On a night out in the city of Madrid, you are guaranteed to hear Reggaeton frequent
the club sound speakers – a mix of
Jamaican Dancehall, Caribbean
Soca, hip-hop and Latin
By Whitley Weston
At first glance Spanish Flamenco and Jamaican Dancehall are two dance styles that are arguably worlds apart. In fact, when I told a few of my friends I was writing this article their reactions were “How can you compare the two? They are just too different. Do people in Madrid even know what Dancehall is?”
So when I began asking Spanish locals what they knew about the dance and almost nobody had heard of it, I couldn’t help but fear my friend will be proved right!
But surprisingly the island craze that originated in Jamaica’s electronic age around the 1970s and 80s has found a home on the Iberian Peninsula. On a night out in the city of Madrid, you are guaranteed to hear Reggaeton frequent the club sound speakers – a hybrid of Jamaican Dancehall, Caribbean Soca, hip-hop and Latin American musical influences. And believe it or not, the city of Castellón hosts Europe’s biggest annual Reggae festival, Rototom Sunsplash, providing a stage for dance stars such as Madrid’s 3rd place European Dancehall Queen Contest sensation Irie Queen. A true testament to the influence of Jamaican culture!
In reverse fashion, I knew nothing about Flamenco. Guided by Madrileños who could point me in the right direction, I searched for an authentic Flamenco experience. I found exactly that at the prestigious Cafe de Chinitas. A tablao (intimate room) located in the heart of Madrid. I was warmly invited to sit up close for my first Flamenco extravaganza, “Remembering Lorca,” a mesmerizing show which revolves around Spanish poet, playwright and theatre director Federico García Lorca who was executed by Nationalist forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, and the women featured in his works who struggle to win over Lorca , using their charms and dancing.
The show is choreographed and directed by Pedro Fernandez Embrujo.
After watching the show, there seemed little to compare Flamenco with Dancehall. Yet, interestingly, “life” is what Flamenco and Dancehall are about. Despite the obvious differences, both tell stories about the place of their humble birth.
“I express through dancing, with my body and with movement, what I can’t express in words,” tells Aida Prima Cali, who fell in love with the Dancehall scene, before the Hispano-Jamaican “boom” took hold in Spain roughly three years ago.
Today Aida runs Dancehall classes in Barcelona and also dedicates fifteen minutes of her classes to educating her students about Jamaica’s history and culture. “Dancehall music reflects life in Jamaica, usually in the ghettos where the culture originated. If I am angry, happy or feeling sexy (!) I find a song to match my mood and use dance to interpret the lyrics.”
I might never find a direct comparison between the Flamenco and Dancehall technique. Nevertheless, not knowing the story behind either dance, before experiencing it, is like judging a book by its cover… Whether you are watching a Flamenco dancer stomping his heels to the song and guitar, or a Dancehall lover busting a “dutty Wine” at a club in downtown western Kingston, the connection you are sure to feel is the passion and vibrancy of two very beautiful cultures.
Cafe Chinita and Jamaica: Whitley Weston
Aida Prima Cali: courtesy of Aida
Rototom: fair use