Female Flamenco Guitarists

Recently I am seeing attention in the media to female flamenco guitarists and I feel that I want to offer a few of my own ideas on the subject of women playing flamenco guitar.

My first reaction is why are people talking about females who play flamenco guitar as though this were a separate issue to flamenco guitar players in general.

Before I discuss my own ideas here is a list of female flamenco guitarists for anyone who would like to do some research.

Antonia Jiménez

Laura Gonzalez

Celia Morales

Davinia Ballesteros

Belen Novelli

Noa Drezner

I have absolutely no interest in what size or shape or anything else a flamenco guitarist is. My joy is in listening to the music that they play but in this world, it seems that not everyone feels the same way.

I saw an article in Spanish media fairly recently in which a female flamenco guitarist said that she kind of perceives that there are those who feel that it is not her place to be playing flamenco guitar; that it is a man’s world and that men should play flamenco guitar.

Now, I am hoping that this is just some misunderstanding, something the journalist doing the interview misunderstood or some kind of personal perception not based on reality.

I say this because back in Spain I do not know any people men or women who would dream of suggesting such a frankly absurd concept.

Spain and Spanish attitudes have changed and matured and evolved massively. One would have to seek out a very elderly individual living isolated in a very remote area to hear any such idea.

More than a 100 years ago when flamenco started apparently it was not uncommon for people in general and men in particular to say that women could not sing flamenco as well as men because it was thought that the typical female voice was not suited to the profound emotional expression necessary for the singing of the deeply tragic songs known as “cante jondo”.

Women proved repeatedly that this was not the case and the idea of man dominance of flamenco singing and of flamenco in general has vanished.

As a side comment anyone who imagines that bullfighting is popular with most Spanish people is reading the wrong sources of information.

Coming back to flamenco guitar playing I am quite sure that just about everyone in Spain cannot see any advantage to playing flamenco guitar in being  a man.

Special emotions that women don’t have? Is this a joke?!

Physical strength? Yes but , not but.

There are two observations here.

As much as I may become unpopular with certain very politically correct people I think that men seem to usually develop some kind of upper body strength, have bigger hands and a stronger grip that most women.

I am refering to people men or women who do not play any particular kind of sport that develops these kinds of characteristics.

If women train then they can be as strong or stronger than men and some are stronger simply genetically. But by and large men seem to get this  physical muscle thing which I think I read somewhere is partly due to the presence of testosterone.

As you can see I don’t pay lip service to political correctness.

So the question is how important is physical strength for playing flamenco guitar and how is this relevant to female flamenco guitarists.

My thoughts are that if we are using a lot of power in our hands when playing we might be doing something wrong.

There are times when accompanying flamenco dance that we really have to produce a very powerful “rajeo” also known as “rasgueo” or “rasgueado” but except in these very special cases I don’t think that strength is a pre- requisite for flamenco guitar playing.

All the women guitarists I have met have had an abundance of strength in their hands and I have seen them produce exceptionally powerful playing.

So where I am going with all of this is: why do we need to discuss female flamenco guitarists at all? Is this helpful to gender equality?

I am not sure.

I think what matters is people and their right to live the lives they want and develop the careers they want and I think I would be happier seeing a few less articles and a few more flamenco guitarists of any gender or anything else performing more often.

 

 

Flamenco Guitarist accompanies Flamenco Dancer

I work with flamenco dancers a great deal and provide here some observations on the skill of accompanying flamenco dance.

The way flamenco dancers work is very different to almost all other forms of dance. The flamenco dancer does not dance to a piece of music and that must sound quite strange to anyone who is not familiar with how flamenco performances are put together.

In just about every other kind of dance that I am aware of the dancers select a piece of music that they like and then go about building a choreography around that piece of music.

In flamenco the opposite is the case.

The flamenco dancer is boss so to speak and the flamenco guitarist is there to accompany the dancer.

In practice what this means is that the flamenco dancer wants to feel free to improvise and make changes to the dance as they go along. The guitarist is watching very carefully and in my case also listening very carefully. This is because the flamenco footwork is an essential element of this kind of dance and as such the guitarist will want to play rhythms in accordance with the dancer’s footwork.

