2015年2月28日 星期六

Gala Flamenca in Hong Kong 2015 (星耀佛蘭明高)

A small silent stage in utter darkness. Suddenly one hears a deep voice singing, almost crying, in barely recognizable Spanish about the pains, the sorrows and the feeling of impotence experienced by the people living at the margins of society in their harsh life. The stage lights up and reveals the form of a man. He is a flamenco cantante (singer) singing a cante jondo (deep song). Soon he is joined by other singers, male and female, two guitarists, a violin player, a cajon (improvised hand drum) player and singers cum dancers. They are the members of a group of very talented flamenco artists who combine tradition with innovation, called the "Flamenco Festival", led by 53-year-old but wonderfully charming Antonio Canales, from the home of flamenco music, Andalucia in southern Spain.

Whenever the word "Spain" is mentioned, what's most likely to pop up in the popular mind may well be the images of elegant men in tight fitting clothes in tapered shoes, a red cape (muleta) hung upon a sword in one hand and a small, sharp spear-like dagger (banderilla) or a real steel sword (estoque de verdad) in the other in a bull ring, ladies with heavily made up eyes and red lips sitting in the boxes in traje de flamenca (body hugging dresses with ruffles and magnificent folds flowing from the hip down) and a rose artfully placed in the finely coiffeured bun over her head. For football fans, it might well be Barcelona or Réal Madrid. And for art lovers, it might well be Veláquez, Goya, El Greco, Miro, Dali, Picasso and Gaudi. For still others who live through their palate, it might be jamón ibérico (Iberian ham), chorizos (spicy sausages), quezo manchego (cheese from la Mancha), tapas (literally tasty "dim-sums" originally placed on top of wine glasses to keep off flies) and red wines from Rioja. But for me, it's always flamenco music, with its deeply moving palos (songs), fiery guitar toques (hitting, strikes), fast and slow but always rhythmic palmas (hand clappings) in 4 and 6 beats and sensuous, forceful and graceful bailes (dances). I fell in love with flamenco music and dance the moment I stepped into one of the tablaos flamencos in Sevilla years ago. That love never faded. I was lucky. I saw one of opening shows of the HK Arts Festival 2015 called Gala Flamenca, choreographed by Antonio Canales, Carlos Rodriguez, Jesús Carmona and Karime Amaya, who all double up as dancers, with grace, finesse, poise and passion, accompanied on the guitar by Daniel Jurado, and Paco Cruz and on the cajon by Miguel El Cheyenne.

Flamenco is the music and dance forms first started hundreds of years ago by the gitanos (gypsies) from north India as they migrated through what is now the Middle East and north Africa and then into southern Spain. Remnants of Indian, Arabic and Morisco (Islamic Moors) cultures are still evident in the form of their songs and their rhythms. It was declared one of the oral and intangible heritages of humanity by the UNESCO in 2010. Like jazz, the soul of flamenco music is its "spontaneity". Hence there is always a very heavy dose of "unpredictability" in the artists' performance, often "improvised" on the spot at the moment of their singing, dancing and the playing of the guitar, drums etc, relying on the "mood" or the interactive emotional "atmosphere" of the group at the time. Like in jazz, each artist is given their "moment of glory" to be the centre of attention during the group's "juerga" (literally "play" or "jam session"). Flamenco music has a typical chord progression Am-G-F-E ( a kind of modified Phrygian mode) often found in the musical forms of the soleà, bulería, siquiriya, tango and tiento .Most traditional flamenco songs range over a rather narrow tonal range of just 4.5 tones. Some palos employ the major scales (e.g. the cantiñas, alegrías, guajiras, bulerías and tonás) but minor scales may be used in the farrucas, the milongas and some tangos and bulerías. Different regions may have their own musical form like the Sevillana (from Sevilla) , malagueñas (from Mallaga). 
The heart and soul of flamenco is its rhythms (compàs), usually in 2/4, 4/4 ( as in tangos, tanguillostientos) or 3/4 (as in fandangos and sevillanas)  in 12 beat rhythm cycles
: which fall into 3 main types which vary in where they place the accentuated down beat: soleá (part of the cantiñas group of palos which includes the alegrías, cantiñas, mirabras, romera, caracoles and soleá por bulería) and seguiriya (which belongs to the same group as the liviana, serrana, cabales) (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12) but with the sequiriya, the rhythm cycle starts on the 8th beat and then the third group, the bulerías, peteneras and guajiras whose rhythm cycle starts with the 12th beat. When the singer sings without the guitar, the rhythm is done by palmas.

