When flamenco singer Charo Monge left Andalusia, she missed the Spanish region's music and the colorful festivals in which families would gather for days of celebration and religious devotion. So Monge, who lives in San Diego, filled the void by forming Coro Rociero, an Andalusian folk troupe that will perform tonight in San Juan Capistrano.
"When I first decided to form the group less than a year ago, people told me I was crazy," said Monge (pronounced MON-gay). "Friends asked, 'Where are you going to find all these Andalusians in Southern California?'
"But as it turned out, they found us." After an appearance on KVEA Channel 52, the fledgling group was approached by a dozen more Spanish immigrants, all but three from Andalusia.
The troupe of 25 male and female singers, guitarists, flutists and dancers has since performed its Sevillanas and fandangos for Placido Domingo at an opening party for "Carmen" in Los Angeles in January and at a reception honoring Spanish princess Infanta Dona Cristina de Borbon in Beverly Hills.
"It's been nonstop ever since I got this idea," Monge said. "I guess other people were longing for the same things I was."
So far, the group has also performed in the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, at an America's Cup celebration in San Diego and at a festival in Florida. On Sunday, the Coro Rociero will perform at a festival in Los Angeles honoring the 12 European Common Market nations.
For the event tonight, the group will perform music and dances from the Rocio Festival, an annual celebration begun in the 1400s that colorfully combines Christian, Arab and Gypsy traditions of Andalusia. The festival, which is held in the tiny Spanish pueblo of El Rocio to celebrate Pentecost, attracts about 1 million pilgrims every year for three days of singing, dancing and religious devotion to the Blanca Paloma (White Dove), a statue of the Virgin Mary that graces a tiny church in the salt marshes of the Guadalquivir River.
Joining the group today will be flamenco dancer Linda Andrade, who grew up in Los Angeles and became obsessed with flamenco when her mother took her to Olvera Street on her sixth birthday. "I was enthralled with the women and the way they moved, especially their hands," said Andrade, who studied flamenco in Seville and has attended the Rocio Festival twice.
"At the festival, people walk or make their pilgrimage to the Virgin in horse-drawn carts. They set up \o7 casetas--\f7 tents where families congregate to drink Fino sherry, eat \o7 tapas\f7 , dance and listen to music," she said.
Flamenco is believed to have developed as East Indian Gypsies migrated through the Orient and Middle East before they settled in North Africa, where they influenced the Moorish culture. When the Moors invaded Spain in the early 8th Century, they brought their songs and dances with them, and those expressions blended with those of the existing Byzantine-Jewish culture. The result was a music and dance that contains echoes of India, Asia and the Middle East, Andrade said. Muslims and Jews who fled to Andalusia during the Inquisition are said to have further influenced flamenco by turning their repressed religious fervor into the tormented love songs that characterize the art.
"Americans think that flamenco is stamping your feet with a rose between your teeth," Andrade said, "but the dance has gracious movements that tourists rarely see. It is a deep and painful lament with complex rhythms."
\o7 The Coro Rociero will perform tonight at 7 and 9 at Festival Espanol: A Celebration of the Culture of Spain, sponsored by the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, 31495 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano. The crafts fair and food festival opens at 6 p.m. Food booths will sell Spanish regional cuisine. $2 donation. (714) 493-1752.\f7