Bewitching duende: Flamenco comes to town

Zamora and Granada
at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar
Saturday, January 11

To put it simply, flamenco is the moody child of Andalusian folk and gypsy form. It's as identifiably Spanish as the running and goring of the bulls, and even that Barber in Seville.

However, flamenco isn't as crayola-bold as the toreador's red cape; its rhythm ticks a long list of ancestral influences. During their occupation, the Moors tinged classical structures with exotic flourishes– and later on, the Jota of Aragon bequeathed castanets. But it was the passionate influence of the gypsies, who arrived in the 16th century, upon the Andalusian cante hondo, or "deep song," that created an expressive medium for duende...

And that's a whole other can of gusanos. Duende is an elusive quality best understood through experience, not description, although the New Oxford English Dictionary attempts: "1. A ghost, an evil spirit; 2. Inspiration, magic, fire." According to the Spanish, those with duende racing through their veins live in a world of knife-point sensitivity; they are the volatile, romanticized, and sometimes tragic figures of creative talent found in libraries, art museums... and evidently, flamenco concerts.

Speaking on the matter, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca once commented, "The wonderful flamenco singer El Lebrijano said, 'When I sing with duende, no one can equal me.'...All that has dark sounds has duende. These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art... I have heard an old master guitarist say, 'The duende is not in the throat; the duende surges up from the soles of the feet.' Which means it's not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture; of creative action."

Duende visited Charlottesville Saturday night at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, when guitarrista Torcuato Zamora and dancer Susanna Granada bewitched a maximum-capacity crowd with their performance. Zamora, a native of Granada, Spain, studied classical and flamenco guitar in Barcelona, graduating to guest appearances in theaters throughout Europe.

Now he lives in the D.C. area, occasionally playing venues as large as the Kennedy Center. And by the number of search engine returns, I'd say Zamora's quite an active member in what seems to be a flourishing flamenco scene up there.

From my vantage point at the Tea House, I could only see his eyebrows (furrowed), but the sound of his guitar was hypnotic. Fortunately, once Granada's spinning began, the crowd thinned as shorter sardines perched on chairs. Craning my neck, I caught glimpses of her curved elbows and soled clatter; she moved with a natural gracefulness, in steps as melancholy as the music.