First I found notes on the community wall in English, then we met by the lift, chatted a few times, and soon after, we were having a coffee or beer together every afternoon. In the mornings I was doing my internship, in the afternoons I was supposed to be writing my thesis to finish my degree, so I had plenty of time…

She told me about Derby, the university she used to work for, how she moved to Budapest after she retired and her son got married to a Hungarian girl. I even remember when Luna was born. We talked a lot about Millie and Ebony, her beloved dogs; how she was learning Hungarian and trying to find her place in a new life. Oh and her delicious shepherd’s pie…

My friend, Jean.

I only realise now how we belong to different generations and although I believe death is part of nature, the news deeply shocks me.

I say goodbye with flamenco, with a tribute from one great flamenco singer, El Torta to another one, Luis de Pica. Interesting how the tribute is not a sad toned song but a tango, full of rhythm and life. This is also how I want to remember my friend.

Jean, good-bye.

Journey to heaven   (‘Viaje al cielo’)

‘Hola, qué tal?’

As a child, I learned German, English and French and by the time I went to university, I thought I had done my fair share of studying foreign languages, and should get along comfortably with my languages in the world. How wrong I was…….All I needed, was to fall in love with a boy from the south of Spain, and it started all over again. I took one semester of Spanish in university, just out of curiosity, and it proved to be very helpful knowing at least ‘Hola, qué tal?’ (Hello, how are you?) when I arrived to Spain. Despite my basics in Spanish and all my foreign language knowledge, it felt like being in China at first. I didn’t understand a word, could only catch some ‘pero’s and ‘porque’s, but’s and because’s (“but” most certainly with one ‘t’!).

Living and working in Spain I quickly realised, how much the Spanish appreciate when you try to learn their language. So I did. After the first difficult 6 months, little by little I could understand and speak more and more. Spanish is easy at the beginning, it gets difficult at more advanced levels, when you want to use the correct past sense, when you want to use ‘subjuntivo’ and so on. Until then, it’s quite easy to make progress and start conversing. A book of phrases & expressions would definitely help everyone, because they use so many of them in everyday conversations, one never stops learning new ones!

And how does all this connect to my flamenco blog? Let me explain.

Flamenco comes from the south of Spain originally. There are theories about the gipsy origin, the Andalusian origin, the mix of the two, but at the end of the day everyone agrees that flamenco is an integral part of the culture and tradition of Andalusia and therefore of Spain.

Learning Spanish helps understanding not only the lyrics of the songs, but everything surrounding. Because flamenco is not only the music, songs and lyrics, but a lifestyle! I’m afraid I will never even grasp half of what the flamenco lifestyle means or especially what it meant in the past, but understanding the language brought me one step closer to it. I am reading “A way of life” from Donn Pohren and I really enjoy his description of the flamenco lifestyle in Morón de la Frontera in the 1960’s, where he and his wife ran a flamenco centre.

Understanding what the songs talk about, being able to talk to the artists or to the people, who live flamenco every day, is fascinating! I think one can get closer to flamenco by understanding Spanish. I remember telling my friend, P. (who is a flamenco guitarist/drummer) the same thing, and him responding, there is nothing to understand, only feel the music.

So you decide. Do you need to understand or just enjoy?

‘Yo me quedo en Sevilla’


‘Que nadie vaya a llorar’


blog foto Podcasts

I’m not a person of technology. I’m just hoping to keep up with the changes and innovations to understand what’s happening around me. Therefore I will be eternally grateful to my friend N. – one of the two biggest music fans I have ever met in my life, the other one being my sister-in-law, C. – who showed me years and years back: podcasts. I used to listen to my favourite radio programs live or stream previous episodes via the website of the radio that sometimes worked, sometimes they didn’t.

So podcasts were a revolutionary discovery! They can easily be accessed if you have the podcast app downloaded to your phone (on Apple for sure, but must be similar, if not the same for Android…). Without trying to give technological advice on how to download the app etc., let’s move on to the content!