That absolutely does not mean to say that the flamenco guitarist will always produce exactly the same rhythmical sections that the dancer is producing. The dancer may often want to produce a counter rhythm and as such will want the guitarist to maintain the straight rhythm precisely so that the counter rhythm can be heard.

Likewise flamenco dancers tend to produce very complex patterns with their feet and they often prefer the guitarist to keep things simple which effectively gives them a kind of security on which to build their intricate footwork.

Flamenco dancers also want to feel free to either develop a section or to abbreviate their dance according to their mood: sometimes they feel great with a particular section of the dance and they want to extend, vary and build that section.

In this case the guitarist has the responsibility to support the dancers creative spirit and as the same time the opportunity to perhaps play a new chord sequence or to improvise some new cadence in the hope of both helping and inspiring the dancer.

Of course if it goes the other way and the dance wishes cut things short you have to be very attentive and to almost try to predict that and the make the guitar music stop when the dance stops.

This is not at all easy and generally works better when two people know each other well and have worked successfully together on a number of occasions.

It is very rare for a dancer to change the order of the sections of the dance without prior discussion because there is no way that a guitarist can possibly guess what is going to happen next.

What might happen is that if there is also a singer participating in the performance and the dancer feels very inspired by the singer they may want to dance another verse (letra) before progressing on to the footwork section (escobilla) which is not sung.

In this situation the guitarist can understand from the body posture that the dancer is not going to progress as planned to the footwork and can consequently play the chord sequence that is correct for the verse. The singer will also realise what is going on and this can be a very happy experience: a group of three people understanding each other and happy to work together to provide a new and exciting artistic expression.

For all these reasons a flamenco dancer does really need the accompaniment of a flamenco guitarist and although clients who have to organise an event at a venue such as a restaurant or hotel will quite rightly look for ways to save on expenses by perhaps asking the dancer to dance to a recording they risk ending up with much the same as frozen food which has never really been heated up.

A professional flamenco dancer accompanied by a professional flamenco guitarist and going to give not only a very enjoyable performance for all those present but are going to compliment the venue’s own high standards.

 

Guitar for a Funeral

Playing the guitar for a funeral is a very particular and specific skill and the guitarist needs to be very aware of what is needed and able to respond to the client’s needs.

Sometimes the family of the deceased feel that it would be appropriate to have music at certain moments during the funeral service.

If they have chosen guitar this will be because guitar music has been important to the deceased in one way or another. They may have been a guitarist themselves, or simply enjoyed guitar music or perhaps the sound of the guitar has a specific reference in the hearts of the family.

It is then important to discuss the type of music with the client. It is not just a matter of selecting repertoire although certainly there may be certain pieces that they would like to be heard. It is also important to talk about the moods for each piece. Although a funeral makes us immediately think of a sorrowful mood there is rather more to it than that.

Some people will want a restful mood while other people may need something a little stronger and perhaps uplifting at a given moment.

In my case I am sometimes asked to accompany a reading with guitar music. In this case it is helpful to meet with the person who will recite the text so that I can understand their pace and flow as well as the elements in the text that they want to emphasize.

Very often I will play music as the mourners arrive and again as they leave and again these are chosen carefully to provide the correct background atmosphere.

A funeral is a time of tears and lament and the readings are often most touching. Additionally I find that I become aware of and influenced by the sadness around me and it is at this point that it is most important to remember that we the musicians are providing a service to the mourners and that the purpose of our work is to be helpful to them.

As such composure is required.

I will chose music that will be especially lovely as well as the right choice for each funeral and naturally the situation will be moving for the guitarist as well but being professional we understand decorum and how to behave appropriately.

On this note we the hired guitarist must always be impeccably dressed and I always ask if there is any particular colour that they prefer or that they wish to not have. At one funeral it was very clear that black was not wanted and that this was in respect of the deceased’s wishes.

Acoustics in churches often means that amplification is not needed but if it is I arrive very early to set up in advance of the start of the funeral and not until the last person has left do I begin to put the guitar away and collect my things together.

