Paco Peña and friends

As gentrification continues across London, new spaces are created all around the centre. King’s Cross is no exception, the area has undergone major transformation in the past few years. About 10 years ago we went to a friend’s gig behind King’s Cross, and I remember the area as dark and dodgy. Now it is like a different universe. I am not aware of each and every change, because there must have been hundreds or thousands, but I saw how they created Canopy market, Granary square and it’s fun fountains, the renovated building on the square is now home of the famous art’s college Central St. Martins, a lovely walking/cycling space was created by the canal, with a projector showing Moana across the canal and the huge steps last year, providing entertainment for the younger ones (and their parents). In the back of King’s Cross, there is a space called Skip Garden, an amazing local project not only aiming at creating a green area among the new built towers for anyone looking for a calm moment in big city life, but it is literally a portable garden with apple trees, pumpkins and tomatoes, using the debris/material from the construction site next door, and all this with getting local schools and children involved to teach them about nature and its creatures (not to mention the delicious vegetarian/vegan food they offer and the room for small events). I guess you can tell I like the idea…

The area between Granary square and Skip garden is called Coal Drops Yard, it was opened in October 2018. What used to be once two coal drops sheds, it is today a retail space, home of designer shops, rooftops bars and restaurants (Flat white in one of the cafés £6……..), and for two weeks this summer, for the very first time it also gives home to a new (and free!) event series called Cubitt Sessions. The name comes from Lewis Cubitt, architect of King’s Cross, who also designed the building of Central St. Martins, which once used to store wheat for London’s bakers. Interesting facts that may help understand the transformation this area has undergone not only recently, but in 150 year scale too!

The long introduction leads to my one and only topic, of course:

FLAMENCO.

On 27 July, as part of the Cubitt Sessions, we could enjoy the music of Paco Peña and his friends. Stage, sun loungers, Vermuteria nearby, free flamenco… it sounded like the perfect Saturday afternoon program, so I convinced my friends and family to go.

Paco Peña is a Spanish guitarist and composer from Córdoba, living in London since the late 1960’s. Today, at the age of 77, he is regarded as one of the world’s foremost traditional flamenco players.

I was happy to listen to him playing, even though I could only stay for the first half of the concert. I loved the fandango, and happily concluded that it’s not only “happy” flamenco they played with alegrías and bulerías. Unfortunately, the names of the accompanying artists were not shared, so I can only say I liked the singer. The dances were nice, but the Flamenco Festival is still too vivid in my memory, so better not compare anyone with those artists.

I love the idea of bringing flamenco to a wider public, especially for free (hence I am writing a blog, hello!), so it was great to hear the sound of the flamenco guitar and the flamenco heels in this brand new space of London!

Big applause to the organisers for thinking of flamenco!

Rosalía…again!

The joke says that in Spain these days all conversations lead to Rosalía…….

Irony of life it may seem that all my flamenco concerts during the London Flamenco Festival have led to the concert of Rosalía in Somerset House, which ended up being the final concert in my two-week-madness of concert day after day. First, Flamenco Festival, then Love Supreme Jazz Festival, then Flamenco Festival again, and at last, but not least, Rosalía!

Now I’m back to the playground after work, (should) have time to write, and will probably need time to digest everything I’ve seen and heard on those concerts. It was intense and fantastic.

As I said, the marathon of concerts finished with Rosalía, on a Monday evening in Somerset House. The home of the Courtauld Gallery, many exhibitions and concerts, talks and workshops, and film screenings in the summer.

There has been and probably still is a lot of controversy about Rosalía in the flamenco world. Traditional flamencos protesting about her music, youngsters loving it, some call it flamenco, others vehemently refuse calling it anything that has to do with flamenco.