There are 3 podcasts I regularly listen to:

1. Duendeando: every Saturday and Sunday at 5pm (UK time) on RNE3 (Spanish national radio, channel 3) with Teo Sanchez. The program of flamingos and pelicans (‘flamencos y pelicanos’). A witty game with the words representing an always reliable program to broadcast quality music, interesting guest artists and entertaining conversations. It gives an update on the new albums, upcoming festivals and events from the flamenco world. Best to enjoy with a coffee and cake after an afternoon nap… (I don’t mention the cigarette with the coffee because smoking is not trendy these days, but it does belong to the perfect experience……..).

2. Nuestro Flamenco: every Monday and Wednesday at 11pm (UK time) on RNE Clásico (Spanish national radio, classical music channel) with José María Velázquez-Gaztelu. I already mentioned this radio program in my post ‘Women in flamenco’. It is different from Duendeando in style due to the different personality of the host, and also different in structure. The first part of every program is dedicated to the guitar and guitarists, then they talk about news, new albums, festivals and the invited artists have interesting conversations with José María. A poet, writer and flamencologist, whose name is well known among flamencos, as he had a series about flamenco in the ’70s, called ‘Rito y geografía del cante y del baile’. I love that José María always uses the exact same phrases to start the programme and to present the guests. Exactly the same words! At first it may seem boring, odd or even funny, but I actually think it creates a feeling a safety and security (or is it just me – mother of 2 toddlers – who thinks repetition creates security?!?).

3. ConTraste Flamenco: every Sunday at 10.30pm (UK time) on RNE5 (Spanish national radio, channel 5) with Manuel Pedraz. This program is only 30 minutes long, and therefore information and conversations are more focused and “concentrated”. This is the newest podcast I listen to and I like it simply because it is done by someone different in a different format. And even though topics may be similar or sometimes even the same, the different editors/ directors/ presenters (all in one person!) end up having totally different conversations with the guests.

El flamenco en R5: I also have this podcast on my phone, but if I want to be honest, I have never listened to it. It used to be a micro-space of flamenco, each program 5 minutes long, but I believe it is not ongoing anymore; last one seemed to be broadcasted in May 2017.

I do not spend hours commuting to work, but I do spend some time on the tube, mostly reading and listening to my podcasts. There is plenty of information, lots of music and great conversations. The only thing needed is: Spanish!!!

Dance, dance, dance

Throughout my years of flamenco love, I have been searching for years for the perfect dancer, the true flamenco bailaor/a. But the end of this story is not that I found it. Only after long years I came to realise that it doesn’t exist. There is not one dancer who is perfect, or is the true flamenco. As our friend, J. says: “We are all different. Isn’t that wonderful?”

All the different dancers add a bit of themselves to the colour palette of flamenco and their uniqueness makes flamenco so colourful and diverse. Variety is beauty. Not only in flamenco, in everything. And there shouldn’t be one idealised dancer because reality is that WE ARE ALL different, therefore the dance of each individual should also be different.

Matilde Coral is different from Manuela Carrasco, even though both are from Seville, but representing different schools, different styles. Eva Yerbabuena and Farruquito are two different worlds, just like María Pagés and Gema Moneo. Sara Baras is nothing like Pastora Galván. Marco Flores is nothing like Manuel Liñan. And thank the Lord for that! How boring would it be if they all danced the same?!

There are dancers who bring flamenco even further, testing the established limits. Have you heard about Israel Galván? Or Rocio Molina? When you see them for the first time, you’ll ask: “What is this? This is not flamenco.” It is certainly not traditional flamenco, but they are using flamenco for creating something new, going beyond the boundaries of traditional flamenco. Don’t expect flamenco when you go see them, and you won’t be disappointed. You can just enjoy art, dance, music. Opinions of course vary. Some say what Israel Galván does, is not flamenco, he is simply crazy. Others adore him and his inventions. These new creations tend to succeed first outside of Spain and then in Spain. The reason behind is the group of people, called purists, who defend the traditions and the purity of old flamenco by basically rejecting everything new. I don’t think they can be blamed too much, because this must also be done by someone. It can be disputed how strict they should be but this is such a complex topic that deserves a post.

