Something I have experienced in Spain but not really elaborated on is flamenco music. Spain is world famous for being the birthplace of flamenco. The music is said to have originated in Andalusia in southern Spain, heavily influenced by Romani (also known as gypsy) music. One of its hallmarks is the staccato beat that infuses the music’s rhythm, overwhelming the listener with its raw power (or at least, that is how I experience it!).

Fun fact: the word flamenco in Spanish also means flamingo, as in the awkward pink looking bird and refers to the Flemish language spoken in Belgium. Kind of random!

It’s a bit foggy but it seems flamenco possibly first popped up in the 18th century. There are 4 different settings the music is performed in. The first, which I have witnessed myself, is a “juerga” which is basically an impromptu flamenco jam session, featuring spontaneous singing and hand clapping. Women may even get into the spirit by breaking out into informal flamenco dance (I feel like every Spanish girl knows the basic steps of simple flamenco dancing!), waving around their fingers and turning into tight circles as they stamp their feet to the rhythm of the song.

Then there are the more formal performances featured in cabarets, concert venues, and theaters. I’ve been to one concert, but I enjoy the “tablaos” more, which are set up like cafes and offer you drinks while you watch the show on stage from your table. Some of these places also sometimes have their own restaurant in the front, and the performance area in a separate room in the back.

Just like any music genre, it’s really hard to describe what is “pure flamenco”–if there even is such a concept. It seems that there are different styles of flamenco dancing, different ways to play the guitar, and even different styles of singing/hand clapping (referred to as palmas in Spanish). I’m no expert, but I’ve figured out the toque refers to the guitar playing, the cante to the songs, and the baile to the dancing. When all three are combined, it’s downright overwhelming. However, I enjoy the guitar playing and singing without the dancers as well–and you can just as easily enjoy the simple flamenco guitar playing, which many people enjoy because it is the music at its simplest, stripped of the showmanship that accompanies the emotional singing and intense dancing.

There are a number of flamenco places in Madrid and so far I have been to three.

  • Villa Rosa–Plaza de Santa Ana, 15, 28012 Madrid. Closest metro stop: Sol. This tablao opened its doors in 1911 and some of the most famous people in the flamenco world have walked through here–Lola Flores and Miguel de Molina. Other distinguished guests have included Hemingway, Ava Gardner, and King Alfonso XIII of Spain. All the tables are centered around the stage and the walls are beautifully decorated with tiles depicting scenes of Madrid and Andalusia. There are two shows every night–more on weekends. I just went last weekend for the first time–it’s one of the cheaper tablaos. 17 euros and 1 drink included (you can also order food while you watch but there is a surcharge). The show lasted about 45 minutes. For more information: http://www.villa-rosa.es/ (there is a version in English)
  • Casa Patas–Calle Canizares, 10, 28012 Madrid. Closest metro stop: Anton Martin or Tirso de Molina. According to its website, this tablao has been around for about 150 years. Casa Patas is featured in my Frommer’s Madrid guidebook and this is where I took my parents when they came to visit me a year ago. I also just went back last month when Nicole had a friend visiting. This is without a doubt one of the best places to see flamenco in Madrid–the people that perform here are some of the best flamenco performers in Spain. However, it is expensive–32 euros per show (which includes a drink). There is a show every night at 10:30, two on weekends (9 PM and midnight Fridays and Saturdays). There is also a restaurant here–I had dinner with my parents before the show and the food was phenomenal (and on the expensive side–but then the parents paid for everything!). Without a doubt, the show was one of the highlights of the week for my parents. The room where they hold the shows is a bit cramped–they really pack the tourists in there. If you make your reservations ahead of time, you are likely to get front row seats (I made mine about a month ahead and this did happen to me). The place is so legit, it even offers flamenco dance classes. The shows run on the longer side–over an hour, with an intermission included. For more information: http://www.casapatas.com/(no English though, sorry!).
  • Las Tablas–Plaza de Espana, 9, 28008 Madrid. Closest metro stop: Plaza de Espana. I took my sister here when she came to visit me–it was also her birthday gift. I think this is a newer venue to the tablao flamenco scene in Madrid. There are shows every night at 10–two on Fridays and Saturdays (8 PM and 10 PM). 26 euros a show, one drink included. They also have a menu, so you can eat and watch the show at the same time. Maybe it was just the day I went with my sister, but I didn’t really like this place as much. It’s a smaller place (maximum capacity is around 30) and has a more intimate feel–but the day we went, once the show started, people kept trickling in to sit down. The waitress then had to take the orders of the latecomers–blocking our view of the stage with her head. It was very distracting and people kept TALKING and would not shut up. On the plus side, it’s not as touristy as Casa Patas or Villa Rosa. However my sister and I walked away disappointed from the experience. But I might have to give it another try. For more information: http://www.lastablasmadrid.com/ (there is an English website)

Here are some videos to give you an idea of what a flamenco performance is like. It’s nothing compared to experiencing it in person though!

A performance at Villa Rosa:

Dancing at Casa Patas that I filmed myself:

http://www.facebook.com/v/1762237420427

And some photos of the performers I took at Casa Patas a year ago. One of my favorite parts are the costumes worn by the female dancers–it adds to the passion and intensity of the performance, which is why flamenco is so famous in the first place.