Sunday, January 10, 2010

Flaming Flamenco

There is almost nothing more Spanish than watching Flamenco in the most authentic region, Granada. Flamenco, music and dance, traces its origins to Gypsy, Arabic and Spanish music. The Gypsies of Granada are considered the true practitioners of this art. My surprise at how some of the Gypsies looked almost desi was answered by Ashok - they apparently migrated from India to Europe almost a thousand years ago.

Sacremonte, in Granada, is where all the famous flamenco shows are held. The hotel in Granada itself will have suggestions but we had friends who recommended a few shows for us, one of them being Las Cueves de Los Tarantos. A flamenco show typically starts around 11 pm and lasts for an hour.

Our tour started at 9 where we were picked up from the hotel, taken for a small tour in the Albayzin area which provides a perfect view to the Alhambra and houses the largest Mosque in Granada (the Alhambra deserves a separate post)! As we walked through the extremely narrow streets, our guide in what she called the ''Gypsy english'' explained about hammams, the arabic baths (Hamam soap has its origin in this arabic word) and showed us the path in the streets where the spent water from the baths was allowed to flow.

After enjoying the view of the Alhambra and the city itself, we proceeded to the cave, where the show was to be held. The traditional drink served would be Sangria, a kind of wine with fruit pieces in it (another reason why these shows have a pick-up service; no drunken driving) but there are obviously other non alcoholic choices one can opt for.

As we were waiting, we saw a middle aged stout man, a younger man, a guitarist and 2 dancers walk to the stage in the frilly falmenco skirts. The guitarist began with a very familiar gypsy track and suddenly there was a really high pitched voice through the air and I was totally surprised by how much breath control the stout man had (reminded me of SPB) and as he went on with something like an alapanai, one of the girls began tapping. Slowly both the music and dance gained momentum until they reached a fiery pace and when the girl finally finished, the applause reverberated in that small cave and this was just a beginning....

This was followed by a very passionate and slow number by another girl that completely moved me and then the 2 girls joined together for another feverish number. All along, the young man, completely dressed in black, did nothing but clap and while I was thinking that he had the easiest job, he started tapping. Now is the time to confess that I have taken a few tap dancing lessons and I know how difficult it can be to tap and turn and do everything at a fast pace. He did it all and by the time he was done, he was red and completely drenched in sweat and everyone was left open mouthed. The three of them finally did a peppy number highlighting the flamenco guitar - its exciting and extremely accurate rhythm, before they took a bow and had a standing ovation.

I was now confused, the show was for 1 hr and only 30 min had gone by and then it dawned on me that there was going to be another group. I was a little disappointed when I saw 5 elderly people walking towards the stage. I assumed that they were probably founders of this establishment and still insisted on performing but their age would definitely not cooperate with the energy the dance required. I was right about the former but bang wrong about the latter! If anything, there were leaps and bounds (literally!) better than the first group. The highlight of the show was the eldest lady of the group (she looked frail and would be atleast 60), who not only tapped with her feet but also with her hands using finger cymbals (something like the jalrah we use)...muy bien !!

The second time I got a chance to see the flamenco was in Madrid. Google search or the hotel you stay in will tell you the top places in the city that boasts of a flamenco show in every corner. We went to the ''Cafe de Chinitas'' and were glad we went there. While the show in Granada was simple and raw, the one in Madrid was grand and polished (I would compare the former to carnatic music and the latter to light music).Similar to the group in Granada, this one had both young and old dancers. While the younger ones danced with passion, the older ones sang and clapped with equal enthusiasm. The act was also funny at times and they included a ''Happy B'day'' for one of our little guests who had his b'day that night. There were 2 female dancers (one reminded me of Actress Sukanya) who tapped with such fervour that it was impossible to take one's eyes off it and another man, dressed as a matador who did equally well !

Amigos, If you are ever in Southern Spain, go watch the Flamenco, its completely worth the 20 euro you spend.

Señor/Señora, If you are ever in Spain, go watch the Flamenco, its completely worth watching it even if its not in its most authentic form.

¡que lo pases bien! Adiós!

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