The early planning with the family member who officiates the service as well as a member of the clergy where this is the case should mean that my guitar playing should go smoothly but I am always very attentive to what is happening and ready to make changes should they be needed.

Finally, when it is the right time I leave quietly and discretely.

 

 

Flamenco Guitar Strings Opinions

In response to so many requests that I receive to recommend a make of flamenco guitar strings I offer some guidance below:

 

First everything I write here is my own personal opinion and the result of my own personal experiences.

There are no absolute truths and I advise each guitarist to try out all the available strings and try to decide which strings suit them, their own particular playing style and their guitar best.

At present I am using Luthier set 30 in the blue package and D’Addario Pro Arte set EJ 45 normal tension; in both cases silver wound basses and standard trebles.

Before going on to all the other guitar strings that I have used I would like to discuss these two in a little detail.

Luthier set 30 Classical Guitar strings:

Pros:

Endless life: Make sure you check and change them when needed because they will continue to sound and feel very good almost for ever. I run a finger nail under the bass strings and if I feel the string is beginning to break up at the frets it might be time to think about changing. I do the same for the treble strings but these have less obvious wear to the touch. If the treble strings are beginning to feel a little too inflexible this might also mean the tone is not quite as lovely as it was when they were first put on the guitar, although time on guitar does not seem to dull their brightness at all.

Feel on the fingers: For me these stings are perfect in terms of string tension. They are neither too stiff nor too floppy. The last thing you want is a string that you have to do battle with or conversely a string that seems to not stay in its place. Although of course as guitarists know this has a lot to do with the guitar itself and I have absolutely fabulous guitars but that is a subject for another blog post.

I find these Luthier strings are exactly where I want them and they help all techniques.

Tone: Very bright, very flamenco, somewhat percussive.

They are labelled as classical guitar strings and I do hope that they work well for classical guitarists. Their tone is very flamenco and I find that these strings can help to brighten up some of the entry level guitars that people usually play when they are starting off.

Affecting the inherent tone of the guitar: They do not colour the tone of the guitar. I mean to say that they do not change the way the guitar sounds; they just bring that sound out, helping volume and sustain.

Cons: Expensive: I am finding these strings somewhat more expensive than say some others but as indicated above one changes then much more seldom and they sound and feel great.

Luthier Sets 20 and 50.

I have tried both of these sets but they did not work for me and my guitars. I found the 20 to be too soft and the 50 to be too hard and in the case of the latter the sound was much more rounded, less percussive, less flamenco.

D’Addario EJ45 Normal Tension Classical Guitar Strings:

Pros:

Tone: Rich and deep and satisfying, especially good for serious ‘cante jondo palos’. Very good sustain and warmth.

Feel on fingers: Very comfortable, a little thicker than the Luthier above, but never lumpy.

Affecting the inherent tone of the guitar: They do not do this at all. They are absolutely neutral and this is exactly what I want.

Price: Consistently very reasonable priced. I hope that the manufacturers will not read this and then increase the price.

Cons: These strings last well but not as long as the aforementioned brand. This is especially the case with the basses and I think it is possible or has been possible to buy sets with the three extra basses. Having said this, I think the frequent changing of strings is more associated with giving concerts where of course we need our to guitar to sound at its absolute best.

Other D’Addario Guitar Strings

I won’t list them all here. I think I have tried every string in just about every string tension that they have ever produced as they came out.

They were all good, all slightly different although I am aware that some guitarist think that the same string can be provided in different sets with different identities. For example, you might get the same treble strings across different set names but with the different basses or perhaps vice versa.

The feel and tone can be different to the standard

It was fun to try them all out and I would advise anyone to try them, give it a go and see what works for you.

Savarez Classical Guitar Strings

This is where I started when I was still a child and got my first guitar.

Savarez were the standard and one was almost always  recommended to use Carta Roja, Red Card. That is how we called them. We identified them by the colour of the packaging. Red was kind of firm but not too hard but you could get harder by going for Yellow Card.

