Boldog karácsonyt!

Christmas for me has always been white and cold, peaceful and quiet, intimate and family oriented. But then I fell in love with a boy from the south of Spain and got to know a different kind of Christmas. Still European, not hot and sunny, but a totally different celebration in a totally different atmosphere. Cultural shock at its best, as they teach in university. I found myself in El Puerto de Santa María, in Cádiz, Andalusia, celebrating the holidays with A’s family, where Christmas is neither white nor quiet. It’s still cold to some extent, and very much family oriented, but family has a much wider meaning in the south of Spain. We essentially do the same: eat, drink, sing and gather with our loved ones, but the songs are merrier, the rhythm is sparkier, the instruments are different.

A typical celebration is a gathering to sing and dance together, called the “zambomba”, which is also the instrument, a friction drum, used to accompany Christmas carols. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, many “zambombas” are organised across Andalusia, Jerez being one of the most famous places of all. People gather in family circles or on the main square, eat and drink, sing together, playing the zambomba, playing the guitar, accompanied by clapping, making it all a flamenco event at the same time.

Shocking experience listening to “La virgen gitana“, an example of a Spanish Christmas carol, for someone who grew up listening to Hungarian Christmas carols, like “Pásztorok, pásztorok“.

The point is the same everywhere though: being together, sharing and cherishing moments of life. Lucky us, who have food, a roof above our heads, central heating, running water and jobs to provide for ourselves.

Merry Christmas!

Feliz Navidad!

Boldog karácsonyt!

Enrique Morente

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Eight years. On the 13th of December it will be eight years. I still remember the day he died. The shock, the genuine shock of the world of music.

He was diagnosed with cancer shortly beforehand, and a specialist recommended operating immediately. The operation went well, but complications arose afterwards; a second operation was needed, followed by induced coma, he never woke up again. Not as planned, not as expected. Years at the court searching for justice, but the pain could not be helped. Another genius from the old flamencos gone. I remember the scene at the funeral parlour: his daughter, Estrella singing “Habanera Imposible” and her mother, Aurora, wife of Enrique laying on top of the coffin, crying and screaming, surrounded and supported by the family. Heart-breaking and surprising at the same time, because it was so different from the silent and introverted way of mourning, I have known. Loud, expressive, filled with emotions. It seemed like they let the pain take over everything without any self control. Different culture, different ways of dealing with pain, but the pain is the same for all.

At that time, I didn’t understand why so many musicians were affected so much by the loss of a flamenco singer. Now, I know that he was much more than just a flamenco singer.

Who was Enrique Morente?

Born in the famous Albaicín district of Granada on Christmas Day, in 1942, he started singing in the cathedral of Granada in a group of children, dancing, singing and playing the castanets on religious events, until he was kicked out by one of the priests who considered his voice ugly, explains Juan Verdú in his book, The garden of flamenco (“El jardín del flamenco”). His attraction to flamenco originates from the same time, when he also learned the basics on family and neighbourhood gatherings. He moved to Madrid in his teens to start a professional career in singing, and started in 1964 in peñas flamencas (club for flamenco fans) as “Enrique, el Granaíno” (Enrique from Granada). In the next few years, this was followed by concerts in tablaos, on festivals, contracts with flamenco dance companies, tours in Europe and Japan, and his first album in 1967, with the guitarist Félix de Utrera. “His first recordings were strictly orthodox and showed deep understanding of traditional flamenco, which was a rare quality for singers of his generation.”

But knowing traditional flamenco was only one of his attributes. A motive that followed him through his entire career is that after something traditional, he always got his teeth into something new, something unconventional. These alternations between traditional and innovative flamenco made him controversial among the traditional flamencos and a genius among the risk taker innovators. So for example, after recording an album “Homage to Antonio Chacón” (1977), famous representative of the non-Romani (Gipsy) flamenco and also fundamental figure of the early XX. century flamenco, he recorded an album called “Despegando” (Taking off), in an innovative mood, clearly announcing his intentions. Then in 1982, he recorded some songs that were later chosen by the flamencologist, José Blas Vega to form part of the complete collection of traditional singing styles (Magna Antología del Cante), followed by a return to orthodoxy with the album Morente-Sabicas (1990), with guitarist, Sabicas (photo above).

Then he created a flamenco mass. Not unseen before, but very different from the previous ones. We’d better call it fusion, due to its mixture between traditional flamenco singing and Gregorian chant. What an idea! And once we talk about fusion, obligatory to mention at least some of the music genres he tried to mix with flamenco: classical music,  jazz, rock, music from Senegal, music from Cuba, the choir of Bulgarian voices and so on. There is no end to Morente’s interest in other kinds of music; as he said once: “…if I had to put out a CD for every culture I mixed with, I’d be putting out about 7 or 8 CDs a year.”