The guitar player marks the rhythm through two techniques: the rasgueados (strumming by running the fingers across the guitar string very rapidly starting with the fourth finger and ending with the index, almost simultaneously) and the golpe (tapping the body of the guitar at the small area on the lower side of the sound box around the hole on the guitar body). The more important down beats are often emphasized by changing guitar chords. Of course, when there's a cajon player around, he adds to the complexity of the rhythm, sometimes following the same down beat but at other times introducing other variations thus providing an extremely rich battery of variegated rhythms, off beats etc. But in certain types of flamenco music, a free rhythm form is adopted eg. tonás, saetas, malagueñas and tarantos. 

Whilst in the guitar music, the relevant tones have got equal tone intervals because of the frets on the neck of the instrument are restrict them to tones and semi-tones, there is no such limitation in the vocalisation in flamenco singing so that the singers can use variations in "micro-tones" by continuously and smoothly changing from one tone to another at will, something they inherited from Indian music whose musicians must learn to distinguish the tonal differences between as little as 1/16th of a tone as part of their training. Singers thus have lots of room to introduce their own Individual "personality" into their singing by exploiting the unique "timbre" of their own voice and as they are seized by the fleeting moods of the moment: they can prolong or shorten the duration of the tone and follow faster or slower rhythms almost at will. Thus no two "jondos" even from the same singer are ever identical. They usually begin with a high note, then go down the scale to lower notes and often, they start off singing a phrase with great force (fortissimo) and then as it goes along, their voice becomes weaker and weaker and weaker until at the end, it becomes little more than a 'hum" or a "whisper"(pianissimo). Could those "falls" be the "secret" of why we always somehow feel a certain profound but unexplainable sense of "sorrow" when we listen to a flamenco song?

Originally, the flamenco singers sang without any musical accompaniment, with nothing to assist them but palmas and only later was the guitar and other musical instruments added to create more color and variety. Whatever the truth may be, we had the chance to experience all the innuendos and the melancholic beauty of flamenco music as well as the exciting rhythms produced by the palmas, and the masterfully well timed and practiced zapateado (foot-tapping) by the dancers at the Grand Theatre at the Cultural Centre at the performance . 

In the flamenco dance, the women usually hold their head high, their body proud, upright and rigid, their back bent backward, their shoulders straight, their upper arms held above their shoulders, dropping downward, something which contrast with the suppleness of their lower arm, hands and fingers which constantly describe circle in figures of eight with sudden turning of the head. From time to time, they would look down, hold their dress up to expose their lower leg as they concentrate on the constantly changing rhythms of their zapateado. All their action are concentrated on the upper body with little hip movement. The male dancers would dress in tight black pants, a white shirt, and often wear big red sash around their waist which would reach up to just below their chest, thus emphasizing the elegance of their long legs, perhaps to imitate the long and slender legs of the flamingos with beaks in fiery red, but tightly wrapped in tall black boots. Like the women, they also hold their upper body rigid and when they dance, they would emphasize the rhythms of the zapateado and occasionally clap their hands or tap different parts of their chest and thighs, making audible rhythmic sounds which complement those made by the tip and/or heel of their boots. In modern flamenco, they would sometimes add in pirouettes borrowed from the classical ballet. One can feel their pride, their vigor, their vitality, their elegance and their grace.Often, they would sing whilst they dance, sometimes, alone, sometimes with a partner, male or female, to the rhythms of the guitar, the cajons, the palmas and those made by their feet, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes quickening their steps, sometimes slackening their speed but always changing, always exciting, always captivating and often to shouts of "ve" (go ahead), "Arriba" (come on) from the other members of the group.

With the Flamenco Festival, we probably had the best that Spain can offer in terms of song, dance, music and showmanship, with the stage lit when needed with some well-thought out spotlighting. The dancers leave us speechless in awe and admiration. An hour and a half of continuous pleasant surprises, excitement and delight. If I wished  to be nit picking, I would say that their sound engineer could have been more mindful of the tolerance level of the audience's ear drums when setting the amplification level especially when Rocio Bazán, the power of whose lungs seems totally disproportionate to her size, is singing  but....I came away with some wonderful memories which would probably stay with me for a long long time to come. I am sure I would not be the only one.

This is the official programme last night:

1. Cantes (Songs) by Antonio Canales & Jesús Carmona

2. Soleá por Bulerias
by Carlos Rodriguez

3. Trilla 7(Paso a Dos) ( Steps for 2) by Jesús Carmona & Lucía

4. Modernidad (Modernity) by Antonio Canales

5. Tangos de la Chumbera (Prickly pear Tango)
by Antonio Canales

6. Caracoles (Snails),
by Karime Amaya and the Corps de Ballet

7. Señora (Miss)
sung by Rocio Bazán

8. Siguirilla
by Karime Amaya

9. Fin de Fiesta (End of the Party)
by the whole company

10. Alegrías by
Jesús Carmona

But Karime Amaya was so happy that she performed for us an impromptu solo as
an "encore" after which the performers took a group photo with an I-phone with the audience as the background. It was obvious that they enjoyed performing for us as much as we did in seeing their performance.