Guest article by Anto Ojeda Ballesteros: Rocío Márquez & Bronquio in the Lilian Baylis studio

Flamenco Rave at the corner of Sadlers Wells.

London 02 July 2022

An odd wind was blowing in London for days. Dry blasts. Chilly in the shade, but warm in the sun. It dried the hair in a few seconds. Similar to that wicked wind they call Levante in Andalucía.

The show started late. But that’s what they say of good things, they make you wait. People queued patiently and in order. Loving a queue is very British. We entered the space nicely at Lilian Baylis Studio. People seemed excited, as if they knew they were about to see something special. Groundbreaking some may say. I sneaked in a beer, opened it inside my bag, took it out craftily and ordered a paper cup at the bar to pour it in before the show. Call me a punk.

The first time I saw Rocío Márquez in London was in a bonbon case —as she called it— with lighted candelabra, accompanied by Miguel Ángel Cortés in the guitar and Los Mellis jaleando. Real flamenco some may say. It was my wife’s due date with our first daughter, but she came late, so we could go to the concert and enjoy Rocío´s extraordinary flamenco voice at the Shakespeare’s Globe. That was early 2015.

This time is 2022. Unsurprisingly there were not a couple of wicker wooden flamenco chairs on stage. Neither were cables ready to be plugged into the lower bout of a Spanish guitar for a guitarist to start fingering the strings while the last spectator sits down. Instead, there were a bunch unneat cables hanging from a tall table prepped with a laptop and a mixer. The stage created a triangular space with two large white wrinkled sheets hanging from the ceiling. We spectators were the third wall —instead of the orthodox fourth—, elevating the perspective. And reminding us of the name of their new album: Tercer cielo (Third Heaven).

Bronquio enters the stage from the left in semi-darkness. Black tshirt, black cap, black sunglasses. A track full of electronic gloominess starts to play, creating ambience, introducing us into a time machine. Soon after, Rocío Márquez enters the stage from the right. She drags herself on the floor along a corridor of light, as if coming out from a hole. The future is hard to reach. She sings while she crawls under the table. She wears a second skin with colourful motives and a torero cape —like a superwoman.

In contrast we listen to a humble but sure cantaora. We see Bronquio jumping behind the table as my foot taps the ground to the rhythms. Her quejíos in Exprimelimones, her broken breaths and metallic babbling. He also uses the mic during an interval —helped by Auto Tune though—, to some trap music. My neck and shoulders engage easily. Rocío comes back with a white and blue dress, like a futuristic muse, using the long curtains as a veil.

She climbs on the table with Bronquio´s help. She moves her hips to the music,  like an old bailaora gitana. Or rather a belly dancer. I am about to start clapping to the rhythm. Smoke comes out from behind the stage, her silhouette appears as lightnings on the walls. Some sort of fresh air soaks the space filled with darkness and lights.

By the time I finished my beer, my bottom was getting off of the chair to the rumba De mi. I looked around to see if people´s booties were also out of control. The compás came and went. Always rooted to the past, in every track. Where are we? I thought. A non-place in between eras and across worlds. Earthy but heavenly. A space tunnel joining the anvil pacing the basket weaver’s cante in ancient Huelva with the carboot of the wildest rave in an abandoned warehouse in Manchester listening to El corte más limpio.

Viva Jerez” we hear in the bulería called Mmmm. From all places! Viva! Jerez, synecdoche of the world: La Plazuela, Santiago, San Miguel, of course. But also La barriada de la plata, La vid, El Almendral, Villa jardín, Los girasoles, Estella del marqués. Even Guadalcacín. Everything and everybody is flamenco if they want. Shall they say it three times.

Listening to Third Heaven is similar to listening to a new La leyenda del tiempo, or a new Omega, some may say. I don’t know if in the times we live in, so eclectic, so forgiving, so inclusive —this is what I want to think—, we are witnessing such a breakthrough. We have already listened to electronic music with flamenco vibes before: Fuel fandango, Ojos de Brujo, El niño de Elche, Califato 3×4, Soleá Morente. Even C Tangana lately. And we have all listened to Rosalía´s El mal querer. I could go on.

But, in this case, there is yet another but: Rocío Márquez doesn´t need Auto Tune. She’s real, she´s jonda, and she elevates flamenco. Her voice is an ancient treasure coming from the future to take us with her. Whether accompanied by a Spanish guitar, the fingers of Bronquio caressing his mixer or performing solo.

Let’s leave determinism to the side, especially in art. Music and flamenco evolve freely. They change like languages. They flow from unstoppable streams. Like human beings. Flamenco or not flamenco, that is not the question. Let flamenco explode with electronic music like it once did with that cajón from Peru that Paco de Lucía flew across the Atlantic and feels indispensable today.

We are finally in the future, some may say. We are witnessing male flamenco dancers performing on stage dressed like women. We are listening to electronic punk sampling tunes accompanying true figures of flamenco jondo. Anyone can keep writing sonnets if they like, they may bury them well deep in a drawer. I want to open my senses, I want to interpret the different meanings of art. I want to be part of the evolution. I want to know where I am by knowing where I come from, sure. But I want to see the future in my mind. I want to experience it.

I came out of the studio feeling even more excited than when I entered. As if I had arrived somewhere new. Just landed. My eyes almost crystalised, my ears still bumping. The streets were empty, the wind had stopped. I remembered a phrase by my paisano Tani Figueras that encapsulates the trip: “Love deep like flamenco”. Suddenly I felt at peace. But I regretted not having brought my sunglasses.

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