In those days it was quite typical to combine either different Savarez tensions or Savarez basses with La Bella trebles. In theory, the idea was that the Savarez made treble strings using a system called rectified nylon which perhaps felt just a tiny bit rough or shall we say not absolutely smooth to  the touch.

Personally I loved that feel but the idea around was that La Bella was smoother and gave a more flamenco tone. Perhaps the guitarists of the day were right but I suspect that a good few of them loved the Black or Red trebles that you could readily get from La Bella.

These black and red strings looked cool and of course looked “muy flamenco”!

I always loved Savarez the moment I put them on. They had a kind of well, very Spanish tone, they made ligado very easy, they were both bright and warm. But they did not last very long at all. I found that the basses especially lost their brightness and strength quite quickly.

I have tried most of the other strings that Savarez have produced and liked them all but found pretty much the same characteristics as described above.

Perhaps they are different nowadays. When I get time I may well try them again and see if they have been modified or developed.

Spanish Classical Guitar for Private Party

I played  a recital of Spanish Classical Guitar pieces for a private party.

Sometimes I realise what a lovely profession it is to play guitar for people.

My real speciality is playing Spanish flamenco guitar but on this occasion the client requested some more gentle classical guitar pieces.

This came about because she had seen me play at another event where I played primarily flamenco with some Spanish classical pieces. She liked the  music and invited me to play for a private birthday party for her father who is also a classical guitarist.

The first thing that pleased me was that I was approached after playing flamenco.  You see, often there is an expectation that flamenco is all about being loud and brash and certainly if people want loud and fast I can provide that.

But flamenco is really about passionate emotions and classical guitar and flamenco guitar music are not each other’s adversaries; rather they are cousins seeking the same emotional expression but using what we can perhaps call their own particular musical language and style.

Well, I learnt several pieces for the party at the host’s request and did my best with these new additions to my repertoire.

Something that was especially enjoyable was chatting to the gentleman celebrating his birthday.

We had both been in the same places at about the same time and could share memories.

He had been around the classical guitar environment when I was teaching at the Spanish Guitar Centre in Leicester Square. Just up Charing Cross Road there are a number of guitar shops mainly in a road called Denmark Street but which I think was also known as Tin Pan Alley.

We also remembered the same guitarists who were famous and respected at that time and some of the popular pieces that guitarists tended to play. Some of those I could play.

Unfortunately, I had another engagement that evening and so could not outstay my welcome.

It was very good to play some classical guitar pieces for this party and I will remember the occasion with pleasure.

 

Hire a Spanish Flamenco Dancer

Hire a Spanish Flamenco Dancer for any Spanish themed event.

I often receive enquiries from people who want to know if I can bring a Flamenco Dancer with me.

The answer is absolutely yes and I have thought that perhaps a helpful way to supply the relevant information in in question answer form based upon the enquiries that I receive.

Are your flamenco dancers professional?

Yes, all of my flamenco dancers are professionally trained in Spain.

Are all your dancers Spanish?

Usually yes, but I also work with dancers from South American countries who have not only trained in their country of origin but have also lived, trained and performed flamenco dance in Spain.

What is the fee for a flamenco dancer?

Between 100.00 and 500.00 UK Pounds depending on the length of their performance, the  distance needed to travel and any overnight accommodation expenses.

Will you accompany them with flamenco guitar playing?

Yes, this is vital for the following reason:

Although my dancers do have a pre- prepared choreography they also like to have the freedom to develop their dances on the spur of the moment. In this situation they no longer dance to my music.

It is a case of me following them. I have to try to anticipate what they are going to do next and provide the correct music for each section of their flamenco dance.

Incidentally this is the authentic original way of performing flamenco.

For more information on my work please see: Hire Book a Spanish Flamenco Guitarist.

What kind of floor space do flamenco dancers need?

Flamenco dancers need wooden floors so that you can hear the flamenco footwork.  They can adapt their choreographies to a small space but the larger the dance space that is available the better.

Will your flamenco dancers have beautiful flamenco costumes?

Yes, they always have several genuine flamenco costumes from Spain and they like to change several times so that their costume suits the mood of each dance.

Will there only be one flamenco dance after another?

