Opera, ballet, jazz

It seems unbelievable now, but I have not always been in love with flamenco. Frankly, until I was 25, I didn’t even know about the existence of flamenco. The opera and the ballet though, have always been present in my life. My mother’s love for opera arias have introduced me to this magical world. Listening to the heartbreaking solo of Madame Butterfly – when she realises her love will not return – let’s just say, it leaves its mark in a teenager’s heart. Plus the school trips to the Hungarian capital: standing mesmerised in front of the Opera House on Andrassy, staring at the facade and the sculptures in front of the building, thinking what on earth is going on inside this building? So I have a long history of being fascinated by this world. And surprisingly, I have not been to the opera much. Until now. I only needed two children and A. Although A. doesn’t agree with calling it “me time” – he doesn’t believe in labelling things in general – but he does agree with the need to get away from the daily routine of BBB – Bed, Bath, Book for beginners – and from each other sometimes. On these occasions, I go to the Opera. I go see operas and ballets, mostly in the Royal Opera House, mostly by myself. For once, my thoughts are not around bath and dinner; they are mine to wander (off to the moon and back): how is it possible that music created centuries ago is still around and still enjoyed? The world, people and life itself have changed so much, and yet, the operas of Mozart, Puccini and Wagner are still sold out every single night in the ROH in London. How is it possible that ballet has become so universal that dancers from Japan, England, Russia and Argentina dance together in the same show and none of them claims ballet their local art form?

As my thoughts keep wandering, I remember that A. and I had a long discussion once about jazz and flamenco, differences, similarities, trying to understand why jazz has spread around the globe and is played by musicians from all over the planet with the same genius, and flamenco isn’t. Flamenco is different. But why? Is it a younger music genre? Is it more complicated? Is it more restrictive? Is it more local? What is it with flamenco that it has not allowed it to spread its wings and conquer the world?

Looking at jazz (and without wanting to provide a full analysis), we did say, that jazz and flamenco are both native art forms, music originated in the roots,  expressing emotions of suppressed people in America and Spain, respectively, going back centuries. Flamenco is neither more complicated nor more complex to enjoy or follow. Jazz can actually get really difficult with the improvisations and the lack of structure to beginners’ ears.

Flamenco is not younger than jazz, the roots go back to the 15th century, when Jewish, Moorish and Gypsy influence mixing with the Andalusian folk music have laid the foundations of what we call today: flamenco. Perhaps jazz started the journey of globalisation earlier? According to an article in the New York Times in 2001 (only in 2001, not earlier!) “jazz is in the process of becoming the musica franca, the one language spoken everywhere, a glue in the global village, the musical common denominator; like English”. The language! As the United States has become a world power over the past 100 years or so, so has English become the dominant language around the world. This clearly favours jazz, where there is either no singing, or they sing in English. In flamenco there is lots of singing, all in Spanish, expressing deep emotions and feelings. You may like the moves and the rhythm, but if you don’t understand the words, you will always be a step behind.

It also has to be mentioned that the culture around flamenco has always been quite restrictive. The so called “purists” in flamenco have always said that authentic flamenco can only be performed by gypsies from Spain, and they have always protected the original forms of singing, dancing and playing, beyond everything. The purist “movement”, among them Antonio Mairena, a famous gipsy singer from the twentieth century,  has cut the wings and denied the acceptance of many musicians, who tried to modernise, change or add anything to flamenco. Thankfully no one could stop Paco de Lucía. Camarón de la Isla and Enrique Morente, and their new additions to flamenco. To be fair, protection of some kind must have served flamenco to a certain extent throughout the centuries, because it did not allow it to get lost or diluted, but the importance and art of the gypsies cannot be denied. Protection has to be chosen wisely.

Last, but not least, the ‘duende’. I have never heard anything similar in jazz or in opera; in flamenco, it is essential. It’s everything. Some people say it is the hardest word to translate from Spanish… Originally, it only existed in plural, duendes, meaning elf, elves. Until Federico García Lorca created the singular version in the 1930’s, describing magic or “fiery spirit what makes great performance stir the emotions”. Since then it describes the essence of flamenco: the aficionados (fans) say that all you need to be a great flamenco musician, is ‘duende’. It must have been along these lines what Paco de Lucía meant, when he said that to play flamenco well, one must have lived in Andalusia once. Difficult to imagine that one of the biggest innovators of flamenco would want to put limitations ahead of flamenco, but to me, this phrase makes flamenco a very local folk music. Perhaps he just wanted to say that you do need to experience the local spirit, the ‘duende’ to understand where those emotions and expressions really come from. Who knows…

I do know that in economy, the protectionist approach never resulted in the desired success. The same may be true for music. So I say: let flamenco spread its wings and fly. Along the way, it may change to some extent, but there will always be people representing the original forms. Do not fear change. Fear will be your enemy (as grandpa troll so wisely said in Frozen).

There is still time until flamenco gets where jazz, ballet and opera are in the international music scene.

Until we get there, let the Hungarian fan of Spanish flamenco entertain you from the UK with more flamenco stories!

16th of November – International Day of Flamenco

Today, Andalusia remembers and celebrates Flamenco.

