The city of Granada, in the south of Spain, has been one of the great focal points for the musical transformation of the Iberian peninsular for decades. It is the birthplace of the poet Federico García Lorca and the flamenco revolution of the Morente family, as well as Spanish indie rock (Lagartija Nick y Los Planetas) and trap music (Kefta Boyz, later known as Pxxr Gvng under the La Vendición label). More recently, Granada has produced artists of international renown, such as La Zowi and Dellafuente. A whole clubbing scene has also been born there, thanks to the groups Mareo, Miga, Caballito Netlabel and T Label. Each new generation of creatives starts movements that later turn up in big cities like Barcelona or Madrid. Given the age-old musical plundering of the Global South, this city has undoubtedly been a hothouse for new trends in Spain. It is an ideal place for the study of psychomagic. A place where the sacred is steeped in the avant-garde; a place of Bohemian tourism.
And now we come to flamenco. In 1922, Granada hosted the first competition in the cante jondo flamenco vocal style. Its cave houses of Sacromonte have sheltered the development of the genre since before there were professorships in Flamencology up to the present day. It is an art of quejíos (lament) and purity of feeling. Its origins are so mixed that they remain a mystery. They can be traced to a mixture of nomadic migration arriving from countries around India, the Islamic conquest of the peninsula (in the area of Al-Andalus), and inventions such as the guitar as well as the box drum known as cajón, which was incorporated into flamenco by Rubem Dantas and Paco de Lucía in 1977. This whole mixed history served to express the fatigas (sorrow) of the Gypsy people, who are still ostracised by the mainstream population. Flamenco has taken many forms as it has spread throughout the country, but it continues to be of Andalusian heritage thanks to meccas of the region such as Jerez de la Frontera, the city of flamenco rhythm. The art went from being totally ignored by academic institutions (its first professorship was established outside of Spain, in Rotterdam), to being the subject of public debate between purists, who consider it to be sacrosanct, and those who argue that any art that does not evolve is dead.
Beyond its preservation in both ghettos and conservatoires, guitarists such as Raul Cantizando recognize that flamenco is born of experimentation and constant questioning. The flamenco singer Israel Fernández once supposed that he would need at least five more lives to understand the entire complexity of its story. Even cats don’t have that many lives. Even so, we have the testimony of four specialists who have understood the different forms of flamenco through experience. They have remixed it with other genres of music that touch each generation, from new pop to rave, passing through the roots of Spanish hip-hop and the global urban music wave. And thus came about the get-together at Boiler Room x Ballantine’s True Music Studios in Granada, with rapper Haze, flamenco singer Lucía Fernanda, producer Antonio Narváez and the scholarly Rosanna Pappalardo from Califato 3/4.
Love song: an experiential history of flamenco
Lucía Fernanda was born into flamenco lineage. Her grandfather was Gypsy guitarist Juan Habichuela, and her father is Juan José Carmona, the co-founder of the flamenco fusion band Ketama, which took the role of opening up this art form to the influence of the rock music our parents listened to. She recounts how she was raised with her uncles, aunts and cousins, sitting on the sofa watching TV with guitars cradled in their arms as if extensions of their bodies, ready to be played at any moment. Like those who start conversations with notes, not words. In that environment she learned that the lyrics and guitar techniques of flamenco are constantly changing at the artist’s whim, giving it different forms. Each singer may emulate the same basic tune but change its lyrics, the melismas and the end of the phrases. The songs are thus preserved, yet transformed. The producer Antonio Narváez, who often works with Dellafuente and Maka, learnt about flamenco listening to cassettes of Ketama in the car with his parents. And so the circle of experimentation continues.
The case of Rosanna Pappalardo is exemplary. She is not only a flamenco singer and dancer, but also a student of the art. She is also a member of the group Califato ¾, which reshapes the whole Andalusian sound to evoke imagery of open-air dances and raves. She got into the tradition as a small child through Andalusian folk music and the cante jondo vocal style (cante jondo is Spanish for “deep singing”, and is associated with flamenco) of the guitarist Diego del Gastor and jondo singer Montse Cortés. As a teenager, she fell in love with the breakbeat sound, which spread through raves all over Andalusia, and which, in her mind, is linked to flamenco tradition through its broken rhythms and 3/4 time. DJs such as Delaygurrud and Dj Karpin turned the traditional marches of the Spanish Holy Week into electronic anthems, creating a cross-generational communion between local genres. There is a reason why the rites of Christianity have always been associated with club and soundsystem culture, with the DJ as pope, ecstasy as the wafer and the audience as the congregation.
