Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — [In Spanish] – Brief Article from Casa Patas Newsletter – A U.S. Look at Flamenco

[In Spanish] – From Casa Patas News – 2007 – Una Vista Estadounidense del Flamenco – by Brook Zern

[In Spanish] Una Vista Estadounidense del Flamenco – [A U.S. look at Flamenco] – by Brook Zern – from “Flamenco en Vivo”, newsletter of Casa Patas Flamenco Club in Madrid – No. 14 – 2007

Brook Zern

Mi padre, que no era español, estudiaba la guitarra flamenca en Nueva York en los años cuarenta con un amigo del inmortal Sabicas. El flamenco ya estaba muy en boga, con artistas del empresario Sol Hurok como Carmen Amaya y el concertista Carlos Montoya encabezando el escalafón.

Hoy, sesenta años después, el flamenco sigue siendo el más popular de nuestros artes de importación. Hay miles de estudiantes de baile, y muchísimos guitarristas. El Festival Flamenco USA ha tenido un éxito enorme en Nueva York y otras ciudades, presentando el arte en todas sus facetas, mientras otros espectáculos y actuaciones locales de escala menor dan buenos resultados. Muchas ciudades tienen cafés o restaurantes que ofrecen un espectáculo de flamenco.

Parece un balance positivo pero no es suficiente, al menos desde mi punto de vista. En Nueva York, por ejemplo, es casi imposible encontrar flamenco serio en ningún sitio una noche cualquiera. Y lo mismo ocurre en el resto de las grandes ciudades.

El cante flamenco – eje central de este arte – nunca suena en el radio. El gran público no tiene ninguna oportunidad de disfrutar de su magia, ni de aprender para de distinguir lo bueno de lo malo.

El flamenco no se entiende bien en los EEUU todavía. Para cambiar la situación, nos queda mucho por explicar, muchas iniciativas culturales por organizar y un gran esfuerzo de promoción que puede ser incluso hasta arriesgado. Arriesgado, sí, porque el flamenco serio – un arte con una grandeza y un misterioso poder que sólo se puede equiparar al del blues – vale la pena ese riesgo.

Director del Flamenco Center USA – Flamencoexperience.com – organización cultural de Nueva York dedicada a la difusión del flamenco en EEUU.

February 7, 2014   1 Comment

Flamenco Dancer Antonia Mercé “La Argentina” receives the Cross of Queen Isabella medal – Two 1931 articles – And was she murdered by Spain’s Fascists in 1936? (hey, just sayin’) — translations and comment by Brook Zern

Flamenco Dancer Antonia Mercé “La Argentina” receives the Cross of Queen Isabella medal – Two 1931 articles – And was she murdered by Spain’s Fascists in 1936? (hey, just sayin’) — translations and comment by Brook Zern

The Spanish publication El Sol of December 4, 1931, carried this article:

“The chief of the Government, upon arriving yesterday afternoon at the Congress, spoke a moment with journalists and said: ‘Gentlemen, the only news I have for you is that this morning, as interim minister of the State, I signed a decree awarding the lazo de Isabel la Católica to doña Antonia Mece, “La Argentina”, as recognition of her work in introducing foreign audiences to the pure art of the Spanish dance, for which she has garnered resounding triumphs.”

“Tonight,” Señor Azaña added, “I will have the pleasure of presenting this emblematic artist the award during the event to be celebrated at the Español Theater and in which “La Argentina” will appear for the last time in Madrid.”

“The medal is presented at my behest, and is the first of its type to be given by the Government of the Republic since the new regime took office.”

End of article.

An ABC item from the following day shows the head of Spain’s government, Sr. Azaña, placing the medal on La Argentina.  Caption:  ”The head of the government, Sr. Azaña, during the intermission at the second concert by Antonio Mercé (La Argentina), in the Español Theater, awarded the illustrious artist the Cross of Isabel la Católica.  It is the first condecoración (medal) to be awarded by the Republic.”