No. This could be too much of the same thing for your audience.

Normally the format is a guitar solo to get the audience in the mood, followed by a flamenco dance and then perhaps a duet of castanets and guitar. Then further developments of this theme.

This seems to work very well but we would need to discuss with you to make sure it fits with your plans for your event.

Do you both need a changing room?

That would be great but we can work with whatever is available. It is more important that the dancer should have  a changing space.

Hire book a Spanish Flamenco Guitarist

Hire a Flamenco Guitarist for weddings, corporate events, Spanish themed events, private parties, restaurants and celebrations.

If you would like to book a flamenco guitarist to play for your event here is all the information in question and answer form:

 

How do we contact you to hire you for our event?

Phone me or e mail me from my contact page.

What is your fee?

Between £100.00 and £500.00 depending on playing time and distance.

What sort of events do you play for?

I play for all and any events where clients feel that Spanish Flamenco and Classical Guitar would be appropriate. These include but not exclusively: weddings, golf clubs, Spanish restaurants, any restaurant with a Spanish theme such as a paella or tapas afternoon or night, private parties, wine tasting events, cultural events, Spanish funerals where the deceased was typically Spanish and loved Spanish music, baptisms and events welcoming babies into the world.

How long will you play for?

As long as you need. We can discuss this.

Do you play only Flamenco Guitar Music?

No, I play Flamenco Guitar Music and Spanish Classical Guitar music and a very few Latin pieces?

Can we hear you? Do you have any videos of your playing?

Yes, there are sound clips of my flamenco guitar playing throughout this website and videos on the video page.

Can you also bring a Flamenco Dancer to our event?

Yes, please view the information Hire a Spanish Flamenco Dancer and  the Flamenco Dancer page for more information.

Do you have genuine good reviews from happy clients?

Yes, these can be read on my testimonials page.

Can you provide a professional contract?

Yes, as a member of the Musicians’ Union I can provide a Musicians’ Union contract but it is not at all a requirement.

Our e mails constitute an agreement.

Do you have Public Liability Insurance?

Yes, as a member of the Musicians’ Union I have Public Liability Insurance but in almost all cases the venue will prefer their own insurance.

 

 

 

Spanish Event Flamenco Dancer and Guitarist

I was booked through and agency together with a flamenco dancer to provide an evening of flamenco dancing and guitar playing for a private party for one of their clients.

In fact it turned out that the party was not so much a Spanish themed event as in fact a Spanish party; that is to say an event with a great many Spanish people.

When Spanish people hire me for an event this is usually very good news and this occasion was no exception.

It does not follow that just because people are Spanish that they will necessarily know about Spanish culture and flamenco music and dance in particular but when they hire performers to provide this kind of Spanish Flamenco performance it does often mean that they are very familiar with flamenco.

Our hosts and their guests for the evening were fabulously appreciative of the flamenco dances, guitar solos and duets of guitar and castanets. It is important to point out that the non Spanish people were absolutely wonderful, they genuinely respected and enjoyed the guitar and dance and we are delighted to have had the opportunity to have performed for all the people present on that wonderful evening.

Of course people applauded as audiences do but they also approached us with interesting questions and comments on our work in addition to requesting certain Spanish flamenco pieces that they knew and loved.

It is always great to be able to play the requests that people have and if I know in advance sometimes I can learn a specific composition if it is not already in my repertoire.

The flamenco dancer who worked with me on this event and indeed who is often my first choice was superlative. She felt inspired by the atmosphere and she danced so well. I will add photos but wish I also had a short video clip of her dancing on that evening. On another occasion, I will try to make sure that I get a recording of some of the performance.

For now we have a very happy memory of being hired to perform flamenco for this Spanish event and hope that the memory is shared by those people present.

Flamenco Show Stroke Victim Support Kilpin East Yorkshire

Together with my flamenco dancer Rocio I provided a performance of Flamenco Dance and Guitar Solos.

This event was organised partly to raise funds for Stroke Victim Support with specific reference to the East Riding of Yorkshire.

