Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco in Madrid

Early Press Coverage of Flamenco in Madrid of the 1850’s – from the blog of Faustino Núñez – translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Faustino Núñez is probably the most important flamenco expert in Spain.  He is a diligent researcher who has unearthed countless old archival and press mentions of flamenco and of “preflamenco” or “protofamenco” – early songs and dances that may be precursors of actual flamenco.

His fascinating blog, called “El Afinador de Noticias”, offers hundreds of them.  Here are segments from the entry of June 25th, 2011, titled “Flamenco Music, Madrid, 1853 and 1854″.  The original entry is seen at:


Faustino Nüñez writes: 

We head this entry with a press clip from March 31, 1854, headlined “Musica Flamenca” that reads:

“In some cafés it has become the fashion to entertain the public with Andalusian singers (“cantares andaluces”) instead of pianists.  It’s a new fruit that’s growing in the establishments of montañeses [people from the mountain regions] , and that’s drawing the attention of the Madrid public, which distracts itself by listening to the lamentations, sighs and tender “playeras” that are intoned by the gente flamenco – the flamenco people – who by means of interminable kyries [referring to a section of the Mass] and the “ayes” that shake  [levantan] the banquettes and make the women who come to hear them pirrarse de amor [crazy with love].”

(Some things never change.)

This flavorsome entry is an early reference.  It has substance [“Tiene miga”].  The establishments of the montañeses from Andalucía are appearing again as places where a good part of flamenco music took shape [gestated].

The item appeared a year before the arrival in Madrid of the most important figures in the flamenco of Andalucía.  It was brought to light by the Dutch investigator Arie C. Sneeuw in an article published in the flamenco magazine “El Candil” under the title “Some new data for the history of flamenco”.  That information was published later in a small book titled “Flamenco en el Madrid del XIX”, Virgilio Márquez editor, Cordoba, 1989.

I’ve put the originals here, from the Madrid daily La Nación, though many know them from other sources, due to the interest they have generated in the blog.  I recommend reading them for what they reveal about this “new music”, as it was called, that was replacing pianists in the cafés.    They appear in this order:  Gacetilla (“Little Gazette”) of February 18, 1853.  The next day the writer, Eduardo Velaz de Medrano, gave further comments about the flamenco fiestas celebrated in the salon of Vensano.  The reporter places the event on the 24th.  José Blas Vega [the late, great Madrid flamenco expert] brings us another report titles “Concierto Gitanesco” from February 19th in La Nación.

“Flamenco Music:  The Andalusian cantores who shined in the concerts in the salons of Señor Vensano over the last few nights, and whom we described in this column, appeared again on Sunday in a private home, in the presence of noted artists of the Italian theater, once more making an excellent impression.

There’s such a vogue for these “flamencos” that now an impresario has launched a campaign to take advantage of such a good occasion.  The talk is of nothing less than the coming arrival of El Planeta and María la Borrico, celebrities who are well known in Seville’s barrio de Triana.   The plan is to bring back the good times of the Café de Malta, and to that end we’ll see extensive changes in one of Madrid’s cafés that, due to its central location next to the Principe Theater, offers clear advantages over all the other cafés.  Once the singers have been installed there, it only remains to bring back the classic pomadas (commonly called sorbets) of Señor Romo, celebrated among all the dessert shops past and future, not just for their proverbial cleanliness but also for their special gracia (charm) in providing the most capricious varieties of sorbets (commonly called pomadas), served by his white hand that passes again and again over the confectionery choices before placing them in the cup.  What hands they are!

We don’t know if the impresario’s plans will be realized, and if we’ll indeed have Gypsy concerts [“conciertos de gitanos”] in the Café del Principe, with the corresponding “juegos de manos” ["hand games?"] as in earlier times, but we can be sure that we’ve seen the flamencos “muy metidos en harina”  ["deep in the flour?"] with the most influential parroquianos [parishioners – i.e. regulars?] of the establishment.”

