Hearing Flamenco Music in my Madrid Neighborhood

I’ve often been criticized for liking, even enjoying Flamenco music by my Spanish peers. “Only our grandmothers listened to flamenco music because that’s all there was!“, they’d say. Thusly, flamenco has been mostly shunned by popular Spanish culture – OUTSIDE of the gypsy community, that is.

Just today I was walking home from doing the shopping and heard one woman singing a “copla” while she, I’ll presume, was making lunch or cleaning house. Another window was blaring pop-flamenco song from their home stereo. A car whizzed by with open windows, also blaring flamenco music from RadiOlé. And just now, a small group of girls, presumably gypsies, were clapping in unison, as “palmeras“, under my window. It’s also not at all unusual to hear a male voice singing flamenco in my neighborhood as he runs his errands.

Some of you Spaniards living in Madrid will ask me, “But WHERE in Madrid do YOU live to hear Flamenco played and sung?” Many of you, outside of Spain, will think this must be totally natural and normal. The truth is, flamenco is mainly only heard in poorer areas of Spanish cities, where gypsies live – together. And that’s where I live, in a working-class neighborhood near one of these communities. I actually love it! If I lived in the Barrio de Salamanca, for example, surrounded by wealthy, sometimes snobbish people, I wouldn’t be exposed to this part of SPANISH culture.

Some gypsies are better-to-do and live in the Lavapies part of Madrid. Others do have money. But probably the vast majority of them do not and are supported by the state as an indigenous culture to Spain, kind of like the Native American Indians in the USA. Most of these do not work and can get into – or cause – trouble since they simply have nothing better to do.

I have a large community of gypsies living within a block of me and I’ve never had a single problem with them personally. I’ve always been told not to interact with them, never look at them sideways, and, generally, stay out of their way. They say if you bother one of them the group will come after you – and I have no reason not to believe them. They live in their own community, in their own microcosm, and live by their own rules. Flamenco music is only one of their identities. The rest, only they know because their society is closed to outsiders.

There’s no danger here, really. They generally keep to themselves. But hearing flamenco being sung and hearing “their music” is a delight for me, an outsider. I know a lot of Spaniards feel just the opposite, generalizing the Gypsy community as ne’er do wells, drug addicts, drunks, thieves, trouble-makers, loudmouths, uncouth, and a number of other things. I can’t say any of that is true as I’ve yet to speak to one – and they live practically next door to me, and that’s a shame. But I do love their music and their culture fascinates me.

I’ve never seen anyone dance flamenco around here, though. That may well only take place behind closed doors at homes. I have seen, however, the flamenco guitar played once in a local bar. The flamenco singing is clearly amateur, family taught, but is equally clearly full of sentiment. No polka-dot dresses or flamenco shoes worn around here, either.

It almost appears that more foreigners, more Ex-patriots living in Spain – or simply “Spain Lovers” – are more infatuated with Flamenco music than Spaniards themselves. I guess that’s pretty normal. We tend to turn away from our history, from the old-fashioned, from that which labels us. It’s understandable and sad, all at the same time.

 
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6 Responses to Hearing Flamenco Music in my Madrid Neighborhood

  1. Steve Robinson says:

    I love seeing gypsies just breaking into singing , dancing , palmas .. on the street .. Especially when it’s the teenagers full of passion and bravado . I saw that once at the swimming pool in Casa del Campo ( Lago ) – Madrid . I was sunbathing on a fantastically hot summers afternoon when , just a few metres away from me , some guys ( all in swim wear ) started playin drums , them the singing .. wailing flamenco , then the dancing… the gypsy kids curling their hands and wrists around .. looking like toreros . FANTASTIC ! The security tried to stop them and they , the performers , including the kids , appealed to the 100s of poolside people .. ‘ are we annoying you ? .. Do you want us to leave ? ‘ .. Everyone around the pool , including me shouted ‘NO !!! ‘ and we all stood up .. The security and the police decided to stand back ! I took photos , and one guy noticed me and asked me to join the group ( about 20 people ) .. We got a big group photo and he gave me an e-mail address and we keep contact . His name is Carlos ( El Rubio ) .. It transpires that he is a famous gypsy flamenco dancer , who plays all across the world .. even in Japan !! The photos of his performances are wonderful ! : I did get some video that day but only a few seconds . A treasured memory for me . His name is Carlos Chamorro . There are videos on youtube of course .

    • MadridMan says:

      What a FANTASTIC story, Steve! Thanks for sharing that!! I’d not heard of Carlos Chamorro, but have looked him up and, sure enough, he IS a famous flamenco dancer and an up-and-coming actor as well! Damn, you have ALL the luck!!

  2. LIsa Duque says:

    You are correct. We have a big following of flamenco lovers here in San Diego, mostly Mexican descent and anglos who love Spain like I do. Many Spaniards here tolerate it and my hubby even puts up with the flamenco classes our daughter takes and performs for. I don’t think it is a purely gypsy thing. I believe that many, many Andaluces adore and nurture this music as well. Many andaluz friends all know the sevillanas, palmas and many coplas to dance to and I think being out of their country makes them nostalgic. My hubby puts it this way, when asked by an American if he loves flamenco because he’s from Spain, he asks them if they love the rodeo or country/folk music because they are from the U.S. Good point.
    I, on the other hand, share the same love and admiration for this beautiful art and music form that youdo and only wish I was fortunate enough to get wisked away into some impromtu party where the dancing and music is alive and we are living the duende all night long….ahhh, but only in my dreams.

    • MadridMan says:

      About that which you dream, I dream too – and it’s never happened to me either! I’ve never been in a Madrid bar where Flamenco dance/song broke out spontaneously. NEVER! However, “I’ve heard stories…” I don’t doubt that in Andalusia/Andalucía flamenco is more common among the common-folk, among the non-gypsy. Sevillanas tend to be danced more by the upper-classes, if I’m not mistaken, and flamenco is more common among the common folk.

  3. YOLANDA ALBERTI says:

    HOLA: I AM TRYING TO REMEMBER A FLAMENCO SONG…….(MEN SINGING)……. IT GOES LIKE THIS….”..SE SACO LA LOTERIA Y AHORA NO ME PUEDE VER ….SE CASO CON UN VIEJO RICO LA LA LA LA
    NAME OF SONG, OR SINGER OR ALBUM THANKS….
    I HAVE THE TUNE IN MY HEAD…

    • MadridMan says:

      I’ve tried searching Google, too, but with no luck. Are you sure about the lyrics? If not exact, you won’t find it in Google. Or, it’s possible the song is too old. If there were several men singing my first guess would be it’s the Gipsy Kings.

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