I am still on the opinion that her first album, Los Angeles (Angels) was a beautiful interpretation of old flamenco songs. Her second album El Mal Querer (Bad love) used flamenco elements, rhythm, beats, movements, claps, and created something new, something fresh in the world of fusion. She used flamenco, but clearly not made a flamenco album. Has anyone ever had any doubts about it?! Shouldn’t have. The new songs like Con Altura (“with swagger”, but also hint at “being high”) or Dios nos libre del dinero (God save us from money) are even further away from flamenco. The new direction is definitely not mine. Not only musically – this mix of trap/reggaeton/flamenco is not my cup of tea – but also the new dance style, the way she dresses, the nails she wears are far from what I like. But all in all, I loved her album Los Angeles, especially her song Catalina, and enjoy listening to El Mal Querer, so we decided to go to her concert.

As it was a night out without kids, first we went for dinner and decided not to go to the concert before Rosalía. I love the concerts in the UK, because they are so well organised there is no need to queue up for hours to get into a concert. Arrived at Somerset House half an hour before start time (9pm), and with the excellent queuing system in place at the bar, we even got the G&Ts in record time (didn’t take me longer than 5 minutes!). We stayed in the back, but in the middle, so had a great view on the stage. The place was packed, but not uncomfortably, there was enough space to dance. And what’s even better, it started on time. The concert was announced at 9pm, and Rosalía was on stage at 9.02pm Greenwich Mean Time.

Managing expectations well: not thinking you are going to a flamenco concert, the concert could be greatly be enjoyed! She sang most of the songs from El Mal Querer, like Malamente, Pienso en tu mira, Di mi nombre etc.; a few of the new songs, like Con altura and Dios nos libre del dinero; and of course, Catalina.

The order of songs was well planned, with Rosalía speaking to the audience in between songs about the songs themselves and also a bit about herself, having walked the streets of London, when she still had plenty of time, and was dreaming about becoming a singer, singing here one day. Mission completed. Her English was really good, but I guess that’s no surprise from an international superstar she has become, having performed in Coachella, having sung with J Balvin…

The music you either like or not, but we also have to talk about the visual experience. I have not been to neither Lady Gaga nor Kylie Minogue or Madonna concerts, so I cannot judge, how new this is, but it is top quality. Not only has she a great team of dancers and cool choreography, but the design of the background images with the different shapes and colours create another experience on top of the musical experience. The production company Canada from Barcelona have already worked with Rosalía on the video clips of Malamente and Pienso tu Mira, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had designed the background lights for the concert too. It certainly looks like their style. Fun, simple, entertaining, and definitely adding to the experience.

All in all it was a great “night out”. Finished by 10.30pm, so not literally a night, but still, thanks Rosalía, it was fun!

Patricia Guerrero – Catedral

The last show on the 2019 London Flamenco Festival. The show that won the Critic’s choice Award (Giraldillo) on the Bienal of Seville in 2016. Reason to go already. Plus I’ve never seen Patricia Guerrero before, so there I was in Sadler’s Wells on 14 July. To see the award winning show, but also to say farewell to the Flamenco Festival until 2020.

Without knowing what “Cathedral” was about, I found the concept interesting to bring flamenco in the Church. Flamenco & religion? Not something I have in my head closely related. So I was impressed to recognise the smell of incense in the theatre as the show started and nuns appeared on stage. The second surprise came from suddenly listening to voices of the Church: two gentlemen dressed in red as priests, singing chants. The atmosphere was created. How does flamenco come here?

Patricia describes Cathedral as reflection on freeing from religious and social barriers of life. The struggle of a woman with her demons, in a world of phantoms, light and shadow. The “moment to let go of the dogmas that sometimes make us forget who we are”.

Flamenco was her way of expressing this emotional battle, to show us her “insight on freedom”. I liked her dance in general, but I missed everybody else. There were 3 dancers, 2 percussionists, 1 flamenco singer, 2 tenors and 1 guitarist, yet, I had the feeling that it was only about the main dancer. Which is fine, of course, it’s her own show. On other shows though you get to see the musicians perform alone or have their little solos, the dancers normally have a few dances without the principal dancer. Not here. The dancers had one short dance without Patricia, this was probably the only time during the 90 minute performance that she had left the stage for a few minutes. Incredible strength to dance through the entire performance though.

