Jesús Méndez & Antonio Reyes in Zahara

As the hot and stuffy August days are slowly turning cooler and rainier, nostalgia takes me back to a similar day in Zahara de los Atunes last summer – a day that started hot and ended with drizzle. A day when Anto and I sneaked out in the night to go to a small flamenco festival and enjoy live flamenco music with big flamenco stars!

In August 2021, while visiting the family in Cádiz, I came across a concert advertised on social media with Jesús Méndez and Antonio Reyes in a place called, Zahara de los Atunes. I quickly checked Zahara on the map – 60 minutes by car from where we were staying, the concert started at 22.30pm, a ticket cost 5 Euros and we had the entire family to babysit. I got the tickets.

The concert formed part of the Flamenco festival of Pacheco El Viejo. Many locations in Andalusia organise small festivals, particularly during the summer, in order to receive visitors and boost tourism, and thus supporting local restaurants, bars and the artists, of course. They tend to name the festival after one of their local artist, who in this case was Pacheco El Viejo [The Old].

The evening started slightly stressed as we didn’t leave on time and were caught up in traffic on the way to Zahara – all the people making their way home from the beach by car, causing massive blockages on the road. We eventually got to Zahara, parked the car in a mad rush and ran to the venue, just to realise that 1. the concerts hadn’t started yet 2. there were no bars inside the patio of the “palace” 3. a slight drizzle had just begun. Oh well, art is worth it all, isn’t it?!

The festival started with the dance of Carmen Herrera and friends, and continued with a local singer, whose name I don’t recall. I do remember that she was not Dolores Manzorro, the local singer advertised on the poster. Dolores was not feeling well that night, so her niece jumped in to substitute her on very short notice.

Following them, the stars of the evening were up. Starting with Antonio Reyes from Chiclana, whose voice sounded beautiful in the late August night among the ruins of the old “palace”. The beauty of the place was that it was outdoors and you could see the stars. Palacio de Pilas is one of these old “palaces” with semi-ruined walls that’s mostly providing a place for local events these days.

The two singers must have been chosen consciously and with much care because they compliment each other nicely. They have very different voices and styles in singing, and it was particularly beautiful to listen to Antonio’s more melodic and slightly softer voice first, followed by the sheer power in Jesús’ voice that seemed to reach the sky.

I am a big fan of Antonio Reyes and his melodic sound where emotions fill every single musical note. He represents the singing styles known in the ports of the province of Cadiz, while Jesús Méndez is from Jerez, a more inland area and is part of the famous singing dynasty of the Méndez family. Jesús is the nephew of La Paquera de Jerez, one of the most famous female singers of all times. Both Paquera and Jesús’ singing have particular characteristics, easily recognised by the power and strength of their voices.

These small local festivals are designed for the local audience, either living in the area or visiting on holidays. They are not fancy, not super organised. They are authentic and real, like what flamenco used to be – small venues, the artists close to the public. The specialty of these small town flamenco nights is that they do go into the night. Jesús must have finished singing around 2am, which is pretty late, especially if you think they started around 10pm and there was no bar inside the concert area… I didn’t want to miss the stars of the evening and stayed in the venue all evening, waiting and waiting in the August drizzle, only to realise that they only came to stage later and I could have easily gone for a drink. Oh well, art was worth it all!

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