Lately it’s become fashionable to use the Spanish letter Ñ to highlight the excellence and specific identity of a product made in Spain. Thus, the Gasol generation became known as the “ÑBA”, and closer to our own turf, the use of the brand “Flamenco Eñe” by the SGAE Foundation. We’ve been to Logroño, capital of La Rioja, world capital of wine, and also the place where excellent flamenco is programed in the series Jueves Flamencos at the Teatro Bretón the first months of each year.
And that’s because 22 years ago, Antonio Benamargo was asked by the Teatro Bretón to bring flamenco, and from that point on, year after year, the principal artists of flamenco have performed there, and the program extended to other cities such as Vitoria, Barakaldo, Burgos and Valladolid on a regular basis, making what is known as the Gira del Norte. And audiences have not been in short supply, as one follower tells us who had to wait on line to buy the series – about 300 – that are sold out the same morning they go on sale.
In the current edition, Ezequiel Benítez, Carmen Linares, El Pele, María Mezcle, José de la Tomasa, Miguel de Tena, and yes, also Rosalía have participated. A series of performances in which singing is the main focus, but the closing tends to be with a dance show. This past Thursday 900 people were in attendance at the Teatro Bretón to see Pepe Torres’ show “Juncales”.
At nine o’clock Thursday morning we met with Antonio Benamargo at Atocha in Madrid, joined by Miguel Téllez, and we headed for Logroño, while the rest of the performers arrived by train. Along the way, we got updated with flamenco news, accompanied by background music, varied and strong, the occasional telephone conversation to iron out details and schedules, sound-check, ironing, an interview with Pepe Torres for the local radio station, confirmation of the dinner reservation and coordination for everyone to visit the Bodegas Ontañón. That’s where they were waiting for us to taste the pleasures of La Rioja wines, and where our colleague Pablo García Mancha who does a television interview with all the flamenco artists who pass through the series (Flamencos en Ontañón). At the end, at the same bodega, we enjoyed another of La Rioja’s pleasures, its gastronomy.
On the way back, bottle of wine under the arm, straight to the sound and light check, with a beautiful spring afternoon that we took advantage of to stroll through the center of Logroño and the surroundings of the theater. As the hour draws near, the first flamenco fans begin to appear, they all seem to know each other, some even wave to me, they recognize me from Pamplona and Madrid’s Casa Patas, confirming my theory that flamenco people are a very devoted audience. At the Teatro Bretón, we spoke with the head of the venue to get situated, and with the director as well, who pointed out to Benamargo that now all festivals are dedicated to women, and that in the tour of 2017 the program of the Jueves Flamencos was completely made up of flamenco women, and dedicated to the memory of Paquera de Jerez.
The curtain goes up, dancer Pepe Torres opens the show “Juncales” playing guitar under an overhead spot, and very few people realize who’s playing, although many recognize the famous variations from Morón, paying tribute to his great-uncle Diego del Gastor. The rest of the group appears with the singing of Luis Moneo, straight from Jerez, and David el Galli from Morón, the fine guitarist El Perla and the rhythmic back-up of Miguel Téllez, also a dancer, for the seguiriyas dance of Pepe Torres along with Gema Moneo, personalized classic dancing of pure inspiration along with the strength and energy of the young Jerez dancer who recently triumphed at the Festival de Jerez. Pepe Torres also danced soleá, recalling the classic forms of Farruco and Paco Valdepeñas. At the end, now deeply into bulerías, Gema Moneo sings with a lovely voice, and dancer Pepe Torres also shows he can sing, while a large portion of the audience is wondering what ever became of that guitarist who opened the show.
The curtain comes down and flamenco fans are invited to attend a new series of Jueves Flamencos in January of 2019; the program is already nearly set.