Excellent musicians accompanying her;  I only recognised Agustín Diassera on percussion, and José Ángel Carmona singing.

It was not the most traditional show all in all, it was focused on a very specific topic in a very specific setting, but receiving huge applause from the audience.

 

The festival finished with Patricia Guerrero after two weeks of flamenco packed programme in Sadler’s Wells and the Lilian Baylis studio, and it will be greatly missed. The director of the festival Miguel Marín expressed his doubts in an interview about changing the date of the festival from February to July after 15 years. Well, Miguel, although I don’t know the sale numbers, the theatre seemed pretty full to me every single day, and I have to say, I loved going to see flamenco when it’s not cold and dark, but hot and light, just like it would be in Spain.

So see you all again next July on Rosebery Avenue!

Hasta la próxima!

Gala Flamenca – Mercedes Ruiz, Eduardo Guerrero, María Moreno

Spectacular.

The best word to describe the 2019 Gala Flamenca of the London Flamenco Festival.

Spectacular!

Funny I’ve never liked Galas, yet, I always go see them. Why? I’ll explain.

I have never liked the Gala, because it felt it was aimed at a public less familiar with flamenco, so it had to be rather entertaining flamenco, easy to enjoy, with the focus on dance, to introduce flamenco, not to immerse in it, more like a show than a concert. Accordingly, the public tends to be different: phones ring, messages beep, people come and go during the performance, the level of respect is different. Not to mention, the challenge of having so many artists together in one concert. Never easy, ending with all sorts of results… At the same time, being able to see various artists at once, is very attractive. So I have always gone and hoped for a song, a dance, an individual performance to make it worthwhile, because the acts of all participants together, have never really convinced me. Maybe because I have never seen a good Gala. Until now!

The Gala Flamenca with Mercedes Ruiz, Edu Guerrero, María Moreno and María Terremoto, with the artistic direction of Manuel Liñán was a blast!

My connection to Andalusia is through El Puerto de Santa María, which means that the flamenco close to my heart is from this area: Cádiz, Jerez, El Puerto… and this year, most artists were from these places!

Mercedes Ruiz has been around for a while, and has always been among the dancers I liked. Representing Jerez, dancing a seguriya with impressive skills on the castanets. Great choice of the flamenco palo, and nice dancing.

I was happy to see Eduardo Guerrero live for the first time. Edu is from Cádiz and has danced a caña with unbelievable footwork, which is still not my favourite part of flamenco dance, but it was a joy to watch his long arms, long legs, long hair.

My surprise was María Moreno (also from Cádiz) who I have not seen before either. She won the Revelation Artist Giraldillo Award on the Sevilla Bienal last year, so I already knew about her, but didn’t expect this at all. Epic alegrías! My conclusion: sometimes less movement is so much more. There is no need to overcomplicate the steps or footwork, silence and small movements can transmit so much emotion! I loved seeing her dance so beautifully with bata de cola (the long tail of the flamenco skirt) and the mantón (the big flamenco shawl). I don’t remember when was the last time I saw anyone dance with either bata de cola or mantón. It was refreshing and beautiful!

The dance of Edu and María, both dressed in red was one of the prettiest parts of the show!

I have already written a post about her, so I was thrilled to listen to the live singing of María Terremoto from Jerez. So young, and still, such power in her voice, such mature singing and so much emotion. I have listened so much flamenco singing, but she seems so different, truly exceptional I personally think. I am a big fan!

The singing of Ismael El Bola was also a great surprise, really enjoyed his voice and participation. Just like the guitar of Santiago Lara, always a pleasure to have his guitar!

I have only realised after this show that I didn’t really know what artistic direction was. Having seen this Gala with the artistic direction of Manuel Liñán, I can say that artistic direction is so powerful! Also happy to confirm that I am still and even more of a devoted fan of Manuel. He is not only an excellent dancer (and his “Irreversible” may be the greatest flamenco shows I have ever seen), but his contribution to this show has created a fascinating visual experience of these marvellous artists.

