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The Art of Flamenco

  DSC01844Going back through pictures of Spain this past weekend, I realized that I only briefly touched on my encounters with the unique indigenous musical style known as flamenco. Born in the late 18th century, the swirling, trance-like music is still very much alive in Andalucia, where dark, smoky clubs like Granada's El Eshavira and Sevilla's La Carboneria host regular flamenco nights for little-or-no door fee (unlike the tourist-fed clubs in Barcelona and Madrid, which can cost upwards of 40€.) 

Flamenco has three main players: a singer (known as a cantaor/cantaora), a guitarist (called a tocaor), and ocassionally a dancer, known as a bailaor/a. The cantaor and bailaor provide the back beat via rhythmic clapping and feet tapping while the guitarist swirls up a seemingly-impossible storm of notes. (In Granada, I heard the remarkable Rafael Haichuela, a local legend in the world of flamenco.) Add to that the cantaor's anguished, plaintive vocals, and the whole thing takes on the distinct air of a spiritual/religious experience. (It's probably no coincidence that cantaor is a homophone of the Jewish kantor.) 

After 20 or so minutes of this, the bailaor/a takes finally takes the stage, in what seems to be a spontaneous burst of inspiration. (Contrary to popular belief, the flamenco dance is only a brief interlude in what is primarily a musical experience.) Their dance is like some kind of gypsy-fueled tap dancing: in Granada, a bailaor in a black shirt and pants danced in a circle with his mouth in wide-open ecstasy, while in Sevilla, the bailaora wore the classic long shirt with ruffled fringe, her black heels playing right along with the tocaor's furious guitar. Sitting within 10 feet of the stage apron, it was brilliant, mysterious and overwhelming. (More pics below.)   DSC02620

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