Gala Flamenca – Mercedes Ruiz, Eduardo Guerrero, María Moreno

Spectacular.

The best word to describe the 2019 Gala Flamenca of the London Flamenco Festival.

Spectacular!

Funny I’ve never liked Galas, yet, I always go see them. Why? I’ll explain.

I have never liked the Gala, because it felt it was aimed at a public less familiar with flamenco, so it had to be rather entertaining flamenco, easy to enjoy, with the focus on dance, to introduce flamenco, not to immerse in it, more like a show than a concert. Accordingly, the public tends to be different: phones ring, messages beep, people come and go during the performance, the level of respect is different. Not to mention, the challenge of having so many artists together in one concert. Never easy, ending with all sorts of results… At the same time, being able to see various artists at once, is very attractive. So I have always gone and hoped for a song, a dance, an individual performance to make it worthwhile, because the acts of all participants together, have never really convinced me. Maybe because I have never seen a good Gala. Until now!

The Gala Flamenca with Mercedes Ruiz, Edu Guerrero, María Moreno and María Terremoto, with the artistic direction of Manuel Liñán was a blast!

My connection to Andalusia is through El Puerto de Santa María, which means that the flamenco close to my heart is from this area: Cádiz, Jerez, El Puerto… and this year, most artists were from these places!

Mercedes Ruiz has been around for a while, and has always been among the dancers I liked. Representing Jerez, dancing a seguriya with impressive skills on the castanets. Great choice of the flamenco palo, and nice dancing.

I was happy to see Eduardo Guerrero live for the first time. Edu is from Cádiz and has danced a caña with unbelievable footwork, which is still not my favourite part of flamenco dance, but it was a joy to watch his long arms, long legs, long hair.

My surprise was María Moreno (also from Cádiz) who I have not seen before either. She won the Revelation Artist Giraldillo Award on the Sevilla Bienal last year, so I already knew about her, but didn’t expect this at all. Epic alegrías! My conclusion: sometimes less movement is so much more. There is no need to overcomplicate the steps or footwork, silence and small movements can transmit so much emotion! I loved seeing her dance so beautifully with bata de cola (the long tail of the flamenco skirt) and the mantón (the big flamenco shawl). I don’t remember when was the last time I saw anyone dance with either bata de cola or mantón. It was refreshing and beautiful!

The dance of Edu and María, both dressed in red was one of the prettiest parts of the show!

I have already written a post about her, so I was thrilled to listen to the live singing of María Terremoto from Jerez. So young, and still, such power in her voice, such mature singing and so much emotion. I have listened so much flamenco singing, but she seems so different, truly exceptional I personally think. I am a big fan!

The singing of Ismael El Bola was also a great surprise, really enjoyed his voice and participation. Just like the guitar of Santiago Lara, always a pleasure to have his guitar!

I have only realised after this show that I didn’t really know what artistic direction was. Having seen this Gala with the artistic direction of Manuel Liñán, I can say that artistic direction is so powerful! Also happy to confirm that I am still and even more of a devoted fan of Manuel. He is not only an excellent dancer (and his “Irreversible” may be the greatest flamenco shows I have ever seen), but his contribution to this show has created a fascinating visual experience of these marvellous artists.

Congratulations all. I think I have just had the luck to see the best Flamenco Gala ever!

The Terremotos – legend or tragedy?

(Photo by Diario de Cádiz on 26.02.2019)

Hearing the name Terremoto, I instantly think of two things: the legendary flamenco dynasty from Jerez de la Frontera, and the tragically short life of their first two generations…

We all know the singer María Terremoto, who represents the Terremoto family today, but she is only the third generation of the famous clan.

The first Terremoto to become famous was Fernando Fernández Monje, also known as Terremoto de Jerez. Born in 1934 in the famous Santiago district of Jerez, he first danced flamenco, only later started singing, to become one of the most important flamenco singers of his time. Some called him the successor of Antonio Mairena, and the most important singer Jerez has ever had after Manuel Torre, with his distinctive broken gypsy voice, that carried the duende and the wisdom of his ancestors. He is best known for his bulerías and seguirillas, the styles known as specifically gypsy styles. Having spent the night of the 5th of September 1981 in Ronda singing, he got home to Jerez around six in the morning, complaining about feeling unwell. By 9 am he has died. He was 47. Heart failure, his doctor said, surprisingly not connected to his long standing liver condition, which put his life at risk so many times in the past.

