On weekends and whenever or wherever possible, López and González perform together or
separately, in tablaos, cultural centers, at fiestas and private parties
by Bonnie Rosenstock
Photos: Toni Blanco
There was never a time when María López Enríquez wasn’t immersed in flamenco. “At home [in Azuqueca-Guadalajara, Castille-La Mancha] we always listened to flamenco,” she recalled, “and at family gatherings we always sang flamenco. My parents started taking me to a flamenco club when I was a child.” It is no surprise that López fell in love with cante and at 16, embarked on her journey to becoming a cantaora.
When Madrid-born Gabriel González Tapia was 14, his father taught him the basics of Spanish guitar. “My father played many instruments, and there was always a lot of music at home,” he said. But his real inspiration for wanting to play flamenco guitar was seeing a video of the great guitarist Paco de Lucía at age 16, further driven by Madrid’s rich flamenco ambiance.
Their two lives converged in 2016 when they met at a gig to see artists they knew. Talk led to talk to exchanging phone numbers, to becoming a couple. A year later, they entered the Conservatorio Superior de Música Rafael Orozco de Cordóba, where González majored in flamenco guitar and López studied cante. They graduated from the four-year program in 2021, with a title equivalent to a bachelor’s degree.
López, 26, is the only person from Guadalajara and Castille-La Mancha with a Grado en Cante Flamenco degree, and the only woman to graduate in the fourth year that the program was offered. González, 27, is probably the only one or one of the few American passport holders with a degree in flamenco guitar. (He was born in Spain, but has dual citizenship. His mother is American of Ecuadorian background; his father is Spanish.)
In school year 2004-2005, Córdoba became the first city in Spain to offer a degree in flamenco within public education. Surprisingly, the first conservatory to offer a flamenco degree was in Rotterdam, Holland in 1985. Apart from Córdoba, it’s now possible to obtain a “titulo superior” in Barcelona, Seville and Murcia or in flamenco dance in Madrid and Málaga. (Madrid, despite being the country’s capital, doesn’t offer a degree in either flamenco guitar or cante at university level, only in baile.) In 2014-2015, cante was introduced into the Córdoba curriculum, joining Cádiz (Jerez), Seville and Barcelona, closing the full circle of arte jondo.
The entrance exams were very demanding, consisting of practical as well as theoretical, for which one needs to prepare at least a year beforehand, noted González. López’s four exams consisted of singing with flamenco guitar, singing with baile, musical analysis of a score and recognition of flamenco palos (rhythms). After finishing high school, they took a few years off and studied with private teachers and had performing experience. Since flamenco is an oral tradition, there are a lot of older flamenco singers and guitarists who teach and pass on the craft.
The first year, neither of them received a scholarship, but since the conservatory is part of the public education system, the tuition was very low, about 450 euros, said López. The remaining three years were free.
The knowledge that López acquired at a musical level was indispensable, she acknowledged. “The program helped me to assimilate and understand flamenco music better, prepare me more musically and be more professional,” she said.
They learned how the music world works, especially the flamenco world, and how other artists have managed their careers. “We also learned all facets of music, how to analyze, read a score and communicate with other musicians as well as with flamenco percussionists, dancers, etc.,” González noted. “This comes in handy because flamenco artists don’t usually have access to the formation of musical theory. It also helped me in composing my own music.”
The conservatory has a rich curriculum of classical music for such exchanges to take place. In fact, González’s younger brother, Teodoro González Tapia, 25, is slated to graduate from the school in June with a degree in classical guitar, a bridge between the two brothers’ music worlds.
While performing is their passion and ultimate goal, it is not easy to find gigs, especially these days. Realistically they needed an alternate plan to earning a living, so in 2021-22, they both earned master’s degrees. González received his Máster de Gestión in Leadership and organization of cultural projects from the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid. He is now teaching part-time in a small private music school in Conde de Casal. He teaches guitar and general music theory to children and adults of different ages. He also has private students, some online and others in their homes and at his apartment in the Justicia neighborhood, which he shares with López.
López received her master’s in flamenco studies in (Cádiz) Jerez and qualifies as a certified teacher in the public education system, where salaries are best. But you must pass oposiciones (national standardized tests) to obtain a permanent position. However, there are temporary posts that can be accessed with a master’s degree. Recently, only teachers with a master’s are being hired and those without it are being fired, including prestigious artists.
On weekends and whenever or wherever possible, López and González perform together or separately, in tablaos, cultural centers, at fiestas and private parties. For a glimpse of these talented artists, enjoy these videos. For more, check out YouTube.
Posada del Potro, Centro Flamenco Fosforito, Córdoba, featuring López and González
Centro Flamenco Fosforito, Córdoba. López was the guest artist.
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