Note by Brook Zern:  I translated these from a wonderful Spanish website, www.papelesflamencos.com — aside from the historical interest, I wanted to brag that 77 years later I got the same award, which is given for work done abroad to further interest in Spanish culture.  (Pilar López, sister of La Argentinita who evidently was not related to La Argentina, got the same award — it was always called the Cruz for men, and was often called the Lazo de Dama for women until recently, when it became the unisex Cruz.)

I noticed when translating the articles that this was the first such award granted by the new Republican government headed by Azaña — and wondered if this might have put La Argentina into the bad graces of the Fascist Nationalist government that stole power from the elected Republicans beginning with its invasion in July, 1936.

I immediately dismissed this as my leftist paranoia.  Then, while searching for more info about La Argentina for the “100 Years of Flamenco in New York 1913-2013″ exhibit planned for the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, I looked her up.

Specifically, I turned to the excellent book Una Historia de Flamenco, by the terrific Spanish authority José Manuel Gamboa who has become a friend over countless copitas in the now-defunct El Colmao in Jerez.

And sure enough…or, more precisely, circumstantially enough…here’s his expert info.

First, he cites an announcement of a memorial Mass celebrated in Paris marking the first anniversary of her death on July 18th, 1936.  He then cites an authority named Fernando Collado who wrote: “Her death generated impassioned comments about the cause.  Se asegura [passive voice, "one is assured"] that this genius of dance was poisoned by Fascist espionage agents. ‘Antonia Mercé, thanks to her friendship with General Sanjurjo, died at the orders of the Fascist High Command.’  The Barcelona newspaper La Noche said “On July 15th, Antonia Mercé was in Lisbon, where she talked with General Sanjurjo, who was an old friend.  She was one of just two people who knew that Sanjurjo had to take an airplane on the 19th in order to rendezvous with Franco in Tetuan [to initiate the invasion, moving the generals and their troops from that Morrocan coastal town across the Strait of Gibraltar to southern Spain.]  The other person was the airplane’s pilot.

But then came the accident which killed the general.  Someone claimed that the Spanish dancer belonged to Intelligence Service (in English].  On the 19th, La Argentina was invited to spend the night in the home of a certain aristocrat in Biarritz [on France's northwest coast].  She accepted, and went to the house in the company of the aristocrat, who was a count; a colonel; and an Artillery Captain in the Republican Army who a few days later joined the enemy [it was common for high-ranking officers to switch to the Nationalist side when the Spanish Civil War broke out].   They all arrived at the house together.  At two in the morning, the meal was over and as she got up, Antonia Mercé died as if struck by lightning.”

The article concludes with these words:  ”Throughout our experiences in Madrid during the war, few familiar names were implicated in espionage.  The few we heard, usually anecdotally, were hardly conclusive.  About La Argentina, nothing concerning her death was clear; she was found in a French home after having dined with two Spanish soldiers who went over to the Nationalists.  The speculation may owe more to her fame than to other reasons.”

Gamboa continues:  ”Remember that with the advent of the Second Republic, Azaña awarded her the Gran Cruz de Isabel la Católica.  On the 18th of July of 1936, a Festival of Basque Dances was celebrated in her honor.  According to some, it was after this festival [and not at that dinner] that she felt indisposed, dying on the road as she returned to Bayonne.”

To clarify: The death of Sanjurjo in an apparent air crash as he went to join the invasion forces gathered in Spanish Morocco has always been a mystery.  I think I’ve heard it blamed on Franco, since it eliminated a strong rival for the leadership of the rebellion.  The idea that La Argentina found out about the flight and notified an intelligence service that sabotaged or shot down the plane seems far-fetched, but in millions of eyes, mine included, it would make her a hero and a martyr in the fight against Fascism and Nazism.

(And of course, it would play right into the romantic image of flamenco dancers as femmes fatales, this time with a noble cause.  In other words, it’s such a good story that it must be true.)

Brook Zern — brookzern@gmail.com

February 5, 2013   1 Comment