And now for something completely different...
My ancestry and heritage is not Latin but English and Irish and German, yet if I had a choice of cultures to belong to, I would be far more inclined to Latin/Hispano/Chicano than English, Irish, or German. I've always attributed this to the fact that I spent much of my childhood in mixed neighborhoods in Southern and Central Coast California, where many of my neighbors and friends were Mexicans and Mexican-American, and where Spanish and Mexican history was proudly asserted.
Today, of course, we live in New Mexico, where Spanish and Mexican history and culture are proudly asserted, and where some of our friends and neighbors, perhaps most of them, are of Hispanic ancestry. It just seems natural to me.
While our cultural interests are pretty broad, we have a special fondness for flamenco, which for all intents and purposes is the New Mexico State Dance. There are a number of world class flamenco troupes in New Mexico, and we make it a point to attend flamenco performances as often as we can.
Last night it was Las Migas from Barcelona at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.
Well, that was different!
Flamenco in New Mexico tends to be very traditional with modern touches. Maria Benitez from Taos was perhaps the pioneer New Mexico flamenco dancer and teacher forty or fifty years ago. One can see the influence of Antonio Gades' choreographic repertoire and style among current troupes -- which is very contemporary though Gades' dance and musical vocabulary is based entirely in the flamenco tradition.
Las Migas breaks away from that tradition and starts one of its own. Mira:
Being todo mujeres is not all that unusual among flamenco groups, as many have been and are all women. But Las Migas is unusual in creating a lot of their own music and focusing on the music rather than the dance. And in their literature they make clear their music is a fusion of flamenco and "Mediterranean" sounds.
There was a segment of dance in their show last night, with Alba, their lead singer, dancing a very unusual and contemporary flamenco interpretation. That is what she does. Mira:
There were few people in the Disney Theatre (Roy Disney, Walt's brother, funded the mainstage at NHCC back in the day) when we got there last night, and I feared that because Las Migas was little known in Albuquerque (this was their US debut performance) attendance would be light. But it turned out the place was nearly full when the show was a few minutes under way -- road construction nearby may have caused some people to be late.
Alba started speaking in English -- her English is very good -- but she asked in Spanish whether people in the audience could understand her. The response was ¡Si! She asked in Spanish if there was anyone in the audience who couldn't understand her. No response. "¿Nadie?" No response. Well, of course. If you don't understand Spanish, you're not going to know what she's asking, no?
So she continued through the rest of the show speaking Barcelona Spanish mixed I'm sure with some Catalan, and it strained my limited Spanish to follow along. I found I could understand enough, though, that I didn't feel left out. I even got some of her jokes, ja ja. My Spanish comprehension must be better than I thought.
The Barcelona accent is not quite Castilian, but it is recognizably Spanish from Spain and not from the Americas, particularly not Mexican. New Mexicans pride themselves on their preservation of Castilian Spanish from the 17th century, and so despite any differences there may have been between the Barcelona Spanish of Las Migas, and the somewhat antiquated Castilian spoken among many New Mexicans, there seemed not to be a language barrier with the audience at all. If there was, I wouldn't have known anyway, because I still have some difficulty with New Mexico Spanish, about as much as I had with the Barcelona Spanish of Las Migas.
I go on about this because essentially the entire show was performed and explained in Spanish (there was one song in Catalan), and English was set aside for the evening. That's a first for me at NHCC, where most performances are either in English, or bilingüe, English-Spanish. As far as I could tell, most of the audience appreciated that there was no need to use English or to cater to the Anglos in the audience (and there were more than a few of "us".)
In New Mexico, Hispanic heritage and culture may have pride of place, but nearly everyone uses English rather than Spanish day to day. Last night, it wasn't necessary. And that was, I think, liberating.
The musicianship and song styling of Las Migas is first rate. The "Mediterranean" aspects of their music were interestingly interpreted by the audience, some of whom were up and dancing in the aisles, as tropical. Of course, it was familiar that way. That part of the show was interpreted as cross-over-fusion perhaps more so than was intended, but it was fine.
Alba Carmona, the lead singer and dancer, has a very powerful, smoky voice, not quite as gutteral as much flamenco cante, but strong and clear and packed with emotion nonetheless. Hers is a different kind of flamenco cante, just as her dance is a different kind of flamenco baile. The term of art is Nuevo Flamenco. Again, that was something new for us as it may have been for most of the audience.
The group as a whole performs strongly together, obviously enjoying themselves and the music. The two guitarists were superb, and their solo segment was technically and artistically outstanding. It was not, however, "flamenco" guitar, which was just fine!
Their violinist had her own moments to shine, and I thought her contribution was a major factor taking Las Migas's work out of the "traditional" realm and into new territory.
Alba, however, was clearly the star and attention grabber, both vocally and through her dance (the others joined her dancing at the end of the first act, following her lead off stage as the house lights came up for intermission.)
NHCC has been actively seeking and presenting European acts from Spain for some time to supplement their rather strong focus on Hispanic art and artists from the Americas. Las Migas may have been one of their most successful efforts to date. It was a continuation and celebration of the venue's Latin Diva Series.
Ms. Ché is Native American (Cherokee) and she is attending a Native American art school in Santa Fe (IAIA). Yet she is perhaps even more appreciative of Hispanic arts and culture than I am. As she becomes more deeply involved in Native American arts and culture than she was ever able to do in California, she's gaining a stronger appreciation for other cultures and styles present in New Mexico, including, from time to time, the contemporary "Anglo" arts and cultural sphere -- though you should hear her criticize it! Oh my!
This was Las Migas's first appearance in Albuquerque, but we both hope it will not be their last. ¡Viva!