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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