Arts & Entertainment

Granada’s Sacromonte, a haven for traditional flamenco rhythms

By María Ruiz

Granada, Nov 16 (EFE).- The rhythm of flamenco beats on in Granada, the soutehrn Spanish city that clings to its roots to protect the music that a decade ago was awarded the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Every night in Sacromonte, a hilltop neighborhood known as the gypsy quarter, around 2,000 people come out to the flamenco bars, which the locals call “tablaos”, to be immersed in a culture that was banned as pagan in the 16th century, to be struck by a powerful rhythm that enamored travelers who would come from far and wide to see the splendor of the Alhambra palace over 200 years ago.

“Anyone can do a ‘rumbeo’, more or less,” flamenco artist Enrique Carmona tells Efe outside one of the tablaos, “but this, the ‘zambra’, is something else.”

A ‘zambra’ is a gypsy celebration, a manifestation of pure flamenco that is passed down through the generations and which is cherished in every household as their own, despite the famous music having spread across the world.

“We have to maintain the signs of identity of our flamenco, its purity, the tradition, because it is what makes us unique and at the same time universal,” says Carmona, whose zambra is the same as it was in decades past — free of technology, soundboards and flashing lights: his tribute to his roots, the flamenco of yesteryear.

It is that form of the musical heritage that is on show night after night at the Venta del Gallo, another bastion of tradition and technique that is still adding young “trained, professionals” to its roster of performers.

“Before, being a flamenco artist was about putting on a suit and grafting – now they study, young people are very prepared but without losing the essence,” says Toñi Heredia from the Venta del Gallo, where they “teach our children to dance and sing.”

“That stays within you, when you are born in the roots of flamenco like our Sacromonte, and you know what real flamenco is, you don’t let them put other things in your head,” Heredia adds.

Flamenco, heralded by Unesco, the art that Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca brought to the Alhambra with the Cante Jondo Contest of 1922, attracts every night about 2,000 people to the 15 or so tablaos of Granada, which reject the “new flamenco.”

“We are afraid that ‘cante jondo’ (traditional vocal flamenco) is going to be lost because the ‘flamenco’ label is being applied to the wrong styles. That ‘flamenquito nuevo’ is neither flamenco nor flamenco fusion, it is something else,” Heredia insists.

“I think it is disrespectful to call certain things ‘flamenco’,” adds Carmona, who believes the artform is “one of the richest and most truthful” around.

“In the past, those who didn’t dance sang or played the cajón (a box drum) because it was a way to make a living. This art is inherited, it is learned at home, but it is not like before. It is also necessary to do this work in schools,” Carmona says, calling for more institutional support for a musical culture that is a significant driver of the economy and helps to attract tourists.

Every night, the Sacromonte takes up the essence of its zambras, an intimate spectacle that blends art and revelry as dancers put on stirring performances to tightly packed audiences in the neighborhood’s cellars.

“Flamenco is unique. Anywhere you can sing jazz, pop or rock, but this is ours and when we are able to carry our art as a flag, with its rhythm and purity, all the doors of the world will open for us,” says Heredia.

Heredia and Carmona both agree that the best way to maintain the essence of flamenco singing is to bring the beat in the country’s classrooms, to teach it the same way as Spain’s other cultural heritage is taught, “because there are few things more Spanish than our flamenco.” EFE


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