A. says Israel Galván is a genius. He knows his tradition so well that it allows him to make fun of it by taking flamenco beyond itself and create something new, something unbelievable!

The last show of Isabel Bayón, choreographed by Israel Galván, ‘Dju-dju‘ was utterly brilliant (I wanted to use this expression since I first heard it during the 2012 London Olympics…). The greatest theatre play I have recently seen. Knowing Israel was behind the show, we have absolutely loved it!

Similar to ‘Reversible‘ of Manuel Liñan. I wanted to see the show because I have never seen a man dance with ‘bata de cola’, the long tail of a special flamenco dress. I not only saw a man dance with bata de cola but saw the most exciting flamenco show in years! Fresh, new, thoughtful but at the same time traditional! Fascinating.

I love the dance of Adela Campallo, La Lupi and Pastora Galván. I find them very feminine and love how they represent traditional flamenco.

I have always liked Mercedes Ruiz and her shows which are never one big show (like the shows of Sara Baras, Carmen or La Pepa), but lots of different, individual dances under the same theme.

I am now discovering more male dancers: Manuel Liñan, José Maldonado, El Choro, Antonio El Pipa… they simply rock!

And my all time favourite is Lucía Ruibal. She encompasses every feature of a true flamenco: she has the tradition deep within, the technique with excellent footwork and beautiful hands/arms, and her love of flamenco and passion for dance, make her outstand among all the new talents.

I recently heard an interview with El Carrete de Malaga, an almost 80year old gentleman who has been a flamenco dancer all his life. He was asked what dancers he liked and he answered : Antonio, el Bailarín, Antonio Farruco and Fred Astaire, because he also danced a type of bulería! There you go. Who said that flamenco can only be danced by flamencos?

Compás and co.

Juan José Téllez relates in his book “Paco de Lucía. The son of the Portuguese” that Paco de Lucía once said, flamenco was the last music in Europe based on rhythm. Now I am not familiar with the folk music of all the smaller and bigger European nations, but I definitely agree that the basis of flamenco is the rhythm; melody comes second.

I learned this myself on my first dance classes in Madrid, where our teacher, Cristina went on and on about ‘un-dos-un-dos-trés-cuatro-cinco-seis-siete-ocho-nueve-diéz. Un-dos-un-dos-trés-cuatro-cinco-seis-siete-ocho-nueve-diéz. Un-dos… again and again and again. The ‘compás’, the rhythm. The base, the starting point, the walls, the structure of flamenco. I remember her saying that we should have this rhythm inside of us. It has to come from within, she used to say. The French girl from Biarritz – on her Erasmus in Madrid- and the Hungarian girl – taking a chance on her life (me!) – understood quite quickly the importance of the compás and were able to repeat the steps and claps heard in class, but not everybody could. In order to follow the rhythm, you have to hear not only the rhythm, but when you are out of the rhythm! Out of compás = profanity in flamenco.  If you don’t realise that you are out of compás, you might as well give up your flamenco career. I do believe though that musical hearing can be improved. By sweating blood (say the Hungarian), but it is possible to learn and improve.

The different flamenco forms, ‘palos’, all have different rhythm and more importantly, different accent. They can be categorised into groups based on their base rhythm and origin: 12-beat patterns are in the soleá-family: bulerías, alegrías, cantiñete etc.; 3/4 compás is used in fandangos de Huelva, rondeña, malagueña, granaína etc.; 4/4 compás cycle is in tangos, tientos, farruca etc.; the songs of ‘ida y vuelta’ have tango feel but originate from South America like guajira, colombiana, vidalita; seguiriya group includes seguiriya, liviana etc.; the toná family, also known as ‘palo seco’, includes martinete, saeta etc.; and finally, the rest that do not belong to any of the above groups like zambra or nana.

