PUBLISHED OCTOBER, 2010
Flamenco finds a place in Perian culture in Atlanta, highlighting diversity and historical ties. By Julie Baggenstoss
Iranian himself, nuevo flamenco guitarist Rouzbeh opens a traditional Persian concert by Salar Aghili & the Raz o Niaz Ensemble on October 15 at Glenn Memorial Auditorium at Emory University. "His music has roots in Persian traditional music which will be performed by Mr. Salar Aghili and his ensemble," says Reza Sohrabi, concert producer. "Presenting Rouzbeh's music is a good opportunity to introduce a local Iranian musician to the community at a different level and let him explore more in his art."
When Rouzbeh performs at that concert, the audience will hear immediately the musical similarities between flamenco and traditional Persian music. That's because, technically speaking, flamenco and Persian melodies are played in the Phrygian scale. Music lovers may know exactly what that means. But for you non-musicians, this refers to the group of notes that are played in a song, and their relationships to one another harmonically. The Phrygian scale simply "sounds" Persian - or Arabic - or flamenco - rather than like a tune that you would hear on a popular radio station in Atlanta or in an album of classical music composed by say, Beethoven. That's because cultures in the Middle East use this scale, just as in flamenco.
It's widely known that the gypsies who gave rise to flamenco in southern Spain were not from Spain. Originally from India, they crossed many countries during their journey to Andalucia, and were influenced by the culture and arts of each along the way. Add to that the cultural diversity brought to southern Spain with each change that took place, including war; notable religious change to Islam and then to Christianity; and social change, including the expulsion of Jews and gypsies, and it is easy to see how an art form like flamenco can sound Spanish and so many other things at the same time.
This international mix within flamenco is reflected at Fanoos Persian Persian Cuisine, Events & Hookah Bar, where flamenco will be presented in October. Owner Jalal Khadivi prides himself on the diversity of his customers. He says, "I am honored to have flamenco at Fanoos Persian cuisine every month. Fanoos Persian Cuisine is an international restaurant with different cultures and different people who love to see flamenco."
A poet and musician named Ziryab gets a lot of credit for linking Persian and flamenco music. Originally from Baghdad, Ziryab arrived in the ninth century to the southern Spanish city of Cordoba, then under Islamic rule. He worked there in the court of Abdar-Rahman II and quickly became a medieval "mover and shaker" of food, fashion, singing, and music. He established music schools that produced generations of singers and musicians through classical training as well as experimental development. His work left a legacy that still influences Spanish music today. Ziryab introduced the Persian lute to Spain and added a fifth string to it. This later developed into the flamenco guitar, which is popular around the world today. Originally, flamenco guitarists played only to accompany singers, strumming a chord here or there to round out a musical image. The role of the guitar grew in flamenco when Ramon Montoya introduced classical guitar techniques to flamenco players in the early 1900s. Suddenly, guitarists began running their fingers up and down frets, opening their hands in place of strumming a chord, and yes, locking themselves in a room to practice so they could play faster and faster to dazzle onlookers.
Evolution of flamenco guitar today has brought the melodies of flamenco songs into the instruments. It is possible now to hear a flamenco guitarist not just strum to accompany a singer, but instead play the melody of the singer's voice on his guitar. And, it is with this latest turn in the evolutionary wheel that we are able to hear even more Persian sounds in flamenco music - those sounds of the Phrygian scale, those sounds that traveled with Ziryab to southern Spain, those sounds that let us know we're listening to a music that reaches back to ancient people, even here in modern-day, fast-paced Atlanta.
With a day full of events, flamenco fans get ready for the Noche Flamenca concert, master classes and more. By Julie Baggenstoss
The fun all starts in the morning, with two free master classes offered by Noche Flamenca. One class is for guitarists, the other for dancers. The classes, presented by the Rialto Center for the Arts and produced by jaleole.com, are offered separately at 11:00 a.m. While flamenco groups performing at the Rialto have in years past taught free master classes for dancers, this is the first time that such a class is being offered for guitarists.
Don't anyone let the words "master class" fool you. Both the dance and guitar master classes are for all levels, and beginners are strongly encouraged to attend. A brush like this with top artists will definitely inspire, and most likely teach something, too.
The sooner you get that brush, the longer you have to take advantage of the knowledge it brings with it. JP quote
Following the classes, local aficionados gather for a luncheon to no doubt chatter about the spirit of flamenco conveyed in lessons and the excitement it spawned. "[The luncheon] gives [students] the chance to gather with the group and discuss other people's points of view from the class, exchange their thoughts and what they learned, in a friendly setting," says luncheon organizer Gloriela Rosas, a local flamenco dance teacher who maintains the Atlanta flamenco group at www.meetup.com.