I would like commemorate this day with my favourite photo of me ever dancing flamenco. Not in a beautiful dress or a long skirt, with a flower in my hair, or a fan in my hand on a flamenco show… but on a casual Sunday morning, after breakfast, A. and I enjoying the sunshine on the rooftop of our Notting Hill flat, with me practising my steps.

Happy Flamenco Day to everyone!

Viva el flamenco!

Let’s still talk about Rosalía

The idea of this blog has always been to write about flamenco, and this has not changed. But I have been contemplating for weeks now, whether to write about her. I have asked myself the same questions that the flamenco world has been asking for a while: Is she a flamenco? Is it flamenco what she does? Is it any good what she does? Is it bad what she is doing to flamenco? My answers may not be the same as of the flamenco world’s, but I have decided to write about her, because she is a constant topic among flamencos and as a matter of fact, in entire Spain. Including my Spanish family!

So let’s talk about Rosalía!

Rosalía Vila is a Spanish singer, born in Catalonia in 1993. From the age 20, she has collaborated with flamenco artists, like the guitarists Chicuelo and Alfredo Lagos, and in 2015 she worked with Rocío Márquez on the presentation of her album El Niño, produced by the producer/musician Raül Refree, on the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona. Probably this is how she got to know Raül, who then produced her first album ‘Los Ángeles’ (Angels) in 2016, which made her famous all over Spain instantaneously. The album is versions of flamenco classics sang by Rosalía with the guitar of Raül. She received lots of praise and criticism, but just listen to the song Catalina and decide for yourself. Originally sang by Isabelita de Jerez, this is a re-work, not intended to be pure flamenco. As a lover of flamenco, and my daughter called Catalina, I get goosebumps every time I listen to the song. It’s so beautiful.

In 2018, she released a series of videos on her YouTube channel, (‘Malamente‘ and ‘Pienso en tu mirá‘), which went viral on social media, and were praised for their aesthetics and poetic symbolism. These were the first and third chapters of her new album ‘El Mal Querer’, which tells the story of a toxic relationship through different songs, each being a chapter of the story. It is written and produced by Rosalía, with the collaboration of El Guincho.  The album was released at the beginning of November, together with the single of the eighth chapter of the album, ‘Di mi nombre‘, which is a tribute to the flamenco singer Repompa de Málaga, with a video clip quite experimental and conceptual, all recorded in one sequence! (Breaking news report that it may actually not be one sequence…)

I am not an expert in audiovisuals, but I am surrounded by people who are. I heard from them that the videos were made by famous Spanish producers Canada and Caviar, who have done many spots for TV, and are well known in the advertising/music world. Rosalía described in an interview how the creation happened on different levels: there is the album, the live concerts and the visuals in the videos.

A. says, first, she reminded him of Lana del Rey. I remembered M.I.A.’s Bad girls video when I saw the video of ‘Malamente’. Her inspiration definitely comes from varios artists, and she may have something from all of them. How original is she then? Well, she is definitely moved very well in the marketing world by some professionals, who know what sells well. (Last chapter of the super famous Spanish TV series ‘Cuéntame’ is called ‘Mal querer’. Is it a coincidence!?) But I also think that she created something new in terms of visual presentation and the representation of flamenco in the new waves of music, call it fusion, if you want.

She has been talked about extensively in flamenco circles (let’s not say criticised), because of the way she uses flamenco in her songs, and because of the representation of Andalusian and gipsy cultures in her songs. Her inspiration clearly comes from flamenco, and while lots of other artists are inspired by flamenco, what she has created is different. The aesthetics are beautiful, the songs are fresh, a mix of pop, trap and flamenco. Many songs have the Mellis participating, two twin brothers, professional flamenco singers and “clappers”. While the song ‘Que no salga la luna’ starts exactly the same as a pure flamenco song, you can also hear the sound of brakes, cars and motorbikes marking the rhythm in “De aquí no sales’. Or a tribute to Justin Timberlake’s Cry me a river in ‘Bagdad’! Is this new flamenco then? What is this?

I have to admit, I was very sceptical with Rosalía all through 2018. After the beautiful Los Ángeles album, I did not like the direction she chose with the bad girl image, long nails, guns, trucks, dancing in tracksuit on top of a car…….. The first two videos did not convince me. Then the third one came out, ‘Di mi nombre’, and the family chat was on fire again! Yes, no, beautiful, horrible and so on… my sister in law, C. shared an interview with us, and I heard Rosalía speak for the first time. This interview has changed my mind. I was amazed how she expressed herself, how she explained her ideas, and how this album was her final project in university! My preference in music is still different and I may never become a fan of this new wave, but it cannot be denied, that her projects are new, fresh, very well thought, well designed (well selling!) and executed with nice visual and audio results.

There is pure flamenco and there is new music inspired by flamenco. New is not always nice, but doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. It’s different. I do think that if flamenco is used in projects with this end result, that should only make flamencos proud! Because it shows the beauty of flamenco, taking it to another level and to a different audience. Without pretending to be pure flamenco, this only makes the world of music richer!



*Correction of the post “Flamenco Festival London” – published on the 30th of October 2018 – is required. I found out on the 11th of November 2018 that the date of the Flamenco Festival in London has been moved to the month of July as of 2019. This means that the program won’t be published and the tickets won’t go on sale until the spring of the same year. Flamencos, a bit more patience… We will get through winter somehow, and then bring on the hot summer London nights packed with flamenco! Olé!