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
Cultural Heritage (culturally important traditions, practices, and rituals)
in 2010, the city continues to stand at the vanguard of the vital and precious
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
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
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
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.
Over in the flamenco crucible of the Triana neighbourhood, those in the
know queue up at midnight outside the unmarked Bar Anselma (Calle Pagés del
Corro 49; 954-21-28-89) to be ushered into the beautifully tiled interior by
the formidable Anselma, a notable flamenco dancer who acts as both ringmaster
and bouncer. The performance, when it finally kicks off, is akin to a mad
jamming session with cacophonous contributions from the cheek-to-jowl audience
and spontaneous outbreaks of dancing for those who can clear enough room to
swing their elbows. It is not always note-perfect, but it is riotous fun.
By far the best flamenco gigs in Seville are in its peñas, small private clubs conceived and maintained by
aficionados dedicated to preserving the art. Tourist offices do not direct
visitors towards these places primarily because they rarely offer a regular
schedule of shows, but if you are lucky enough to stumble upon one, you will be
experiencing flamenco at its unadulterated best – a raw, uncompromising,
wonderfully uplifting spectacle where fervent artists uncover a piece of their
soul in every stanza. To find a pulsating peña on any given night, you will
have to rely on word-of-mouth, posters taped onto lampposts, or, even better,
your own ears – simply wander Seville’s streets and let the music lure you in.