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 A. 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…

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