Flamenco has been frequently denostado [translator's note: I don't know if this word means denigrated or avidly followed] by “good” Andalusian society, used as a pastime and almost never appreciated for its artistic quality.  The references we have from, say, 1853, La Nación of Cadiz mention the successes of the proto-dancers Josefa Vargas and Concha Ruíz, who arrived from Madrid to delight the people of Cadiz with their singular dances; El Comercio (see this blog) speaks of the tenor Buenaventura Belart singing in “El majo de rumbo” the caña, the malagueña, the “soledad” [soleá?] etc. and  triumphs of the guitarist Trinidad Huertas.

[A source refers to]… a spectacle of flamenco music, not the music of Tinctoris or [Josquin] Deprez (masters of polyphonic music from Flanders) [that word in Spanish is “flamenco”] but that of [the early flamenco singers] Juan de Dios, Santa María, Villegas, Farfán or Luís Alonso (also announced were El Planeta and María la Borrica).  A jewel of flamencology that we owe to Señor Sneeuw and reproduce here due to its great importance in the science of flamenco.  For more on this subject, see the indispensable monograph by Jose Blas Vega, “Los cafés cantantes de Madrid”, pages 39 to 46 and the entire book).

Those flamenco artists created the basis of Madrid’s flamenco, a court that would later be headed by Antonio Chacón, Manolo Caracol and Enrique Morente.  If only Madrid’s flamenco lineup today could boast of artists like these….

End of blog entry by Faustino Nüñez.

Translator’s note:  In the mid-1990’s I translated the above-cited article by Arie C. Sneeuw for this blog.  It appears as one of the first entries at:


It’s interesting that in these earliest clear descriptions of flamenco events, someone is already nostalgic for the good old days:  ”The plan is to bring back the good times of the Café de Malta…”  (It’s not clear that this refers to prior flamenco performances; I doubt it.)

Recently in my blog I translated an extensive study by Manuel Bohórquez who seems to have shown with old documents that El Planeta, the formerly mysterious early Gypsy singer who had always been presumed to epitomize the art of Triana, was in fact born in Cadiz and evidently chose to live most of his life in Malaga.  (He is described in an early written account, “Un baile en Triana”.)

(I believe there was a subtle subtext — that while El Planeta was undeniably a Gypsy, the Gypsy neighborhood of Triana (across the river from Seville) was not as important in the creation of flamenco as had been assumed; and that Cádiz, sometimes seen as secondary in the generation of heavy-duty allegedly Gypsy songs, and Malaga, not even associated with heavy-duty profound songs, were more important and more welcoming than the Gypsyphile authorities had insisted.  That’s despite the fact that  those cities were not as Gypsy as was the barrio of Triana.)

Well, a passage above shows the deep link between El Planeta and Triana:  ”The talk is of nothing less than the coming arrival of El Planeta and María la Borrico, celebrities who are well known in Seville’s barrio de Triana.”

Faustino Núñez does not allow the word “Gypsy” — he calls it “the G-word” — in his extensive and highly influential discussions and textbooks about flamenco and its origins.  But when  crucial early events like those above are described by writers as “conciertos de gitanos”, for example, he does not omit the otherwise inadmissible word.  He also may permit the use of Gypsy names that are given to versions of certain songs crucial “deep” songs — e.g., the siguiriyas del Planeta —  and are far more common that names of evidently non-Gypsy creators — e.g., the siguiriyas de Silverio [Franconetti].


March 19, 2014   No Comments

Casa Patas, Field of Dreams – El Mundo Report on Madrid’s Key Flamenco Tablao by Pablo Sanz – translated by Brook Zern

Subhead:  Flamenco Foundation:  The Madrid establishment, next-to-last of the city’s great tablaos [flamenco night clubs] , will also be open to reflection.  Because not everything is “sinsentío” [beyond reason, senseless].

“To be someone in flamenco, you have to spend time in Madrid.”  The words are those of the still sorely missed singer Enrique Morente, but the thought is shared by everyone who is devoted to this great cultural expression, declared a Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO, through the song, dance or guitar.  Morente’s affirmation remains true, but it’s also  true that there are fewer and fewer places to listen to serious flamenco in Madrid as time takes its toll.

