Sal's flamenco soapbox

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What flamenco is NOT

Public perception
What flamenco means to the average person in a big city is very hazy to say the least. Apart from using the usual mispronunciations of the word, such as "flamingo", "flamengo" and "flaminko", many people have their own preset ideas about what flamenco is. For example, have you ever heard the term "Spanish flamenco". I have many times and I've never understood it. Duhh. You gotta be thick in the head I reckon, or on drugs to come up with something as stupid as that. "What other type of flamenco is there???" Of course it's bloody Spanish. That's where it comes from. Jeeezz. It's like saying, "Australian kangaroo" or "French Eiffel Tower". Sorry, but it's like squeaky chalk on a blackboard to me.

Restaurant "Spanish nights"

When you do a flamenco floorshow with a dance group or a couple of dancers the audience and venue manager is in no doubt what they expect. I used to enjoy those sort of gigs but I prefer to play on my own. Just me and my guitar and a small amplifier. In the past I would sometimes get a phone call from some agent I didn't know asking if I would play some Spanish flamenco on a "Spanish theme" night. That's a bad sign. These days I just say no. I lost track of the number of times I've been booked to play solo flamenco in a restaurant, only to discover that what they really wanted was a cheap substitute for a Mariachi band


I like Mariachi music, but that's not the point. The point is I'm not Mexican and that's not what I do. In the impenetrable fog of mental confusion, the typical person who dreams up one of these "Spanish nights" is no doubt thinking of a wild, festive celebration in the badlands south of the border. He must imagine flamenco to be all about boisterous, gun toting revolutionaries on horseback with Zapata moustaches shooting into the air and yelling "Ariba, ariba". You know the deal.


It's all stereotype stuff we've seen in old western movies that are typified by tumbleweeds blowing through a half abandoned town which is populated by a handful of frightened peasants in need of a hero. Then in come the baddies to gate crash somebody's birthday party. Whooping and hollering, they lustilly drink from bottles of tequila as they take pot shots at the colorful piñatas hanging from the ceiling.


Why do I think this is what goes in the mind of the venue manager who organizes a "Spanish night?" Well, the rusty wagon wheel in the corner is a dead giveaway for a start, but then he asks me to wear a huge sombrero and walk around the tables serenading the ladies with tourist songs like Viva Espana. It's my considered opinion that these buggers have been watching too many spaghetti westerns.

OK, let's be honest now. Decorating an ordinary looking venue with bullfight posters, potted cactus plants and a rusty wagon wheel in the corner goes some way to create a Mexican atmosphere in the mind of the venue operator (even though it is supposed to be a Spanish night), but playing Gipsy Kings CDs during my rest breaks makes me feel like I'm letting the party down. This is the simplistic mindset that has enormous difficulty distinguishing between Spain and Mexico. They say Spanish, but in reality, the head is in Mexico. Fine. Who am I to fight against such an fixed world view.


I swear one day I'm going to walk on stage wearing a poncho, a low brimmed hat and a menacingly look. Sure, I agree, It's got nothing to do with flamenco. But neither does bullfight posters and Gipsy Kings CDs. Anyway, that oughta break the ice. It's all about atmosphere boys and girls. After that, you can play campfire guitar music from a spaghetti western for all it matters to the non flamenco audience. As long as it sounds Spanish, who cares.... All right! That's probably a little too cynical. Forgive me. No. On second thoughts don't forgive me. I meant every word of it. Bloody Gringos.




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