Representing the traditional side, he performed a seguiriya in Carlos Saura’s 1995 film “Flamenco” (highly recommended for anyone interested in flamenco!), which was then followed by one of his most controversial works: “Omega” with alternative rock group Lagartija Nick. It counts with the participation of many flamencos, such as Tomatito, Vicente Amigo or Miguel Ángel Cortés, but it was again a new concept, whereby “flamenco and punk rock are mingled with recreations of songs by Leonard Cohen and lyrics from Federico García Lorca’s book “A Poet in New York”, together with traditional flamenco lyrics.”

Today’s post is getting far too long, but it cannot end without mentioning his extensive use of poems as lyrics in the flamenco songs he recorded, paying tribute to poets and writers by recording songs with lyrics from Miguel Hernandez, Federico García Lorca, Antonio Machado and Lope de Vega. He also composed music for theatre plays, films and television, despite not being able to read musical notations. Many albums, many awards, but also much criticism in the 70-80’s from the purists defending the patrimony of Romani/Gipsy in singing. Fortunately, this is now mostly behind us. The artistic intelligence of Enrique Morente and his commitment to flamenco is widely acknowledged and praised.

Simple fans like me realise his genius when finding out that Santiago Lara has a new album dedicated to guitar legend Pat Metheny, but wait, Morente has already performed with Pat Metheny! Or Arcángel announces collaboration with the choir of Bulgarian voices, but Morente has already done that! Miguel Poveda has a new album dedicated to Federico García Lorca (called “Enlorquecido”), but Morente has already done that!

And then we haven’t even talked about how he was as a person. Juan Verdú can tell you all about him, as only a close friend or a brother can. Because they called each other brothers, having spent decades together, Juan accompanying Enrique in his adventures, sharing the best and the most difficult moments. Loving and caring, humble, 100% human, generous (sharing his earnings after the the concerts with his circle of friends , having put the family’s share already away, because family always came first!), leaving a great heritage of wisdom, sense of humor and way of living.

Enrique Morente passed away on the 13th of December 2010. He left behind his wife, Aurora and three children: Estrella, Soleá and Kiki. Estrella has followed the footsteps of her father and has become a flamenco singer, representing everything her father used to. One way or another, Soleá and Kiki are also involved with flamenco.

Today, my farewell goes out to Enrique Morente and to my grandfather. He passed away yesterday, leaving his own heritage behind. The last man of a past generation.

I say goodbye with the song of the close family friend and admired musician: Javier Ruibal: A Morente.

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!

Flamenco Festival London

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As we are approaching the end of October, I find myself checking the website of Sadler’s Wells every other day. Even though I am signed up to their newsletter, and I would receive an email when the new program is announced, I am too excited to lose even a few hours when the announcement is made.

This is the time of the year Sadler’s Wells, THE dance theatre of London, announces the line up for next year’s Flamenco Festival, and tickets go on sale. The festival always takes place in February*, over the course of a week, with the majority of the shows on the main stage of Sadler’s Wells, and some of the smallest shows in the Lilian Baylis studio, right next to Sadler’s Wells.

Since 2013 I have been to the festival every single year to see all of the shows I was interested in and could afford. The two are never the same…

But what is the Flamenco Festival?

The Flamenco Festival is the initiative of a gentleman called Miguel Marín, who realised -while studying in New York around 2000 – that there was a lack of flamenco in town, when there would actually be interest. I heard him tell the story in one of the radio interviews he gave, when presenting that year’s program and the destinations where they bring the festival. Throughout the years, this initiative has expanded, and the festival got to several locations, on different continents even.

The very first Flamenco Festival was in New York, then it came to London in 2003, which means that this year, in 2018, they celebrated the 15-year-anniversary of the festival in the British capital. Then Japan and Brazil was added to the destinations for a few years, but on the long run, the US and UK festivals continue only. They incorporated in the tour different cities within these countries though: Miami in the US and Manchester in the UK.

I found it interesting listening to Miguel talk about the beginnings of something so big and established now, when it was just an idea of a flamenco aficionado roughly 20 years ago. How he started planning to bring the artists from Spain, to create a program, to get funding, to organise and manage logistics, accommodation, venues, fees etc. With the overall and long term objective in mind to bring flamenco – represented by contemporary artists – to different parts of the world.

Funnily, I also looked into the options of bringing flamenco artists to London, when I quit my job in the city (and was in the process of re-inventing myself), but I found it extremely difficult and complex. My idea was to bring less known and established artists, within the frame of something much smaller and rather intimate, possibly combining the shows with dance and clapping courses, Spanish lessons…

Although I am a big fan of the Flamenco Festival, I do think that it is a platform for rather established artists, who can fill up an entire theatre with the ticket sales. The organisers must have their reasons behind this, which I am not here to argue. It was nice to see that this year they already had their own production too (I believe for the very first time) : Carmen Linares, Arcángel and María Heredia singing together (and individually) in the The Tempo of Light. This was specifically created for the Flamenco Festival, and was most certainly an interesting idea. I like all three artists individually, but this collaboration was not quite my cup of tea.