However, the Sevillian rapper Haze, from the Los Pajaritos neighbourhood, came to flamenco culture via a different route. As a child, he was brought up on sevillanas, a flamenco form that is danced on public holidays and El Rocío pilgrimage festivities, through such groups as Los Romeros de la Puebla and Los Cantores de Híspalis. Bands such as Triana and Pata Negra, who in the 70s mixed progressive rock with traditional flamenco, and Camarón de la Isla, who revolutionized flamenco towards more psychedelic lines, provided the necessary muscle for Haze to catch the cante jondo bug. But it was the flamenco rumba of Bordon-4, Los Chichos, Los Chunguitos and Los Calis, singing of the problems of the street, who put words to his reality and inspired him to mix the Spanish hip-hop culture of his generation with the sounds he had heard in his neighbourhood from childhood.
Haze was not the first. Artists like Griffi from Sólo los Solo, with their album Retorno Al Principio (2001), added the first samples of flamenco to their songs. Then there’s Mala Rodriguez, who used rhyming unique to Andalusia and rapped about quejíos (laments) in the album Lujo Ibérico (2000). It was Haze too whose debut self-published demo tape, Crónicas del Barrio (2003), got millions of plays and helped lay the foundations of flamenco-inspired rap. He admits that it wasn’t easy. At that time, if you strayed from strict rap you were seen as a sell-out, and rappers were supposed to be on the street, never in clubs. What is clear is that these four artists have approached flamenco via very unorthodox routes. But can the duende (flamenco spirit) be compared with the flow of new musical traditions?
Connecting blood with vibes
‘When I sing as I please, I taste blood in my mouth.’ said flamenco singer and native of Jerez, Tía Anica La Piriñaca. That phrase has become the all-embracing definition of the flamenco spirit, understood to be singing with feeling and giving one’s all to the art of flamenco to the point of exhaustion. Haze explains that mixing rap with flamenco makes for some seriously fierce lyrics. Hip-hop has its origins in the excluded racialised communities of the United States, and just like the Gypsy community in Spain, they sought a way to express their pain. “Both of them wear their throats out from singing because of the real pain they feel”, Haze says. Of course, the language used is different.
Just as there are elements of hip hop in not only the lyrics but also in the prison aesthetic of baggy-clothes, laceless shoes and saggy trousers without belts, flamenco has the carcelera, or “jailer” style, which originates from prisons, and the martinete, or “mallet” style, which features the sounds of forges and the sounds of hammers used for forced labour and construction. Producer Antonio Narváez talks of how to transform these rhythms and the sound of the flamenco box drum into electronic bass drums to introduce them to a new generation of music. One of his benchmarks is the work of the singer Rocío Márques with the producer Bronquio on the album Tercer Cielo (2022), which combines the avant-garde of digital sound with the traditional styles of flamenco.
Can flamenco spirit and flow come together? According to Rosanna Pappalardo, the flamenco spirit is what makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. In her opinion, soundsystem culture also generates a sense of community, where a good DJ can replicate that emotion and pump up the crowd. Haze on the other hand sees the flamenco spirit in battle rap, where improvisation plays as important a role as in flamenco festivals. Nailing a rhyme or landing a punchline is more than just flow, it’s the flamenco spirit: something magical.
Amidst so many comparisons (more for the purpose of seeking connections than of competition), the approach of the thinker Fernando López Rodríguez is notable. He wonders if we can strive to do things differently without letting go of flamenco’s unique character. Since it has been mixed with other genres of each generation more than tradition, perhaps it would be more appropriate to talk of an Andalusian sound made up of differing origins. Deconstructing how Spain is perceived by the rest of the world. Backing the merging of flamenco songs influenced by Latin America and localisms.