Congratulations all. I think I have just had the luck to see the best Flamenco Gala ever!

Dorantes, Ries, Ezra, Ruibal, Carmona – Flamenco meets Jazz

There is always an odd one out.  In your class, at work, in yoga, at the playground, or at the festival. Flamenco Festival London. It should all be about flamenco, but then there is the odd one out.

Flamenco? Not quite. Musically it’s rather jazz, with some flamenco bits here and there. Structurally? It’s similar to jazz with the solos of each musician. The musicians? Some jazz, some flamenco. The instruments? Piano, percussion, double bass, saxophone, dance.

What is this then?

This is when Flamenco meets jazz, the concert of David Peña Dorantes, Tim Ries, Adam Ben Ezra, Javi Ruibal and Jesús Carmona on the 2019 Flamenco Festival London on the 10th of July.

Utterly brilliant – my favourite English expression.

The concert was special to start with because these 4 musicians have not performed much together in the past, this may have been their 3rd or 4th concert together. They don’t practise together every other day at their homes, they reunited again for this concert. An American, an Israeli, and three Spanish. I always repeat the cliche “music has no borders”. Music has a language that reaches beyond borders, and instruments communicate to each other in a way, that I sometimes find difficult to understand, as someone who doesn’t play any instruments. I found instrumental music difficult to enjoy some years ago, but having lived with a lover of jazz for over 12 years, I very much enjoy it now.

The themes were mostly jazz, but also including some of Dorantes’ themes like Orobroy and the Caravana de los Zingali from his album Sur (South), which I happen to have and have listened to it so so many times. When I heard the first beats of the song, my tears started running.

The piano of Dorantes is always a pleasure to listen to, whatever he plays jazz or flamenco. There are some geniuses around in the world, and Dorantes may be one of the music ones.

Tim Ries has played the saxophone with the Rolling Stones for years, and is currently working on a series for HBO about gypsy music from the East of Hungary, being released in September. Do I need to add anything else?

Adam Ben Ezra has solo shows with his double bass, because as we could experience it on the concert, he is able to entertain an entire theatre by himself. His double bass, hands, feet and attitude is more than simple entertaining.

Javi Ruibal has been playing percussion, drum, cajón with Dorantes for many years, besides his concerts with his band Glazz and his father Javier Ruibal, and he has released his first solo album this year, Solo un mundo (Only one world). You notice right away how well Javi and Dorantes understand each other and how their instruments speak to each other. It’s just amazing.

And then there was the dancer, who has recently risen to super star category in flamenco, Jesús Carmona. He is not strictly a flamenco dancer, he has danced in the Spanish National Ballet Company for years, and also in dance companies of famous flamenco dancers, like Carmen Cortes or Antonio Canales. He danced 3 songs, but the choreographies seemed to suit so perfectly the rhythm and the mood, it totally captured me.

I also liked that Tim and Adam both involved the audience in their solos: Tim by making us sing and Adam by making us clap. Were we any good? I am not sure, but it felt like a great way to connect with the performing artists, and actually form part of their performance.

Jazz and flamenco met that night in Sadler’s Wells. Title well chosen. And even if you don’t know much of either, it was a good concert to go to, because there was good music. played. What else we want?

 

 

Miguel Poveda – Recital de flamenco

If you like flamenco, you’ll like Miguel Poveda, simply because of his love and affection for flamenco.

He started his concert in Sadler’s Wells on the 8th of July with a little teaser of his album “Enlorquecido” where he paid tribute to the poet Federico García Lorca with songs composed to his poems and letters. It was only 2-3 songs but it showed the passion of one man towards the art and life of another man, which is emotional and moving to see.

Then the real flamenco started! Alegrías, bulerías, tangos, a guajira, a petenera and a few other simple, but true, authentic flamenco songs. In a world where everyone searches for themselves and tries to express themselves via but not always strictly with flamenco only, it is appreciated to listen to the original stuff sometimes. Especially from someone who was born into a world that had nothing to do with flamenco, and still his love and passion for this art form, together with his talent in singing have made him one of the top flamenco singers of our time.