In the past 5 years, I have enjoyed many concerts of the festival and I am grateful to the festival for bringing all these people to the February cold of London*. I have enjoyed the concerts of so many people! I have seen dance Eva, La Yerbabuena, Mercedes Ruiz, Farruquito, Manuel Liñán, Rocío Molina, Israel Galván, Isabel Bayón, Patricia Guerrero, Belén Maya and last, but not least, La Chana! I was lucky to hear El Lebrijano sing the year he died, I heard sing Miguel Poveda, Arcángel, Antonio Reyes, Estrella Morente, Esperanza Fernandez and I heard play Tomatito and Gerardo Núñez. This is just the list of artists I have seen, the list of artists performing at the festival is so much longer! Just to mention some: Olga Pericet, Jesús Carmona, Vicente Amigo, Ana Morales, Leonor Leal, Alba Molina, Marco Flores, Sara Baras, Antonio Canales, Rafaela Carrasco, Rocío Márquez, Ángel Muñoz, the Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía and so on.

The 2019 program is not published yet. I wish I could already share the shows that I will go to (and at the same time, give a shout out to all available baby sitters for those nights), but for now, I can only encourage all Londoners, to keep an eye out for the new program and the tickets!

*Correction of this article – 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!

Masterclass on how to combine education with tradition

There are people in the world, whose work makes a difference in other people’s lives. Today I want to talk about one of these people.

Ángeles Acedo López.

Ángeles is a psychologist in Marchena, Andalusia. 25 years ago she created ‘El Roete, Asociación Cultural’, a cultural association called “The Bun”. This non-profit organisation has two functions: 1) promoting flamenco 2) by using it as a tool in the social & emotional education of children aged between nursery and secondary school. The aim is to bring flamenco closer to children by showing them that it is not only an art form from the past, but it is vivid and alive! Through day to day examples, they bring flamenco to the children’s territory, and help them realise that flamenco is around them in all shape and form, even if they don’t know about it. A good example is Rosalía, who is popular among the youth, but they wouldn’t necessarily know that her songs from the album ‘Los Ángeles’ are versions of old flamenco songs. Through someone they know and like, they are introduced to flamenco artists and they learn about the art itself. Collaboration with local artists, like Dani de Morón, brings live music to the sessions, and at the same time, by simply discussing the places Dani goes on tour, children discover new countries and cities. The learning process is through someone who is familiar and close to them, without the constraints of a school class.

Teaching is done in various forms: in workshops, in the El Roete centre in Marchena, and on visits around Andalusia, where El Roete bring their different projects. Local artists often collaborate in these projects. The use of social media, like Facebook and Youtube is part of the communication channels, and exchange of ideas through them is encouraged between the participating children.

Besides the promotion of flamenco, they also use flamenco as a tool in the emotional education of children. Handling emotions is difficult, a map of emotions contains more than 300 types of different emotions. But when at the beginning of their sessions, children are asked how many emotion types they can identify, they mostly say two: happiness and sorrow. This can be greatly improved with these sessions and they can successfully name many more afterwards. Methods include recognising emotion types heard in the different songs or trying to associate feelings with the different ‘palos’ or song forms. However, the opposite direction is also used in teaching. With which ‘palo’ would you express this feeling? El Roete teach the younger generations about the different flamenco forms and what they are about. Children from bigger towns, like Seville, may find more familiar the urban song forms like alegrías or rumbas, and children from the countryside, may understand and enjoy better the abandolaos and fandangos originated in the villages. Sessions are always practical, never theoretical. Ángeles explains that rather than flamenco becoming a school subject, they prefer having flamenco as an extracurricular activity, so that it doesn’t become an obligation for the kids, something they have to prepare and study for.

Ángeles and her colleagues have also created a small competition around every fifth anniversary of the association, whereby people are asked to design a poster for El Roete, and winners are rewarded with small prizes.

I find absolutely fascinating what Ángeles and El Roete do. Education is key in the upbringing of children, but there is actually little or no time spent on social and emotional education. Doing this through their local tradition is extraordinary! They teach children about emotions and expressions via their local customs and traditions. Flamenco is present in Andalusia. Not everyone is interested or actually likes it, but everyone hears it in the radio, on concerts and festivals, on local events, parties and weddings, and possibly even listens to it at home. Children have a general idea about flamenco, and this is enhanced, further trained and used in their emotional education. There are many ways of promoting art, but there is nothing more future proof than introducing it to the younger generations and help them create their identity through their local history and traditions.

Combining education with tradition seems to me exceptionally brilliant.

I raise my hat to Ángeles and her crew.