However it was also evident that the organisers had real knowledge about Spain, Spanish history and culture and spoke Spanish. They produced a very complete programme full of interesting facts about Spain; some serious and some amusing.

A large wooden floor area has been prepared for us with easy access to electric sockets which made setting up quick and easy.

We had been allocated two very good rooms to get changed so that aspect of our performance was also very comfortable and it meant that Rocio could get changed several times into her absolutely beautiful flamenco costumes.

Rocio was very popular and I noticed a lot of filming and photography which we were both very happy about and I hope to be able to add some of those to this blog at a later date.

Rocio was particularly impressive in her footwork or zapateado in the dances of Farruca and Fandangos and elegant in her arms or braceo in Soleares and Alegrias where she also produced some very complex zapateado patterns.

Her delicate Guajira with fan and lovely light coloured costume was especially well received.

In a situation like this one where there is very clearly a party atmosphere you do not anticipate that the audience will pay a lot of attention to the guitar solos and you accept that these will be background music while people eat and chat.

I was therefore so very happy when I noticed a number of people watching my compositions carefully, some filming and very genuine applause at the end of each piece. I tried to vary between the more gentle slower pieces and the more showy impressive pieces.

Rocio joined me for duets of guitar and castanets and of course people find this combination quite intriguing.

In addition to our large changing rooms the organisers had provided us with a very comfortable beautifully decorated rest area with a table of food for us for our intervals.

The night before we had performed in Hertfordshire and driven up to Yorkshire where a special Hotel arrangement awaited us.

All of this careful planning and concern for our comfort meant that we were able to give out full attention to our work and try to give the best performance we could.

We both have a very lovely memory of our time at Kilpin, East Yorkshire.

 

 

 

 

Paso Fino Horse Flamenco Dancing and Guitar Norton Heath Equestrian Centre

I provided a performance of Flamenco Dance, Castanets and Guitar for the presentation of the Paso Fino horse at the Norton Heath Equestrian Centre.

At first we were both a little scared of working in close proximity to horses but as we got involved it became one of the most delightful performances that we have given.

The Paso Fino horse is special and I guess you could say that about all breeds of horse each in their own way.

The Paso Fino is a small horse with a gentle nature and walks with small steps, hence the name Paso Fino or Fine Step. The horse riders took their Fino horses along a passage of wood flooring and this meant that we could hear the horses little steps like a percussive instrument.

We understood then why the horse owners wanted to have flamenco dancing at the presentation.

What was different was that we did not play for a dinner after the event but instead were right in the enclosure on the sand.

The horse made its steps down the wooden passage and then my dancer Rocio imitated or answered the steps with her own footwork on her wooden boards. What impresses me a great deal about Rocio is the way that she becomes absolutely involved with the situation. We had very little time to rehearse and yet she created perfect percussive footwork responses to the sound of the Paso Fino.

But as her own spontaneous creation she did something that I found quite lovely: once the horse has completed its passage the rider takes in round to start again but in contrast everything is most quiet and during these moments Rocio created a delicate display with her large Spanish dance shawl or Manton as we call it. I think all present felt that she had perfectly understood the atmosphere and was in tune with the rider and the horse.

In each passage the horse seemed to sound a little different especially because of the variety of steps and stops and starts which again Rocio answered perfectly.

There were other moments when I played a beautiful tremolo study to accompany a non percussive display and of course there was also time for some of our castanet and guitar duets and some normal flamenco dances.

As I said at the beginning at first we were a little apprehensive but we needn’t have been.

At one point a rider brought out a much bigger horse and rode it somewhat faster around the enclosure explaining the techniques to the audience. This rider brought his horse much closer to us and very close to my amplifier and yet is was absolutely clear that he had absolute control and that the horse was going exactly where he wanted in the way he wanted.

Not being a professional writer, it is difficult to convey here the passion and beauty of that event. We came away with the feeling that we would love to work with the Paso Fino horse and riders again at another opportunity.

I will add one or two photos of Rocio at that event. They are not very well taken but are really just as a memory for us.

Flamenco Dancer Paso Fino Horse

 

Beautiful Dancer Beautiful Paso Fino