Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsCulture

CULTURE

The next flamenco

A new century reshapes the passionate art with influences from hip-hop to jazz -- and a strong dose of tradition.

September 28, 2003|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

Madrid — Juan VERDU, a graying bohemian with a lean, quixotic look, knows the secret places haunted by the ghosts of flamenco.

He strolls across the lively Plaza Santa Ana in the heart of this Spanish capital, an area once frequented by intellectuals, bullfighters and the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Past sidewalk cafes, he comes to Los Gabrieles, a historic bar and tourist stop famed for its walls of colorful ceramic mosaics.

But in the bar's dank, abandoned basement, closed to the public, only memories remain of all-night flamenco jams held for the pleasure of celebrities such as Manolete, the legendary bullfighter who kept a bed here. In arched alcoves no bigger than jail cells, revelers carried on as if the sun never came up. Now illuminated in the dark by a lighter, humorous names of these hidden hideaways appear, one labeled "The Bull Ring," another "The Infirmary."

Today, Verdu says, in the time-honored tradition of lamenting the demise of flamenco as each era reshapes the art, the glory days are gone.

But later that evening, a new style of music pours from the nearby nightclubs of a modern Madrid that never sleeps. Here, young Spaniards still dance to sounds of flamenco, now a 21st century blend of rock guitars, Caribbean rhythms, syncopated clapping and gypsy intonations.

The new flamenco blares from car stereos on the streets of Spain and captures international acclaim on prestigious world stages, flourishing in forms as varied as the hip-hop fusion of the band Ojos de Brujo, the thrilling choreography of Maria Pages' "Flamenco Republic" and the endless innovations of fabled guitarist Paco de Lucia. All are marked by the art's irresistible rhythms and its primal emotional power.

Whether pure or progressive, traditional or fusion, it's flamenco's deeply rooted authenticity that has always resonated with listeners, perhaps never more so than in this era of global homogenization and cultures shaped by marketing campaigns.

South of Madrid in the region of Andalucia, where the music was born as a cry of the persecuted and the dispossessed, the essence of flamenco still permeates the culture that produced it, revealing itself in the most mundane details. It's in the stylish hand gestures and emphatic clapping of everyday folks in casual conversation. It's in the guttural calls of vendors selling fish at the farmers market. It's in the rhythmic pattern tapped out by a diner at a sidewalk cafe.

From Granada to Cadiz, new artists are being nourished through hundreds of local festivals, fairs and competitions. The practice of passing the art down through generations in the same family lives on with the rise of flamenco's brightest new star, singer Estrella Morente, the beautiful and respected daughter of veteran vocalist Enrique Morente, whose Moorish-style home overlooks Granada's historic Alhambra. And amid Spain's normally sterile pop music mainstream, a just-released album by Spanish pop star Alejandro Sanz prominently reflects his flamenco roots and includes a guest performance by the great de Lucia himself.

Driven by a growing international interest, especially from Japan and the United States, flamencos have never been busier, providing a powerful draw at annual gatherings such as the New York Flamenco Festival and Irvine's New World Flamenco Festival.

In a sign of the world's intensifying affair with flamenco, the World Music Expo, the premier showcase for the world music industry, chose the Andalusian capital of Sevilla as the site of this year's five-day event, starting Oct. 22.

"It's the big thing," says Cindy Byram of the World Music Institute, which sponsors the highly anticipated New York festival. "There's more interest now than ever in flamenco, and it just hasn't peaked yet."

None of this is particularly comforting to Verdu, who has tried without success to interest Madrid officials in restoring the Los Gabrieles bar as part of a historic flamenco zone.

"What I don't understand, and what gets my goat, is that important musicians from all over the world go crazy for flamenco," says Verdu, who hosts a flamenco radio show and manages the small flamenco label Tablao. "They get excited and become aficionados. But we have so many yokels in this country who still don't give this music the respect it deserves. This is music that comes from the soul, that was born in poverty and has required tremendous sacrifices of artists who have kept it alive."

The traditional search for pure expression continues, but for many of today's artists, especially those inspired to change, the biggest struggle lies in finding acceptance from the flamenco world itself.

A TOUGH CROWD

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|