This article was contributed by Anita Joshi.
The musical art of flamenco has its genesis in the culture of the Gitano, or nomadic gypsy, and eventually emerged as a thriving part of Spanish culture today. As an artistic meeting point of cultures, it draws from Arab, Sephardic, Indian, and African musical traditions and evolved over time into a mosaic of Eastern and Western influences. It is much more than a remnant of a nomadic people. As a society within a society, the Gitanos of Spain have maintained their art as a connection to an unwritten past and a way to share it with others.
The performance of "Crossroads," at the Lisner Auditorium on Saturday, February 12th, was an exemplary specimen of the thriving art of flamenco. As part of the Lisner's Flamenco Festival, it featured five individual artists who have made their marks in the international contemporary flamenco scene: singers Carmen Linares, Arcángel, Miguel Poveda, flamenco fusion artist Diego Carrasco, and dancer Rafaela Carrasco. The show was inspired by a record released in 2003 entitled Territorio Flamenco, in which ten Flamenco artists chose their favorite songs or authors from different eras and styles (such as the classic Hello, Dolly, the old Spanish song La bien pagá, and Roxanne by Sting) and performed them in the style of flamenco.
The artists of "Crossroads" spanned a wide stylistic spectrum. Linares, a native of Jaen, has won international acclaim with her skill and perpetual versatility in expression. Her profound abilities have afforded her a diverse repertoire of collaborations with artists worldwide. Two of the most rapidly rising young stars of contemporary flamenco, Miguel Poveda and Arcángel, have brought fresh elements to the artistic arena. Both Poveda, from Barcelona, and Arcángel, from Huelva, draw on their native roots while maintaining the freedom of artistic license to take the art to new levels. Rafaela Carrasco, a Sevillana, has also emerged as a member of the new generation of avant-garde flamenco dancers. She possesses a dynamic and rebellious style, and after completing her training in Madrid as a soloist, she established her own company. Diego Carrasco, a native of the Gypsy quarter barrio de Santiago of Cadiz, studied flamenco guitar early on and accompanied some of the biggest flamenco singers in his home town, such as Tía Anica la Periñaca, Tío Gregorio El Borrico, Fernando Terremoto, and Camarón de la Isla. Carrasco later left his career as a guitarist to take on a career in singing and music production. He has since been a trailblazer in the production of flamenco and jazz fusion styles.
Flamenco in itself is a highly expressive part of the Gitano culture, borne of a time when Spain was changing rulers from the Islamic caliphate to the Catholic monarchy. As a result of the expulsion of many Jews, Muslims, and Gitanos by the monarchy, the art became an outlet for emotion turmoil. Hence, its classic form is intense with emotion and often serves as an ode to the beauty of bittersweet endings. It speaks of the darker side of love, the universality of pain and uncertainty, of longing for answers, and the perpetual battles that make up the human experience. "Crossroads" captured this essence of flamenco but also built on the absorbent nature of the art through fusion with tango and jazz, while maintaining the rhythmic structures of the various branches, or palos, such as bulerias and alegrias.
Carmen Linares gave a moving performance of the traditional letra "La Paloma" (the Dove). Arcángel's voice is nothing short of enrapturing in his tone and control, without restraint or rigidity. His rendition of the Spanish bolero La Bien Pagá was spellbinding. His comprehension of the music is apparent in his ability to maintain both structure and freedom to create space for his own style, not simply imitate the predecessors. Cuesta Abajo (Down hill), an Argentine tango passionately performed by Miguel Poveda, was yet another example of the many amalgamations of modern flamenco of the show.
Although the main element in classic flamenco has been lyrical, as opposed to physical, Rafaela Carrosco's enervating interpretation of Malaguena was a sublime incarnation of the soul of the song. Far from a purist, she drew together slivers of jazz and contemporary dance and melded them with sensuality and class. Her footwork was impeccable, which highlights her amazing skill as a younger artist. Diego Carrasco held nothing back in his Inquilino del Mundo (Tenant of the World), in which he seamlessly melded bulerias with the spunk of a poetry slam. Hello, Dolly was another example of the more upbeat facet of fusion flamenco in which the entire group united to interpret this Broadway classic in the style of flamenco. The zenith of the show was the group's ephemeral rendition of La Leyenda del Tiempo (the Legend of Time), by the demigod of flamenco, singer Camaron. This deliciously libertine jaleo takes its lyrical inspiration from the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca and layers lightning-quick handclapping, vibrant harmony, and a haunting melody with phantasmagoric keyboard solos and flamenco arpeggios, all accompanied by a bateria of percussion. The iconoclastic Camaron has been apotheosized by the flamenco world as much as Jimi Hendrix in the world of rock. Even though Camaron is a virtuoso in his own right, "Crossroads" did justice to this legend's anthem with its own electrifying interpretation.
The performance of Leyenda del Tiempo highlighted just one instance of how flamenco has come a long way in its evolution as an art form. "Crossroads" showcased both the rebellious and the traditional sides of flamenco. It also portrayed the art's embrace of the rhythms of the East and instruments of the West in an oriental and occidental collision of vibrant artistic globalization.
This article was contributed by Anita Joshi.