Policies and agreements on a new Andalusian sound
While accompanying C.Tangana on his El Madrileño (2021) launch tour, Lucia Fernanda released her own debut album. While Yelem (2021) takes its name from the international Romany anthem, it brings together the artist’s passion for pop and R&B. The title is an anti-racist statement with the aim of informing mainstream culture of the history of Gypsies and their music. She starts a debate in which she reveals the love she feels for her origins, while at the same time challenging cultural appropriation. She acknowledges the efforts of people of non-Gypsy ethnicity, such as Paco de Lucia, Manolo Sanlúcar and Lola Flores, in preserving the genre and fusing it with others. She advocates that both of these movements be undertaken in a respectful way.
That stands in contrast to the concept of a Marca España (touristic Spain), a package that sells a single sound and a few traditional customs, but ignores the rest. “You give someone from Cantabria or any other region in the north of Spain a flamenco costume and tell them to sing you an upbeat flamenco song, and they’ll tell you they have their own traditions”, says Rosanna Pappalardo. “While our Andalusian image is being captured and going global, there are other national folk styles that are not considered part of touristic Spain.”
But the fact that an Andalusian sound is being talked about is a step forward. The community of Andalusia, with its many accents and traditions that differ by province, has often suffered from the double standards imposed upon it. On one side there is the fetishism, the whitewashing and the appropriation of its traditions as a hook for tourism, and on the other side the common stigma of the Global South, considered to be third world. Its languages and practices are ridiculed when compared to a supposed north where people are considered more polite and more politically correct, where they work harder and have more progressive legislation. This stigma is applied by Europe to Spain, Greece and Italy, as well as within these very countries to their own southern regions.
In this respect, the work of Califato 3/4 in transcribing tradition and taking pride in an Andalusian sound is extremely important. They do this even in the way they write their lyrics, which are always written according to Andalusian orthographic rules (known as EPA in Spain). The rules are not official, but they are sufficiently well-recognized in the region to allow the different Andalusian dialects to be represented in writing. Curro Morales, a member of Califato ¾, argues that although Andalusia has always been at the forefront of music, the same has not been true of its music industry, and so artists are forced to move away from their homelands to pursue their careers. Rosanna Pappalardo goes further: “The fact that we have to abandon our space, identity and customs is destroying our lives. We have to manage ourselves so the money can stay here too.”
Another of Pappalardo’s proposals is that the musical education of flamenco and other indigenous traditions, which have always been passed on through mimicry and by word-of-mouth in families and neighbourhoods, should be provided by the public system and not be monopolized by private colleges. That is an idea that Haze, a graduate and now lecturer of Hispanic Philology, has a lot to say about. He recounts how, in one of his language and literature classes at a secondary school in Coria del Río, Seville, he taught linguistic mechanisms and resources using the song La Vida Es by Maka and Dellafuente. ‘In my course, music is a really useful and appealing tool. Songs by singer-songwriters such as Serrat and Sabina are all well and good, but we should go to today’s music, where skilled poets can already be found’. All these ideas and fusions could help to establish a solid foundation, so the musical characteristics of the present can form part of a new tradition in the future, thus broadening our historical memory. That’s how our perspectives grow powerfully.
El Bloque is a collective of communicators and visual artists who are passionate about the present. The channel was launched on YouTube at the end of 2017 as a cultural talk show that aims to capture the essence of traditional television music programmes of the 80s, fusing it with new DIY audiovisual creation techniques and split screens. Three seasons later, El Bloque has elements that mix digital imagination with the renovation of various formats, as seen in the documentary M40, the fictional animation Animal Hustling, the fusions in video game images such as Emotional Spa and the reimagining of classic rap formats such as cypher. Off the internet, interest in the project has been growing at festivals and cultural events. The journalist Silvia Cruz Lapeña has described it as “the programme for the generation that doesn’t watch telly”. It is a bid for plural, diverse and politicised TV.
The Boiler Room x Ballantine’s True Music project is a long-time partnership connected by a common interest in music, the different places it comes from and the communities behind it. Over the past five years Boiler Room and Ballantine’s have thrown parties in more than 28 cities, and have worked with more than 220 artists across the globe, documenting local music stories along the way. In 2019 Boiler Room x Ballantine’s True Music announced it will champion True Music artists, fans and crews by facilitating positive change in music communities around the world, giving a platform to those in the scenes, supporting initiatives and of course hosting great events with great drinks.
True Music Studios Granada
We landed in Granada for a five-day edition of Boiler Room x Ballantine’s True Music Studios. The current centre of gravity for the new blend of Spanish popular music – where traditional music culture meets electronic sounds!Watch The Sets
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