Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Where Are The Best Flamenco Shows In Madrid?

Flamenco purists often swear that flamenco is best heard without amplification—just the natural powers of the voice and guitar cutting through the air of a small room filled with aficionados. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to witness a spectacle like this if you are not deeply involved in the world of flamenco. And it is nearly impossible to see the famous flamenco artists of today perform in such a capacity. That is why we are very fortunate to have the “Sala García Lorca,” part of the famous flamenco venue Casa Patas in Madrid. This intimate room is located above Casa Patas’ restaurant and main flamenco performance venue. Unlike Casa Patas’ established downstairs tablao, the upstairs Sala is only in its third season of concerts.

Recently I was fortunate to see two world-class performances in this small room with a capacity of 90 people, designed specifically for flamenco singing. There are many places to see flamenco performances in Madrid and this venue is perhaps the best when one combines the intimate setting with the quality of artists who perform. One need look no further than around the room at the members of the audience to glean that these concerts are coveted—many of the attendees are either flamenco writers, serious aficionados or famous contemporary flamenco artists. This is a far cry from your typical tourist-oriented flamenco tablao. There is no dinner upstairs and there is no talking during the performance, though a smattering of olés might be heard from the audience.

The concerts I saw were guitar duo José María Gallardo and Miguel Ángel Cortés and singer Duquende with Chicuelo as the guitarist. Both concerts were outstanding. Gallardo and Cortés are both top tier guitarists (classical and flamenco, respectively) and as a duo they seamlessly blend the two genres, both playing intricate melodies that somehow manage to improve rather than diminish the individual parts. They sound like no other duo I have heard and together break down the long-standing barrier between flamenco and classical guitarists. They have just released an album titled Lo Cortés no quita lo Gallardo that demonstrates their unique sound and it is a work that has the power to reach anyone who takes the time to listen to it. 

Duquende is a highly respected flamenco artist who has toured with, among others, the great Paco de Lucía. His preferred guitarist now is Chicuelo, and rightly so. Chicuelo is a monster player and excels both as an accompanist and a soloist. To hear them together, un-amplified in a small room is a wonderful experience and something one is not likely to witness many times. These are artists who fill large concert halls, and yet they love the art enough to perform for less than one-hundred people and make a fraction of what they normally make. You see, tickets for this series of concerts are only twenty-five euros. That price seems ridiculous when I think about how much a nosebleed ticket costs to see famous American artists. 

And yet flamenco, a music with unsurpassable feeling and talent, remains largely an outsider in its country of origin and, apart from small groups of aficionados in other countries, is surprisingly unknown or unappreciated. Within Spain curious tourists make up a large percentage of flamenco’s patrons—and it is mainly to them I am talking to right now, because at least they seem to want to witness this great art. If you want to see a true flamenco show in Madrid, Sala García Lorca is the place to do it. Just remember, the room upstairs is separate from the restaurant below and the shows are different. To see if a show is programed while you are in town, check out their website here: (   

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Semana Santa Trip Part 5 (Finale): Ronda

Better late than never, right? This weekend makes it a year since I was last in Ronda, during Easter weekend. It is easily one of the most gorgeous villages in Spain. From the time I visited during my first trip to Europe in the winter of 2011, I swore I would go back. I happened upon an excellent quality leather belt my first time there, and have worn it nearly every day for the past four years. It was time to get some more, and at the same time witness the processions of Semana Santa.


Mmmmmm....fresh mushrooms.
     After sucessfully finding the same store I had visited years prior and buying belts for myself and others, I stood on the side of the street and watched the Easter procession go by, complete with Jesus on the cross, Mary, censers, men and women in uniform and plenty of music.

     Andalusians really take these processions seriously. They happen every day throughout the week leading up to Easter, and the closer Sunday gets, the longer and more elaborate the processions are. After watching for a long while, I decided to find a place to camp before dark. I looked across the valley and saw an old bell tower in the distance, and set my sights on it.

Sunset over the mountains
     After a very long walk, I arrived at the base of the tower as twilight gave way to night and the music from the town turned mournful.

Ronda from a distance
From the inside of the tower
     Camping alone in the dark outside a rural village made me quite aware of my surroundings—I wasn't sure of the security of my selected campsite, but decided it would probably be okay. I fell asleep to the sounds of crickets up close and brass instruments accompanied by percussion in the distance.
     At four a.m. I was awakened by the procession, still going strong. The sound of drums rang out along with the piercing voice of a singer performing a saeta—a religious flamenco-inflected song performed during Semana Santa. I will never forget the wonder of waking up to the song and looking out of the tent across the valley to the twinkling lights of the old town of Ronda.

Pardon the length of this photo. I felt the panoramic view added context. 

     I awoke again at sunrise and took in the lightening forms of the mountains and the town with its famous bridge, known as the tajo. Paco de Lucía, the famous flamenco guitarist, composed a rondeña (flamenco song form originated in Ronda) named after the bridge. 

El Tajo
     As the sun continued to rise I walked back into town and, that afternoon, took the train back to Madrid, thus concluding a memorable Semana Santa in Andalucía. Some experiences had such an impact on me that they found their way into the concluding song on my recently released album Evening Sounds. In a way, the album documents my two years in Spain. Though, perhaps more accurately, it attempts to capture the essence of a time that will remain forever at the core of my experiences.

You can listen for reference to the four a.m. drums below, as well as the influence of the rondeña flamenco song form.