Arabic Classical / Flamenco

‘Roots of Flamenco’ at Festival du Monde Arabe 23′

by Varun Swarup

The Festival du Monde Arabe’s closing act, “Roots of Flamenco,” promised a captivating fusion of Iraqi and Andalusian song and dance, and while it mostly delivered, it fell short of embodying the authenticity expected from a traditional music evening. Despite commendable musicianship on stage, the performance struggled to maintain a clear focus as it endeavoured to intertwine myth and history, occasionally veering into a generic fusion sound.

The evening began rather theatrically, with Cheikh Sidi Bémol taking his role of storyteller in stride. Omar Bashir, the son of renowned oudist Munir Bashir and a complete virtuoso in his own right, gently plucked his oud underneath Cheikh as he spoke of his first encounter with the oud and the mythical player who revealed its stories. Gradually as the evening progressed, members of the rest of the nine-piece band were introduced as we charted course from Baghdad to Seville.

To witness the musical dialogue between Omar and the two flamenco guitarists was certainly spectacular but generally their virtuosic playing was relegated to the same minor chord progressions. Perhaps the most confounding aspect of this performance was the inclusion of the piano in this fine ensemble. It seemed somewhat out of place in the context of the performance, not seamlessly integrating into the narrative and occupying significant space in the overall mix. With three other stringed instruments already commanding attention, the piano added a layer that, at times, really diluted the essence of the performance. 

The dancer and vocalist, Miguel Angel Orengo and Cristobal Muñoz respectively, integral components of such a performance, seemed to take a backseat for much of the show, only coming into prominence in the latter half of the second set. This was a bit disappointing as their presence would have added depth and nuance to the overall storytelling. Still, when they were given the limelight, they certainly brought the fire of flamenco alive in their performance. 

Despite these shortcomings, the closing concert successfully underscored the significance of cultural exchange, emphasising the beauty of shared traditions and the fluidity of our cultures. While the lack of focus and occasional musical distractions may have tempered the overall experience, the festival’s finale ultimately celebrated the richness of cultural diversity and showcased the undeniable brilliance of flamenco on display.

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