What makes Miguel Poveda even greater as an artist, are the musicians surrounding him, and the way he treats them on stage.

I was thrilled to see that I knew every one of the artists accompanying Miguel, but even if I didn’t, Miguel introduced everyone one by one. El Londro from Jerez singing and clapping; Carlos Grilo, master clapper from Jerez (oh lord that contra-beat he claps so perfectly on time and with so much passion in the bulería!); Jesús Guerrero a new talent in the guitar, not only accompanying but composing; Paquito Gonzalez on percussion and drums, who accompanied Paco de Lucía on his last album; and last but not least, El Choro dancing. I like the dancers who don’t only focus on footwork, but they dance. The dance with their arms, with their bodies, with their souls. Antonio Molina, El Choro is one of them.

One of the highlights of the concert was actually a bulería performed by the musicians without Miguel. So much emotion and energy. I could hear the people around me in the audience clapping the rhythm with the feet, moving their hands and heads, as we all enjoyed the song.

Miguel’s English has still room for improvement, but English and non-English speakers both enjoyed listening to him trying and entertaining us (including himself!) with his improvised words and phrases.

The tango to finish the concert was just brilliant. Miguel and co. made a great show, and it was the cherry on top when Miguel invited up to the stage Jesús Carmona, who was sitting in the audience, and he danced a bit at the end. The process of Choro taking off his shoes ON STAGE, Jesús taking off his white trainers ON STAGE, exchanging shoes ON STAGE, while Miguel sang and the musicians played, has just shown that improvisation is possible, it does happen, and it gives us a unique experience of a concert. Thank you all!

All in all, it was an excellent concert. There is only one thing I would mention to Miguel for next time. In today’s day and age where diversity and inclusion are such hot topics across areas of age, ethnicity, gender, disability, LGBT+ etc. Where were the women in the show? To be fair to Miguel, he has had La Lupi as dancer on his concerts for years, so this may be a one-off, still my eyes missed the ladies on stage. Hopefully next time.

Until then all the best Miguel, you are still a phenomenon!

Sara Baras – Sombras

Finally, the London Flamenco Festival has started!

Who else could be the first artist to perform on the festival, than the internationally celebrated and known, Sara Baras.

3rd of July, was her second day of performance out of the six. She and her show ‘Sombras’ (Shadows) occupies the first half of the festival. Sara Baras, the “showman”.

I haven’t seen her for years, but she hasn’t changed much. She still has the same smile, young and fresh. She still has that cheekiness of the south of Spain; she plays on stage with the public, winking, joking, throwing kisses, involving the audience fully.

Her shows haven’t changed much either. She still loves playing with lights, colours and her dresses. She still brings many musicians, I was happy to hear live for the first time Rubio de Pruna and Israel Fernández (and what hair, wow), but also saw some new faces I didn’t know, together with some new instruments I didn’t expect!

The footwork of Sara is still fast and impressive, but too much for my taste. Technique is not all, the heart has to be there. And I’m sure she puts all her heart in her shows, but it must be difficult (if not impossible) to give the same each and every night over a week.

The game with light and shadow, sound and silence, and the stage design are definitely still her strengths! Just like the musicians she has with her; beautiful solos from the percussionists and the saxophonist!

Unbelievable for me to realise how her arms can be recognised from a million. Always the same, strong, straight, moving up and up and up. Missing the soul though. Interesting how the arms of María Pages and Sara Baras are so different, yet so recognisable both.

The mariana “Yo vengo de Hungría” is dear to my heart for obvious reasons (I’m Hungarian!), so was nice to hear parts of it in the show! And always nice to find little hints and gestures to artists like Paco de Lucía and Enrique Morente.

But the best of all, is that my friend Mirawa came with me, and I got to show a little piece of flamenco to someone new!

Someone who didn’t know flamenco before.

Someone, who still has the entire world of flamenco ahead of her to discover.

Lucky her!

The festival continues and I will be back with more updates soon…