Travelogue: Dancing to the Gypsy Guitar in GRANADA - By Rashmi Gowda (WBRi Online Magazine)

Granada was indeed a revelation, and we were really glad we had come. You may visit a place and enjoy its architectural beauty and history, but mixing with the people always makes for the best experiences and memories.



by Rashmi Gowda

Reshmi GowdaEditor's note: Rashmi Gowda works for a medical device company in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. She grew up in South India, and moved to the US to pursue her MBA. She has been writing short stories, poems and travelogues for her blog and also worked as co-editor for her school's weekly magazine. She can be reached at rashmi.gowda [at] gmail [dot] com.

Granada, May 4, 2011: Aric, the walking tour guide pointed us to La Buleria, if we wanted to listen to flamenco music. The bar was owned by a flamenco legend’s family (Paco de Lucia’s nephew’s family, but I could be wrong), and although there were no scheduled performances, all flamenco artists congregated there after their performances elsewhere, and just jammed. Traditionally, this is how flamenco evolved, with people congregating in café cantentes ortablaos, not with shows or set pieces as it is showcased now. He suggested we go around 1 AM. We got there around 12, a bit too early, there was hardly anyone. The bar itself stocked only hard liquor, and there was a cave like place inside, where about 15 chairs were set in a circle with the backs to the wall. The walls were white, with a very uneven surface, and there were pictures of flamenco artists on the wall. The sound system was playing Camarón de la Isla. I asked if they could put on Orobroy by Dorantes, a song I hadn’t heard since I got to Spain, and one that I missed. The dark haired guy at the bar was dressed entirely in black and said he didn’t have the song. All communication was in Spanish and given my limited grasp of the language, involved a lot of sign language as well. The drinks were a bit too strong for our liking. The martinis that Neeto and Attu ordered were composed largely of vermouth, and a little bit of gin that had to be asked for. My vodka was unwatered down as well, as we realized much later than I could have asked for lime with it.

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There was a couple that was already sitting when we arrived. A man in a blue shirt, with hair tied into a pony tail, and a beautiful woman with a camera in hand. One of the men at the bar brought in his guitar, and played us a song strumming along with the guitar and singing in a deep throated voice. After he was done Neeto asked if we could record a song with our cameras, and were told we could, only for a bit. I went to get Neeto a beer.

Una cerveza, I asked the man who had just played for us. He got me the beer, while I asked how much it was and paid the dos euros, he pointed to my skin color and asked if I was from India. I smiled and said Si. He said he was Gitano, the gypsies who originated from India and traveled through the Arab lands to reach Europe. He was short, and older than the other man at the bar. I tried telling him he played really well. I added I was learning flamenco dancing, sevillanas to be precise, this seemed to please him. We couldn’t continue the conversation anymore with our limited mode of communication, so I went back to my seat. After a while, a few more people had ventured in, and he came back to play some more. The music system was switched off, so I leaned over to ask him if it was indeed Camarón de la isla that had been playing all this while. He confirmed it was, and the man in the pony tail took the square box that was offered to him, to accompany the guitar with drum beats. His female friend switched on the camera to record the both of them and all through the night, looked at him with such an expression of love and pride on her face, I won’t even try to describe it. The older man started singing Camaron, and everyone listened, raptured. The pony tailed man sang the next song, and his smooth voice was incredible as well, and such a contrast to the rough edged voice of the older man. Another older man at the door, saw me keeping the beat with my hands, and pointed to the middle of the circle and said I had to dance. I tried refusing, because I really am terrible at flamenco dancing being a mere beginner. My protests were brushed away, so I reminded the guitarist that I only knew sevillanas, preferably the first copla, so he asked the woman to dance a sevillana with me. The sevillana began and ended much before I realized it, while the onlookers clapped the end of it, and Neeto and Attu seemed to think I had done well. The others from the walking tour who had joined by then were also glad that we would seem less touristy now that someone amongst the group had danced with the gitanos. We had more songs from the pony-tailed man and the guitarist, and I recognized some other Camarón songs as well, not knowing the names of the songs but having heard enough Camarón in the recent past to know when some of his songs were played.

The older guitarist then said mi familia (his family) had arrived at the bar, which also comprised of a young girl about 8 years old, but no one cared that she was in a bar, and quite awake at 1 AM. There were a lot more people by now, some smoking hookah near the entrance, some dancing in front of the bar and others in the cave-like section, like us, listening to the music being played. The dance was a bit more fluent than the flamenco I have learnt and seen so far, presumably because the gypsies dance differently than what is taught in Spanish flamenco schools, with the hand and leg movements being less precise and hip movement not frowned upon.

There were some songs that were made up by the ponytailed man, at least it seemed that way because he seemed to be either substituting lyrics of a song or making them up entirely as he went along, and his audience was in splits. Never have I wished as much as I did that day, that I knew Spanish. The women in the guitarist’s family danced in the circle, all of them having a great time. The little girl bullied me into dancing once more, and I tried making a deal with her that if I did she would dance with me. She signed that she would dance after I did, but completely reneged on our deal!

After some more music, we left the place around 2 AM, with the Australians we had met on the walking tour. As I stepped out of the bar after having said bye to all the gitanos, the older man (not the guitarist) who had initially pointed me to dance gave me a double thumbs up.

Granada was indeed a revelation, and we were really glad we had come. You may visit a place and enjoy its architectural beauty and history, but mixing with the people always makes for the best experiences and memories.

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