Beyond the regular events sponsored by Bankia or the Suma Flamenca [Flamenco Summit], and isolated performances like the Autumn Festival or those in locales like the Sala Clamores, the Spanish capital is becoming less flamenco with every passing day.  Casa Patas has always been a tablao that stresses flamenco culture, and it has remained the only Madrid site where the walls evoke the art’s depths even before one enters.  But now it wishes to become cultured – a space that welcomes reflection and analysis about the great art that is flamenco, where there is song and dance and guitar but also lively discussions and debates about it, seeking new horizons and new approaches to achieving the diffusion that the art deserves through a combination of sentiment and intellectual rigor.

And so this Saturday, Jorge Pardo illuminates a cycle of events called “Flamenco…on the frontier!!”, serving in his role as “Europe’s best jazz musician” according the the Jazz de France Academy, and as the best flamenco musician according to the guitarist Paco de Lucía and the singers Carmen Linares, José Mercé and other admirers of the saxophonist and flutist.  The program has just added the Cádiz pianist Chano Domínguez, and in future Saturday dates at the Sala García Lorca at the Casa Patas Foundation (calle Cañizares, 10; prices from 10 to 15 euros) the spotlight will be on the trumpeter Jerry González and the group called “Olé Swing”.  It’s evident that the schedule of events is carefully thought through to reaffirm that there are many different ways to live flamenco.

The Sala resembles a flamenco café more than a typical tablao, with an audience limited to 90 spectators and where the sound is natural rather than amplified.  Heading this initiative is Antonio Benamargo, a man who was born crying to the rhythmic pulse of the bulerías, and Martín Guerrero, the business manager who sets the ideological agenda of the Casa Patas Foundation.

“The aim is to present the artists in an intimate setting where aficionados can enjoy the essence of flamenco,” says Benamargo, “with the respect that you’d find in a theater but the close atmosphere of the Cafés Cantantes [the venues that defined the public art a century ago.]”  These performances benefit from the optimum acoustic conditions, allowing the audience to experience the art in the best possible way: music that is natural and forceful [“valiente’], without microphones.”

This new effort by Casa Patas puts a finger over the wound [pone el dedo en la llaga], namely the disappearance of tablaos in Madrid  where flamenco can grow and evolve, because those are the natural spaces for the art, the indispensable lungs with which it breathes.  But the new venture also confirms that there are flamenco oases where hopes run high, as was the case with El Candela before it lost its way following the death of Miguel, its former director.

The theater and film need alternative spaces, jazz needs its clubs, pop-rock needs its noisy sites, literature needs its cafés rife with discussions – and flamenco needs its tablaos.

End of article.  The original is found at:  http://www.elmundo.es/cultura/2014/01/17/52d8fb09268e3eb85b8b4571.html?cid=MNOT23801&s_kw=casa_patas_campo_de_suenos

Translator’s note:  About a decade ago in Washington I attended a flamenco performance put on by Casa Patas.  The key player was Pablo Maldonado, a very talented flamenco pianist.  (That’s not a musical language I truly understand, but the singer was terrific in a siguiriyas and later identified himself as the scion of the very traditional Familia Ferández, all of whom I’ve always admired.)

Not long afterwards, in Madrid, I met with the head of the Casa Patas Foundation, Martín Guerrero, a major real estate developer, to learn about its activities and ambitions.

In those heady economic times, we discussed the pros and cons of a serious project to open a version of Casa Patas in New York City.   It didn’t quite happen, but it did show the ambition and seriousness of Señor Guerrero, and it’s nice to see that he is still looking for new ways to further his expansive vision of flamenco.

(Meanwhile, why not open a little closet-sized room in lower Manhattan and just let Fernández sing those terrific siguiriyas all night.  I mean, how much can we lose?)

(Yikes.  That much, eh?)

Brook Zern

January 18, 2014   No Comments