Flamenco's the real deal
in the land of its birth
© By Mike Keenan
Would I return to Spain? In a minute, just to see authentic flamenco! Of course, like most people, I had seen flamenco performed on TV. Once I attended a live show in Toronto. In Spain, like watching a basket-ball game in Canada, I saw flamenco in Andalusia, its birthplace. Flamenco is not the pink bird-like ornament that you place in large numbers on your neighbour's lawn the day that he or she turns 50. Flamenco is folk art, often improvised and spontaneous like my own sonorous songs sung heartily in our shower. However, in Andalusia, the song, dance and guitar blend together in the passionate rhythms of southern Spain.
Spain's famous poet, Fredrico Garcia Lorca, referred to flamenco as one of the most gigantic inventions of the Spanish people. Fortunately, adjacent to the Alcantara, our Seville hotel, there was a cultural centre that featured authentic flamenco dancing. Controversy exists concerning flamenco's origin, whether or
not it's a gypsy invention, but besides gypsies who immigrated from India and Pakistan ("gitanos"), there are also
obvious Jewish and Arab influences. Sixty per cent or 300,000 of Spain's gypsies do live in Andalusia. The tragic lyrics and tones of flamenco often reflect what seem to be the lamentations of a disposed people.
I was surprised to learn that the key lies in the singing tradition. The flamenco guitar was originally an instrument of accompaniment, and today has developed as a separate art. Then, there is the distinctive dance with its sophisticated footwork, the dancer wearing special shoes or boots with dozens of nails driven into the soles and heels. The ladies wear long costumes often with many frills. The upper body is a symbol of grace.
In our case, the male singer hand-clapped to help keep time, occasionally shouting words of encouragement to the female dancer. I was impressed with the economy of space. The dancing platform was a relatively small square. I could imagine the dancing at night in the desert in front of a blazing fire, sparks shooting into the sky.
The dancer, like the singer and guitarist, was terrific. I could understand how flamenco might become habit-forming. In fact, at one of our favourite tapas bars on another evening, we met a young couple from Minnesota. She was studying Spanish in Seville and highly recommended the flamenco at a bar named La Carbonaria.
Navigating downtown Santa Cruz, Seville's ancient Jewish quarter was easy yet psychologically demanding. First, the Spanish shut down in the afternoon and eat their supper quite late around 10 p.m. At 11 p.m., things are just warming up. The streets are narrow and
winding. You never know what to expect around the next corner. We had to jettison North American big city paranoia and get used to the fact that the dark streets were safe. We found La Carbonaria. It was like being transported back into the '60s to a small, packed coffee house.
That night there was a young, handsome Spanish male singer performing on the tiny, smoke-filled stage and an appreciative audience of attractive senorita groupies under 30 years old.
Looking back on Spain, my primary impressions are that it's safe, clean and inexpensive, far cheaper than Italy, France and Great Britain. The language did not
present a problem. The Spanish seemed to appreciate our earnest efforts with their language, particularly the unlucky yet patient waiter to whom we tried to describe the term, olives, not remembering the correct translation.
As for flamenco, I'm starting to wear leather shoes in the shower.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
If You Go
Seville Tourism & Convention Bureau: http://www.turismo.sevilla.org/paginas_en/portada.asp