in the vacuum caused by the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Once renowned for its canals and markets, Basra’s waterways today are clogged with waste, and its drinking water is filthy. The city erupted in violent unrest last summer that led to demonstrators burning down government and party-affiliated buildings.
Amid the revolt, rap offered Basra’s youth — tired of joblessness and failed services — an opportunity for lyrics blistering with criticism.
In “This is Basra,” Chayeb raps against the backdrop of a march around the city’s burning municipal building during last summer’s protests, asking why his generation has been called on to fight a war for leaders who cannot secure water for the city.
The conflict he refers to is the four-year war against the Daesh group that the US-backed Iraqi government forces ultimately won. Many young Shiites followed a call in June 2014 by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, for volunteers to fight against IS. Thousands died in that fight.
“We were martyred for this war, I fell, and the authority has forgotten my loyalty,” he raps.
“You’re not associated with Hussein,” he goes on, invoking the revered Shiite imam and grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who died in the 7th century Battle of Karbala, and whose example Iraq’s leaders have asked their youth to follow.
Chayeb, mindful of the dangers, is circumspect about where and when he performs. He says most of his concerts are arranged through private contacts; he stopped recording at a professional studio in 2016. He said he’s received death threats that have grown more intimidating in recent months.
But he won’t stop rapping.
“If we stay afraid, nothing will change,” he said.
As a teenager, Chayeb watched US and British rappers on YouTube, then got together with friends to perform his own rhymes. He also followed a string of Arab rappers and sees Klash, from the Saudi city of Jeddah, as one of his greatest influences.
“My aim is to explain what is happening to Basra because of the people who are corrupt,” he said, adding that rap is a way “to release my pain.”
Corrupt politicians and clerics should watch out, he says.
“Beware of Basra,” he raps. “We won’t be quiet until our demands are met.”