Emotions & Flamenco

(Photo by aNTO)

A day after my 29th birthday I quit my job in the City of London, after months of hesitating, thinking, considering: am I giving up? Have I tried hard enough? Should I be trying harder? Is it worth trying more? Is this the job I want at all? Am I throwing away a well paid job in a moment when people are struggling to find work? What should I do? What is the right decision? Hundreds of similar, personal and professional questions in my head day after day, month after month. Again and again and again.

It was a difficult time (difficult, in the first world sense, of course). During these months I found relief in music. In flamenco, mostly, but not exclusively. I listened a lot to this song. The good and the bad, sang by Duquende (‘Lo bueno y lo malo’, originally from Ray Heredia). I could feel every music note in the song as my own heart beat. My dilemma was exactly the same. What’s good and what’s bad? Personally, I knew I had to leave. Professionally, the decision was not that straight-forward. Career changing decisions are never easy to make, but they always pay off. (Orsi, you will see!) Eventually, I did quit, and looking back, it was the best decision of my life.

How much did the music help? God only knows… But I know it made me cry, and through the tears, each day I got closer to the decision I so feared, but changed my life forever.

Funnily, before our friend Paco moved back to Madrid to start his new life with his beautiful wife Maria, we had a long conversation about how he also found emotional connection to flamenco through one particular song. Despite the fact that none of us grew up surrounded by flamenco, or even had any childhood memory with flamenco, a Hungarian and a Catalan were able to identify themselves with the emotions transmitted by flamenco, and be moved by them.  This is the magic of flamenco reaching people with different backgrounds!

Flamenco is not as strange as it may seem at first. I remember when I moved to Madrid and Anto first put on some flamenco in our tiny flat in Lavapiés. Odd, surprising, were my first impressions. Fair enough; I have never heard anything similar before. With time though, I hopelessly fell in love with flamenco: first with the more joyful songs, where the rhythm is catchy, easy to enjoy and follow, like tangos and bulerías, then with the more sorrow tientos, soleá and so on. At first, it’s probably easier to identify with the happy emotions in a new art form, like for example Camarón’s I am gipsy (Yo soy gitano). Just like, my friend Mac did, who started listening to flamenco after reading about it here!

But as one gets familiar with the flamenco sounds, one will discover the beauty of songs like Vicente Amigo:’s Réquiem , even though it is totally different. Different mood and clearly different aim. Without knowing it is written for Paco de Lucía, or without understanding the words, the emotions are there. A beautiful and moving farewell, and also a great example of how flamenco is capable of transmitting emotions beyond borders and cultures.

I could spend the night listing examples of beautiful and moving flamenco songs to prove how anyone can find emotional connection to music previously not known to them, but it is getting late, and my nights are still not about sleeping 8 hours straight in my bed. So let me finish with my all time favourite:  the eternal Fernanda de Utrera and her “Se nos rompió el amor“. There was a time in my life, when I had it on repeat, and listened to it a hundred times at least: when love is gone, it’s gone. Many of us know the feeling and can relate to it. Listen to the song sang by Fernanda and you will never forget it…

Andalusia Flamenco

Is it a Hungarian tradition? A Catholic tradition? Or perhaps a Hungarian Catholic tradition? I am not entirely sure about the origin, but we most certainly go to the cemetery frequently, and bring flowers to our lost beloved ones. I grew up with this tradition and I find it a nice way of remembering our people. I also find comfort and piece in the process itself: going to the cemetery, buying flowers, refilling the vase with water, taking a walk under the big trees providing shadow on a sunny summer afternoon, while thinking of the person, whose tomb I am visiting. My memories are mostly from the cemetery in my hometown Szombathely, but in the past few years, I combined this tradition with my flamenco interest, and whenever we are in Spain visiting my in-laws, we take trips visiting Andalusian towns and it’s cemeteries. We walk around the town, looking for memories of the artists, have a coffee at the main square and visit the cemetery. I like getting to know the atmosphere of these little towns and villages, imagine the flamencos sitting at the same square, walking the same streets. It’s not only sightseeing but paying a visit/tribute to the flamenco artists, either alive or already passed away.

This is how I first went to San Fernando in Cádiz, to see the resting place of José Monje Cruz, or better known around the world as Camarón de la Isla (San Fernando is also known as ‘La Isla’, The Island). Camarón’s tomb is a piece of art. There is a massive statue above the grave, remembering Camarón at its best, singing. It felt special being there, in a small cemetery of a small town, somewhere in south Spain, and stand beside the memory of a flamenco legend, known all over the world for his voice and his revolution in flamenco. Cliché but true: music knows no borders. Felipe Benítez Reyes, the poet and this year’s ‘pregón’ of the Bienal of Flamenco, put this much nicer in his opening speech of the Bienal: “music makes us universal by allowing us to fly through space and time”.

Besides the cemetery, we also visited the Venta de Vargas, which is the restaurant outside San Fernando, where Camarón started singing as a boy. The place has not only kept its original function as a restaurant, but also serves as a museum of Camarón; full of his memories, fotos, cards and flamenco in the air. I recently heard that the Venta also participates in a festival organised in San Fernando, called ‘La Isla, Ciudad Flamenca’ (“The Island, City of Flamenco”). The festival celebrated its fifth edition this year, starting at the end of July with flamenco concerts throughout the whole month of August; the Venta de Vargas being one of the locations.

Throughout the years, we have visited many places in Andalusia: Cádiz, Jerez de la Frontera, Chipiona, Utrera, Lebrija, Algeciras, Granada. Nothing compares to a coffee on the streets of Utrera, a vermut in la Plazuela in Jerez, or a ‘pescaito frito’ (fried fish) in Cádiz.

Next stop: Morón de la Frontera!

The finishing thought is a quote from the singer, David Lagos. I came across this quote on the photo blog of Rubén Camacho, whose day job is lighting technician in theatres and festivals, and he has a photo blog. The post on David starts with this thought that connects here brilliantly:

“In singing, the cemetery is a must visit, but never a place to live.”