Seville’s legendary flamenco scene
Seville is a perfect place to see flamenco in the land of its genesis. (Chris van Hove)
Flamenco is in Seville’s blood.
Infusing Spanish folklore with sounds from the Levant, North Africa and India, flamenco music was popularised in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries in western Andalucía. One of its hotbeds was Seville’s working class district of Triana, a bastion of Andalucía’s Roma people who sang evocatively about their lives and struggles in solemn but sensuous laments.
During the music’s Golden Age, from the 1860s to the 1910s, Seville spawned some of Spain’s finest performers. And with Unesco listing flamenco as an Intangible Cultural Heritage (culturally important traditions, practices, and rituals) in 2010, the city continues to stand at the vanguard of the vital and precious art.
Along with the nearby cities of Jerez and Cádiz, Seville is a perfect place to see flamenco in the land of its genesis. But, with an abundance of venues, finding the right show can be a tricky business for the uninitiated.
Tablaos are flamenco’s biggest venues, offering spectacular, highly choreographed extravaganzas of music and dance in specific locales where drinks and sometimes dinner is served. While the professionalism and musicianship in these places are of a high standard, tablaos often get an eye-roll from flamenco purists who claim they lack the crucial elements that make flamenco unique -- namely, spontaneity, grit, passion and perhaps, the odd fluffed note.
Tablaos got a particularly bad rap in the 1960s and ‘70s when watered-down operatic shows were lambasted for being insipid and decadent. More recently, however, the performances have started to reconnect with flamenco’s roots by focusing less on commercial songs and more on earthy Roma-derived music, and are particularly popular with tourists looking for a night of theatrical entertainment with a recognizable Andalucían flavour.
Seville is home to approximately half a dozen tablaos, most of which charge between 30 to 40 euros for entry (or up to 70 euros if you book dinner). The largest is the massive 400-seat Palacio Andaluz, housed in a converted warehouse on the edge of the city centre. A better and more personable deal can be found at the smaller 110-seat capacity Tablao El Arenal, corralled in a beautiful colonial building near the city’s famous bullring, the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, where the performers dance with a little more fire in their bellies.
More authentic and intimate are the performances that take place in Seville’s cultural institutions. The Casa de la Memoria de Al-Andalus (the House of Al-Andalus Memories) encased in a former Sephardic Jewish mansion in the higgledy-piggledy Santa Cruz quarter, has garnered an excellent reputation in recent years for its heavy Baroque atmosphere and skilful musicians who are not afraid to improvise. Nightly shows, which kick off at 9 pm, take place in a glorious 18th-century patio full of eerie shadows and cascading greenery, and are complemented by hauntingly melancholic music. Tickets cost a bargain 15 euros but are popular, so book in advance.
Seville’s newest live venue is the Museo del Baile Flamenco, a bona fide flamenco museum set up by the celebrated Seville dancer, Cristina Hoyos in 2010. It is filled with interactive exhibits explaining the art’s history and development, and after the exhibits close at 7 pm, the central courtyard is given over to talented flamenco artists who strum and strut their way through a performance of spiralling drama. Since the museum is a favourite hangout for Seville’s arty types, the audience is often packed with enthusiastic aficionados who shout encouraging “óles” from the sidelines, willing the show to a soulful climax.
Numerous bars in Seville host flamenco on a regular basis and while the music and dancing in these places can be hit or miss, entry is free as long as you buy a drink. La Carbonería (Calle Levies 18; 954-21-44-60), in an old coal storage warehouse on the edge of the Santa Cruz neighbourhood, is a rambunctious bar in its own right, but revs up a notch on Thursday nights when stalwart flamenco performers take over the stage.