Flamenco can be enjoyed without knowing these groupings but definitely helps recognising the different forms, if we recognise the compás.

And then I haven’t even mentioned ‘contratiempo’ yet. Counter time – I suppose – you would call it in English. The space between the beats, I read once. It’s basically the beat half way between two whole beats. It is used frequently in flamenco, I would even say flamencos like playing with contratiempo. It makes the songs more colourful, exciting and lively! What a challenge though! If compás was difficult, not sure how to describe contratiempo…

I love it how some of my friends from the south of Spain just start clapping and beating the contratiempo with their feet or making a sound with their mouth, without even realising how difficult it is! It’s amazing how they are able to make music with their hands/feet/mouth within seconds!

A huge compliment for me was when – after spending a couple of hours with my friend, L. (professional flamenco dancer), dancing, trying to follow a simple choreography – we went to A’s big family meeting with more than 50 people, and she told everyone: ‘Tiene compás, si, si, tiene compás’. (“She’s got the rhythm, yes, yes, she’s got the rhythm”).

Women in flamenco

Women, feminism, gender equality: trending topics of 2018.

What about women in flamenco? Well, it is most certainly an intriguing story!

Traditionally, flamenco was rather masculine. There are female artists who were popular and became famous in the first half of the twentieth century, like Carmen Amaya and La Niña de los Peines, but the majority of flamencos – especially singers and guitarists – were men. In the countryside, particularly in villages, the flamenco scene was almost entirely male dominated. In every village, there were one or two family-friendly establishments where women could go with their husbands, and of course in any private home they were welcome, but in the bars visited by men – where flamenco was mostly played – in hours after dark, in an environment with drinks, smoke etc. a respectable woman did not want to be seen. Not the best environment for a woman, anyway, they used to say. The women living in these villages were the first ones to call any woman visiting these bars: a whore… Female presence in these bars was just as uncomfortable for men as for women. Donn Pohren experienced this himself when he arrived to Morón de la Frontera at the beginning of the 60’s, and started going out with the flamencos as part of his flamenco research. His book “A way of life” talks about this and much more, while he lived among the flamencos in the 50-60’s Andalusia.

The story of La Chana – a Catalan gipsy dancer from Barcelona – has recently become  widely known outside of the flamenco world. This is also due to the documentary of the Croatian director, Lucija Stojevic, which won an audience award on Amsterdam’s International Documentary Festival. When Antonia was a young dancer, full of potential and a bright future ahead of her, her husband did not like her being on stage, and forced her into early retirement; only to come back to stage now, in her late sixties. She can only dance sitting down, but she has a footwork that any young dancer would envy, and so much emotion in her performance what makes people cry. I feel lucky to have seen her during the Flamenco Festival in London in February this year. She was helped on stage by two other dancers, sat down in a chair, and the rhythm of her ‘zapateado’, the footwork and the intensity of emotions, left the entire theatre speechless. It was quite moving. One can only hope that we now live in an era where men don’t take decisions about the lives of women anymore, and these stories won’t repeat.

There is still a long way for gender equality to become reality (if possible at all!), but things are changing and the flamenco world is no exception. It welcomes more and more female artists in singing, dancing and also in the guitar! I was happy to hear a few months ago that there is already one known female guitar player (from El Puerto de Santa María): Antonia Jiménez. This doesn’t mean there are no others, but up until recently, I have never heard of any!

As Holly Branson very well said on an international women’s day talk in March 2018 in London: “only sperm donors and surrogate mothers are gender restricted jobs, nothing else should be”. So let women become train drivers, IT specialists and flamenco guitarists, if they want to be. And vice-versa, let men become midwives and nurses, if they want to be. Freedom of choice. For all!