The art of flamenco as known today, is very different from the flamenco lifestyle that many flamencos lived throughout the twentieth century. Late nights fuelled with alcohol and other substances of the night, that shortened the life of so many…

His son, Fernando Fernández Pantoja, known as Fernando Terremoto followed his footsteps, but only some time after his father’s death. To be precise, he was 22, when he first sang in the peña Don Antonio Chacón in Jerez in 1989, accompanied by the guitar of Moraíto Chico. His flamenco debut was actually as a guitarist some time earlier, but the day he started singing, there was no going back from there… The heritage of his father could not be ignored or denied, and during his short life his career flourished: he sang in peñas, on festivals, collaborated with artists like Israel Galván, and won many awards of the flamenco world. The magnitude of his voice is described as sculptural and one of nature’s wonders. Shame that in 2010, at the age of 40, caused by a brain tumor, he passed away, leaving behind his wife and 9 year-old-daughter, María.

María Fernández Benítez, daughter of Fernando Terremoto, grand-daughter of Terremoto de Jerez. A millennial from Jerez.

Her first ever flamenco appearance was on a zambomba in Jerez, at the age of one! That night she debuted as a flamenco dancer. The night she debuted as a singer, remains unforgettable in the history of Jerez. She was only 9 years old, she went with her father to the peña that bears their family’s name, and sang for the first time in front of the wider audience. Bulerías, of course. This was the moment, when Fernando Terremoto – unknowingly – passed the artistic torch to his daughter, as it proved to be his final farewell to the stage. Today, she is still only 19, but in the decade since she lost her father, she has earned herself a place among today’s flamencos.

María started performing more regularly in Jerez at the age of 14, and gradually, she began to perform more often and outside Jerez too, representing the deep roots of flamenco (cante jondo). Her break came during the prestigious Festival de Jerez in 2016, when she left an entire theatre speechless after her performance; followed by such press acclaim, that no one of the age of 16 has ever received before. By the time she performed on the Bienal of Seville in September 2016, her name was well known. It only added to her reputation, when she received the Giraldillo for the artist of revelation from the Bienal of Seville, as the youngest ever recipient of this award. Positive reviews flooded in from everywhere, and this recognition placed her to the forefront of the flamenco scene. She has been named the future promise of flamenco singing and “the standard bearer of young singers”. Her first album, “La huella de mi sentío” debuted on the last Bienal of Seville, in September 2018. It is dedicated to Jerez and her family, and their singing style, adding her own personality.

I thought a lot about how such historic past – her father and grandfather being so famous singers – can affect her professionally, and personally! Has she felt pressured to follow their footsteps? Is it a weight on her to be good and not bring shame to the Terremoto name? Or is she simply proud of belonging to them?

It must be a bit of everything. On a recent interview in the Nuestro Flamenco radio program, María talked about how her surname helped at certain points in her career, but it also created expectations around her, which were not always easy to manage. 

All I know, that I hope she will be able to break the curse, and live a long and healthy life, singing for us for many more decades. After all, she has only just started!

 

PS. My friend, Álvaro Mayoral from Talavera de la Reina, has always been such a huge fan of the Terremotos, that he and his friends made a documentary about the starter of the dynasty, Terremoto de Jerez. The documentary is in its final postproduction stage, and we will hopefully get to see it this year! I am hoping for a London première too, Álvaro!

Did you know…

… that Paco de Lucía spent the last few years of his life living between Mexico and Mallorca?

Did you know that the singers La Niña de los Peines and Tomás Pavón were siblings?

Did you know that Israel Galván and Pastora Galván are siblings?

Did you know that Pastora Pavón has not recognised her husband, Pepe Pinto at the end of her life due to her illness?

Did you know that the guest artist in the dancer Sara Baras’ shows is always the same, José Serrano, because he is her husband?

Did you know that the father of singer María Terremoto, the singer Fernando Terremoto died at the age of 40, and his father, also singer Terremoto de Jerez died at the age of 47?

Did you know that the National Dance Award winner, Rubén Olmo and former dancer of the Ballet Nacional de Andalucía, Eduardo Leal are a couple?

Did you know that the pianist Dorantes is the nephew of the singer El Lebrijano?

Did you know that singer Rocío Márquez and viola player Fahmi Alqhai, who recently published an album together, are neighbours?

Krisztián Nyáry has become famous in Hungary within a few months in 2012, when he started publishing to his friends on Facebook short stories about the personal life of famous Hungarian poets and writers. His stories became so popular, that a publisher offered him to publish the stories in a book. One book followed another, and today he is the author of six books about famous Hungarians and their life stories. The intention of bringing closer to us the already well known figures of literature, fine arts and Hungarian history is utterly brilliant, and I am a devoted fan of Krisztián. I truly respect his idea and all the work and research he has done to help us understand better the people we tirelessly learn about in school.

My intention is similar. Bringing closer to everyone the flamenco artists and the art of flamenco by sharing stories, interesting facts, upcoming events and my experience and opinion.

I have started this blog in 2018 to share my flamenco love with the world and if time allows, I would like to continue in 2019 too. So if you did not know some or any of the above things, I invite you to join me on this journey throughout the world of flamenco in this coming year. Let’s get 2019 started!

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