This past weekend marked the 5th year of the Kultrún World Music Festival, KW’s biggest outdoor dance party. It is admirable to see how Isabel Cisterna, founder of the Kultrún, manages to organize an event of this size. She and her family members were all hard at work, delegating volunteers (including Julian) and answering queries for attendees. Family members also included her toddler son, who was clearly and unabashedly feeling the music.
At last year’s Kultrún we got to watch our friends from Ventanas play flamenco, Mediterranean music, and ancient ballads. This year, our attendance was that much more strategic. Isabel had told us about a Spanish band—Aurora—that she brought on board. She kindly coordinated their palmas (flamenco clapping) workshop at a time we could be sure to attend, so that we could meet the band and promote our upcoming festival. What a gal she is!
The guys in the band were a pleasure to meet and listen to. Max Villavecchia and Joan Carles Marí were excellent workshop leaders, contextualizing flamenco’s roots and the inspiration behind their work. It was exciting to see visiting flamencos dialogue with their Canadian audience and share with them, not only their music, but also their knowledge of its history and of (world) music, more broadly.
An evening with SHAD
After Aurora’s workshop we set-off to another workshop, but this time as workshop leaders. SHAD is an organization that provides an enrichment program for youth, allowing them to take workshops in a vast array of disciplines, i.e., in science, math, technology, and also in world music and dance. This is the third year that SHAD Waterloo has invited us to lead a flamenco workshop, and it is one of the summer events we look forward to each year. The students are always bright, open to a new experience, and engaged; not to mention brand new to flamenco. In this context, I feel in a position of power because I have knowledge about and experience in an artform that the audience has yet to learn. I feel confident in guiding them in the fundamentals of flamenco, explaining what it is and where it comes from, and teaching them an upbeat sequence that is suitable for first-time flamenco dancers. Upon reflecting on the series of events of this past weekend, I realized how this sense of power and confidence can so easily be shifted, right beneath our feet, depending on who enters into our environment and what expectations we place on ourselves.
Our workshop with SHAD was well-received. Julian even gave a couple of musical keeners an impromptu lesson on flamenco theory and technique after the official workshop ended. It was a pleasant surprise to see two young Canadians so eager to learn more about flamenco music-making. The next morning, I picked up dancer, Pol Jiménez, and singer, Pere Martínez, of Aurora. The day before, I had requested back-to-back private lessons in each discipline. I had asked each artist if I could show them some of my material and if Pol could provide me with additional footwork and if Pere could help guide me in improving my vocal sound production. The night before the workshop, I barely slept a wink. The thoughts that were plaguing me were, ‘What will they think of my chops?’ ‘Will I embarrass myself?’ ‘Will they find my skills-set workable but improvable? That would be the ideal.’ ‘How much can I really learn in 1.5 hours?’ ‘Is it worth investing in private classes as opposed to group classes’? Apart from these nervous thoughts, I was also exhilarated at the possibility of growth, opportunity, expanding our network, and witnessing something exciting right in our very own space. In the end, I got exactly what my heart desired. I was provided with intricate but feasible footwork and tips on how to achieve better sound (to help get rid of the Kermit the Frog quality about my flamenco singing). I got the one-on-one attention only available through a private class; and more than that, I got to witness breathtaking singing right next to me, I got to take-in improvised, delicate, and detailed footwork right before my very eyes, and I got to experience an impromptu bulerías jam between Julian and the guys. Julian has trained with some pretty top-notch flamenco artists that I can’t hold a flame to, so I am always grateful when he has the opportunity to play with those who can play to and above his level, bringing his potential up, and reigniting that excitement that drew him to flamenco in the first place.
The set that Aurora played later that evening was exceptional. It was a spectacular hybrid of flamenco meets jazz meets rock. Pere consistently sounded like an authentic flamenco singer but had these glorious moments when his empathic wailing was akin to that of Maynard James Keenan’s. My worlds collided in a magnificent way. All the band members delivered something unique and special. The audience loved Pol’s dancing, and I was glad when his fellow band members supported him with palmas, giving his footwork skills the opportunity to stand out and shine. Max whipped out some sweet solos on the keys that were jazzy and reminiscent of psychedelic rock. Joan rocked out of that kit like he was ready for a metal festival, and Javier Garrabella is an absolute monster on the bass (I would know, I used to play). Much to my surprise, although I probably I should have expected it, the pianist and drummer also had some slick flamenco moves that I got to see as they were doing some post-show, backstage jamming. I’ll be frank and say that I am disappointed in myself for not jumping in when invited to do so. I admit I let my own demons of shyness and lack of self-confidence get in the way; but I am happy that I got to sing with them all they way from Victoria Park to Albert and Weber, close to the hotel where I dropped them off. I might have messed up some lyrics along the way, as I often do when I realize people are actually listening to me, but at least I took the risk and put myself out there as a flamenco practitioner playing along with those in the major league.