There is a radio program on the national radio in Spain, run by José María Velázquez-Gaztelu, a gentleman with incredible knowledge on flamenco (‘flamencólogo’), writer and poet from Cádiz. It’s called ‘Nuestro Flamenco’, Our Flamenco and it is on RNE Clásico every Monday and Wednesday at midnight CET). They now have a series dedicated to the women in the flamenco world, presenting artists of old times but also contemporary ones. It is called ‘La mujer cantaora’, the singer women. Highly recommended! Podcasts available online.

My women in flamenco are:

Cristobalina Suárez

Fernanda de Utrera

Inés Bacán

Pastora Galván

Mercedes Ruiz

Marina Heredia

La Lupi

María Terremoto

Lucía Ruibal

Discovering the guitar

The other day I have realised – almost by accident – that the flamenco I have lately listened to, is fully dominated by guitar albums. This is probably an after effect of having just read a book about Paco de Lucía…

Throughout the years, as I have been discovering flamenco and it’s artists, I first found interest in getting to know the dancers (‘bailaores y bailaoras’). Without doubt the visual experience of the dance is the most catchy, especially for new audiences. Then my attention turned to the singers (‘cantaores y cantaoras’), trying to understand the words, recognising the different ‘palos’. Flamenco is the collective name of the art but there are many different forms within. It was an adventurous journey getting to know these forms: starting from the more joyful alegrías, bulerías, tangos, cantiñete, to the more sorrow soleá, malagueña, seguiriya, martinete, toná and so on. There are lots of different categorisations and names of the ‘palos’ (‘cante grande’, ‘cante chico’, ‘canciónes de ida y vuelta’, ‘quejío’ etc.) but I don’t think it is necessary to know these to be able to enjoy the music.

Only after the dancers and singers, I am now exploring the guitar players (‘guitarristas’) and I am discovering excellent artists and albums.

Just to mention a few:

  • The last album of Rafael Riqueni: ‘Parque de María Luisa‘, María Luisa Park ‘es una delicia’ as the Spanish would say. Delightful. The guitar imitating the sound of the birds is astounding.
  • The last album of Vicente Amigo ‘Memoria de los sentidos’ is amazing but the song ‘Requiem‘ dedicated to Paco de Lucía is just breathtaking.
  • ‘Palo Santo’ is the latest album of Dani Casares and the atmosphere of Easter (‘Semana Santa’) is wonderfully transmitted.
  • I really like Manuel Molina , although I wouldn’t categorise him as a guitar player only, he sings and he writes his lyrics, as well. If you listen to his songs, he is a true poet!

I haven’t listened so much to the old maestros Ramón Montoya or Niño Ricardo but more to Diego del Gastor and Sabicas accompanying singers of their time. I recently bought an album of Enrique Morente and Sabicas and it’s also wonderful. And without trying to list all of the guitarists, just a few I like: Pedro Bacán, Moraíto, Diego del Morao, Antonio Rey, Manolo Sanlúcar and Santiago Lara.

The first guitar album I was ever able to appreciate on its own was ‘Sentimientos’, Emotions from Santiago Lara. Santi is married to the dancer Mercedes Ruiz and they create and perform together. I have always been a big fan of Mercedes and her traditional dance from Jerez and through her, I got to know Santi and his music. Very pleasant on a Saturday afternoon while reading on the couch and listening to the raindrops on the window (yes, I live in London).

And even though I haven’t mentioned the other instrument players present in today’s flamenco, I haven’t forgotten about them! Artists like the pianist, Dorantes, drummers like Piraña and Javi Ruibal and the saxophonist Jorge Pardo are also important. Since the revolution initiated by Camarón and Paco de Lucía, flamenco is not restricted to the trio of singer-dancer-guitarist and other, new instruments have greatly added to the beauty of this music.