"It will become a memorable moment in their flamenco path. They will make new friends with similar likes. They will learn from each other successes and failures. They can discuss confusion about the class and solve it amongst themselves."
Attendance at the class is not required for the luncheon.
Noche Flamenca performs at the Rialto Center for the Arts at 8:00 p.m. on Oct. 23. Atlanta flamenco fans are hoping for a clear forecast for the show, as a tornado cancelled Noche Flamenca's last scheduled appearance in Atlanta in the spring of 2008. That makes this show the group's first in Atlanta since 2005.
One hour before the show, local flamenco aficionados and dancers will present a flamenco fashion show, under the direction of local flamenco student Erica Poole. Models will showcase beautiful flamenco costumes, while a discussion of the history of the flamenco costume leaves onlookers dazzled - and educated. The fashion show is free to the public and presented in the lobby of the Rialto Center for the Arts.
This long day likely stretches into the wee hours of the next, when again led by meetup.com organizer Gloriela Rosas, flamenco fans gather for a post-show party. "What is so fun at meetups is the unexpected! We never know what's going to strike. Things happen spontaneously, and only by being there will you be able to experience it. The is no program detailing what will be covered at a meetup. It may start as a social gathering, but it can easity turn into a juerga! It is just a big improvisation, just like flamenco is," says Rosas.
Whether attending the marathon of all events on October 23 or just one, look around and note all the people and organizations that make this day a celebration among flamenco fans in Atlanta. The Rialto Center for the Arts, meetup.com, jaleole.com, Studio Dionne, Noche Flamenca, and the countless volunteers who work behind the scenes to support this effort. It's a beautiful, rare picture of cooperation within an art form to make the art available to so many people.
Liken flamenco to coffee and have a little espresso. By Julie Baggenstoss
The angels sang and I stopped in my footsteps, beckoned by the newly opened Starbucks at the corner of Calle Garcia de Vinuesa and Avenida de la Constitucion in Sevilla in 2004. I had longed for that shining slice of Americana, as I spent weeks in Spain trying to get by on cafés Americanos the size of shots. I enjoyed that everyone in the shiny new coffee shop could hear the announcement, "Grande mocha frapuccino por Hool-eee-yah." It wasn't English, but the barista was speaking my language.
It was all about me and my frosty serving of caffeine as I walked to Triana that blistering 42 degree (Celsius 107 in Fahrenheit) afternoon. How I strutted away from that corner coffee shop slurping down that cold goodness and extra something that you only get from Starbucks. Lost in espresso love, I simply dashed the looks of disdain by the locals who knew that you are supposed to drink coffee at the bar and buy ice cream "to go" from McDonalds for 1 Euro.
I didn't care.
In reflecting on that glorious Starbucks built atop the location of a former souvenir shop, I realize the look of cultural diversity in coffee has a place in flamenco.
I enjoyed learning flamenco in Spain because teachers there offer the purest form of the art to students. They speak Spanish and rarely explain the point from which in a song they are teaching. They don't count the music, and many times there just is no music in class at all, except for the melody in the heads the people crammed into a small, hot studio. These teachers demand more than a student's best, and they will unleash a verbal lashing to anyone who is not behaving in class or trying hard enough. Most of all, they are the creators and in some cases the innovators of the art form. They reach back into flamenco's history because their families practiced flamenco. They are the present because they work in the art now. They reach into the future, because they teach. They are the thick, rich cup of espresso.
Outside of Spain, flamenco classes can be a little more like a latte, or even maybe café au lait. They can be slower paced, taught in English, and just a slice of the excitement and intensity of those in Spain. But, what is one to do, when he lives in someplace besides Spain and wants the butt kicking of a teacher who commands the title of Maestro Espresso? Just wait for Spain - or something like it - to come to you in a workshop or master class. These words buzz around Atlanta several times a year, when visiting artists take time to come to our city to teach flamenco. In some cases, these are the most impactful artists in flamenco.
There's no cream or sugar in these kinds of classes, just the sweetness of getting flamenco from a great source. It's the chance to learn by osmosis. One or two brushes with good workshop teachers, and you understand osmosis can really work. And, it brings with it an opportunity to see even more, what you don't know.
Of course, all of this flamenco enrichment comes at the expense of time and money. So, I turn my back on the mother ship of coffee grounds and advise all to brew your own joe at home. Toss your $4 per latte into a flamenco piggy bank until you righteously save the cost of tuition for a workshop or master class. Then, let yourself be beckoned to a learning experience that will change your view of flamenco and your view of yourself in flamenco. Afterwards, we can all go out for coffee to share the excitement of newfound knowledge.
© jaleolé.com 2010