Post #2: Why Flamenco (of all things)?”
posted in practice on august 6th, 2006
And now for something completely concrete.
And clearer. For those of you not yet in the know, here’s the quick skinny on my enthrallment with flamenco:
I’ve been playing guitar for roughly ever. Blues, mostly, but I even have some album credits under a "metal" classification (and I’ll never admit which ones!). In any case, all of this is of little importance. Knowing my way around six strings and a fretboard has been a boon, but with flamenco, you really do have to start over, rethink what makes the music tick. This is, methinks, part of the allure.
The other part of the allure is that is just sounds good. Dark and moody at times, lively and carefree at others. Being from Seattle, I tend toward the dark and moody myself. If I may digress for a moment: I think this is a result of the weather: some people complain about the weather here, but I simply see it as a good excuse to mope. Let’s face it: California could never (and has never) produced a Soundgarden, or Hendrix, or Pearl Jam, or Nirvana… (end of digression).
Honestly, another thing that originally drew me to flamenco is that it’s music that can carry its full force on a single guitar—yes, I was at my wit’s end with flaky musicians. But this was only a stage: what I’ve learned since is that flamenco is based more than anything on the kind of artistic continuity that only comes with community. It can stand alone, but it wants someone else with whom to commiserate, to share—someone who understands. This I think is what makes the difference between simply "an audience" and an aficionado: an audience can listen and respond with a "that’s nice" before getting distracted by the lighting or the shine on their shoes, but an aficionado—even if he or she couldn’t carry a tune with a backpack—understands some of what flamenco is about, what’s behind it, what it means. I’m still striving for aficionado status myself.
But I digress again! Back to my point. The cincher for flamenco for me was a trip through Andalucía in 2002. I had listened to flamenco before—I had some compilations and some Paco discs—but up until seeing it in the the flesh, the music was just beyond my reach, outside of my capacity for comprehension. I wasn’t ready for it. Seeing flamenco performed live in smoky little bars by people, Spaniards, who were just there to amuse themselves changed all that. For me, that was the missing piece—it taught me, I think, that fretboard pyrotechnics and recording perfection were secondary (at best): what matters is the music that happens for a small group of passionés that are invested in the moment, that are present not to see a show, but to contribute to an experience.
Granted, the places I could get into as a westerner and as an American were, I’m sure, a far cry from what this "experience" would be for others. But it was a moment of clarity all the same. (And believe me—I’ve got some thoughts on these ethnocentric and xenophobic charlatans that would place flamenco forever beyond the reach of any "western" participation—but that’s for another post.)
In any case, to proceed along to my original point, this was the turning point. I was actually living in France at the time, and that allowed me a little better exposure to flamenco than I might have otherwise have had in the states. Upon returning to the states (definitively—for the moment—in 2005) I started studying with Marcos Carmona, guitarist for the Pacific Northwest’s Carmona Flamenco. After about a year of lessons with Marcos—which built on other work I had done—I started sitting in on Rubina Carmona’s flamenco dance classes, playing dance accompaniment for her beginning students. If you ever get the chance to do this, by the way, don’t pass it up. It will make you see flamenco through an entirely different lens—one, I suspect, more true to the overall art form than solo guitar can ever be.
After a few months of playing for classes—about the time it took to prove I wasn’t a complete hack (I’m still trying to shuck off "partial hack" status), I was invited to sit in with La Peña Flamenca, the performance group comprised of Rubina and Marcos’s advanced students. And that’s where I am now: up to my eyeballs in arrangements and trying to get a dozen plus dancers from point A to point B without completely derailing their tempo and syncopation. Fun times, these!
More to come… .