In Search of the Real Flamenco
By VALERIE GLADSTONE
STEPPING into the almost hidden doorway of the flamenco bar La Soleá (Calle Cava Baja, 34; 34-91-366-0534) in Madrid, one enters a smoky L-shaped room, its walls adorned with blue and white tiles. Well after midnight on a recent Thursday the place was packed with Gypsies and Madrileños, all in thrall to the rhythmic, heartfelt music produced by a Gypsy guitarist and a singer, both dressed in black pants and white shirts. Soon, they were joined by a woman with flowing black hair. Luckily for the customers, she was a master of cante jondo, or deep song, and for the next hour, her voice rose and fell, as she sung a tale of lost love — a favorite flamenco theme.
A hybrid of Arab, Jewish, Gypsy and Andalusian musical and dance influences that coalesced in Andalusia 200 years ago, traditional flamenco is drawing renewed interest in Madrid. Bars like La Soleá, which moved to larger quarters last winter to accommodate its growing clientele, present authentic alternatives to the ubiquitous tablaõs (restaurants with small stages) that usually present touristy, rote-like flamenco shows.
Besides La Soleá, there is Cardamomo, Calle Echegaray, 15; 34-91-369-0757 (www..cardamomo.net) and Flamenco Candela (Calle del Olmo, 2; 34-91-467-3382), on a quiet corner in Lavapies, Madrid’s traditional Gypsy neighborhood; both bars have recently increased the number of their flamenco performances.
Meanwhile, some newer venues like Espacio Flamenco (Calle Ribera de Curtidores, 26; 34-91-298-1912; espacio.deflamenco.com) have opened, and clubs like El Cielo del Calderon (Atocha, 18; 34-91-429-4343) — which is adding weekly flamenco performances in May — are jumping on the bandwagon.
There are also festivals. The second Suma Flamenca, a major flamenco festival, will run from May 7 to May 26 in Madrid. There will be 43 performances at various venues throughout the city. Though these do not have the intimacy of the flamenco bars, the festival does give visitors an opportunity to see a wide range of top artists. More information can be found at www.sumaflamenca.com, or at: 34-91-542-1655.
Many of the bars don’t have cover charges, and drinks are inexpensive: a glass of wine at Candela costs 3 euros, or about $4.15 at $1.39 to the euro. It’s best to have dinner before you show up because food isn’t served. It’s always worth calling beforehand to check on the opening hour. It can be as late as midnight.
For instance, at Flamenco Candela on a recent evening, the place was empty until about 1 a.m. when a crowd of young students from a local flamenco school arrived. The pony-tailed bartender informed them that one of their favorites wouldn’t turn up until nearly 3 a.m. to dance in the small, cave-like room. Slowly other customers wandered in. A tape played old flamenco melodies and the room filled with smoke. As promised, an older woman came in around 3 a.m., smiled to the crowd and descended into the almost secret performance space. A guitarist followed; the woman listened attentively, her flowered shawl draped across her shoulders. When she had finally absorbed enough music, she lifted her arms above her head, arched her back and began to dance.