Seville's Flamenco Artisans


With music as a theme this week, I'm excited for two of my clients heading to France and Spain this Fall because we've arranged an evening of Flamenco when they arrive in Seville. There are so many artisans who work to bring alive the flamenco sound and experience, and the article below will give you an even greater appreciation for this intoxicating art form.

Excerpt below from 6/9/2022 article by Jen Rose Smith can be found HERE.

In the end, I didn’t have to go looking – flamenco found me right away in Seville. Following narrow alleys through the old Jewish quarter, I heard roving musicians sing, “Sevilla es una maravilla,” slapping their palms to weave rhythms in the warm air. Below shady arcades flanking the Plaza de España, I paused to catch the quicksilver footwork of flamenco dancers, who stomped and whirled amid spontaneous applause from families strolling in the late-afternoon sunshine.

One wintry afternoon months before, I’d put on an old Lola Flores record. It whispered Andalusia into my traveler’s ear. Flamenco pulsed from the speakers with emotional urgency. Castanets snapped. Skirts rustled. Wishing suddenly to meet people capable of such soulful art, I began planning a journey to southern Spain for some time in the Andalusian capital of Seville.

“Flamenco is an expression of the culture of the Andalusian people,” 72-year-old guitarist José Luis Postigo says. At his Casa de la Guitarra, he hosts intimate shows on a stage whose twelfth-century stone arch backdrops impassioned performances – the genre’s hallmark.

Once a largely private art, flamenco blossomed in Andalusia’s nineteenth-century cafés cantantes, musical gathering places like Postigo’s where artists refined their styles before broader audiences. Guitarists set a nimble pace with finger picking, a keen and sometimes percussive sound to match the cantaoras’ powerful vocals. Flamenco guitar remains the skittering heartbeat of a genre that commingles Roma traditions with the region’s myriad other cultures; such diversity perhaps explains a musical vibrancy undimmed by centuries. “It’s a blend of all the peoples – from Phoenicians and Moors to Jews and Christians – who have left their mark on this place,” Postigo says.

That same heady mix reigns in Seville’s streets, where Islamic arabesques grace churches built by Spanish monarchs. Often just as blooming orange trees perfume the city, Seville explodes into a weeklong, nonstop party called the Feria de Abril (this year’s festivities begin on May 1). It’s a time for locals and visitors to don their finest trajes de flamenca, form-fitting flamenco dresses with plenty of ruffles.

And from that party garb to handcrafted instruments, the essence of Seville’s flamenco culture is handed down through generations of artists and artisans. They’re innovators, but also keepers of tradition. “With flamenco you must always look to the past in order to move forward,” Postigo says. These are a few of the creative minds charging Seville’s flamenco with new energy.

Dressing the Part

Sometimes a dress is more than a dress. Choosing a traje or two for each year’s feria is a major event for Sevillanas, says designer Carmen Acedo, who learned to sew the elaborate dresses at her mother’s workshop in a nearby village. “It’s such an important thing for us,” Acedo says, “and there’s not a woman that doesn’t look beautiful in a well-made traje.” Flamenco dancers wear dresses with widely flared skirts that leave plenty of room to whirl and stamp, while versions for the feria hug curves for a dramatic silhouette.

Every year brings new trends to the feria, but polka dots, lace, and ruffles are eternal, says Acedo, who in 2002 founded a showroom in the Triana district that’s stacked with dresses from floor to ceiling. In the weeks before the Feria de Abril, locals and visitors crowd the shop, some matching new dresses to hand-embroidered silk shawls called mantones, wearable works of art preserved as family heirlooms. But for a feria-ready outfit, all a traveler needs is the perfect dress – made to order or rented by the day through a hotel concierge – and bright flowers to pin into her hair. “Flowers are essential,” Acedo says. “Everything else is a little bit extra.”

The Seville Sound

“I’ve always been a botanist and gardener; I always felt very connected to wood,” says luthier Antonio Álvarez Bernal, who has handcrafted instruments for everyone from pop stars to former U.S. presidents. In his Seville workshop, Guitarrería Álvarez & Bernal, burnished skeletons of half-made guitars cover every surface – the instruments in his luthier collection take three to six months to complete. And a flamenco guitar, Bernal explains, requires a sound like no other.

“It must be keen in order to rise to the level of the singer’s voice,” says Bernal, a graduate of Seville’s music conservatory. “We use woods with a very clear tone so musicians can achieve that perfect composition of guitar, song, and the percussion of clapping hands.” When crafting flamenco guitars, Bernal relies on a traditional combination of Spanish cypress and German spruce, and believes every instrument resonates with the touch of its maker. “A handmade guitar has soul,” Bernal says. “It has the soul of the person who made it.”

Keeping Time

Castanets looped around their thumbs, flamenco dancers click out a rapid-fire counterpoint to their footwork. In expert hands the instrument is subtle, by turns teasing or percussive. “The sound adapts to the kind of music you’re going to play,” says Carmen Vela, of artisanal castanet maker Castañuelas del Sur, which ships the handheld instruments from a Seville workshop to aficionados around the globe.

Pairs of castanets only look identical, Vela explains, absently tapping out a tune on a polished set. In her right hand is a higher-pitched “female” castanet, while the lower-pitched “male” castanet rests in her left. Together, they create a unique harmony. Making castanets is a third-generation family tradition for Vela, who today works alongside her siblings and cousins. “Our grandfather started making castanets, and my father joined him at 7 years old,” says Vela. It’s too early to know if a fourth generation – the great-grandchildren of master castanet maker Manuel Vela – will join the family business, she says. But everyone hopes they will.

How to See the Best of Seville

Made for Spain and Portugal

Virtuoso on-site tour connection Made for Spain and Portugal can work with travel advisors to give visitors exclusive – and rare – access to private casetas, or flamenco tents, where locals drink rebujitos (sherry cocktails) and dance until dawn during Seville’s annual Feria de Abril. Other flamenco possibilities in Seville: a private dance lesson or performance by a prominent local flamenco family, or tapas and a tour of the Triana neighborhood. Departures: Private tours available year-round.

Hotel Alfonso XIII

With handpainted azulejo tiles and soaring arches, the palatial Hotel Alfonso XIII is a masterpiece of Andalusian regionalist style, and its 148 rooms and suites blending Andalusian, Moorish, and Castilian motifs have seen a who’s who of European royals since 1928. Its signature Restaurante San Fernando hosts leisurely dinners overlooking a breezy patio, with meals that feature Spain’s finest artisanal hams and olive oils. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.

Hotel Colón, a Gran Meliá Hotel

A favored haunt of bullfighters during the feria, the Hotel Colón, a Gran Meliá Hotel is a tribute to the tradition. Mementos from Spain’s greatest toreros adorn the walls, and the hotel restaurant El Burladero specializes in the slow-braised oxtail that is a traditional meal following bullfights. Order a drink under the lobby bar’s stained-glass dome to catch a glimpse of exquisitely costumed bullfighters as they depart for the nearby Plaza de Toros. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and one lunch or dinner for two.

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