There is no literal translation for the Spanish word Duende – the closest explanation is to achieve a state of heightened emotion, usually in response to an art form. The Spanish playwright and poet Lorca wrote of having duende often and the word is frequently associated with flamenco.
Nothing personifies real Spain quite like flamenco and this weekend sees the start of the 18th Festival Flamenco del Corcho Valle del Genal hosted in Gaucín.
If you have seen a flamenco tableau in cities such as Seville or Granada then you have had a taster of popularised flamenco but the art form in its purest sense can only be truly experienced in somewhere like Gaucín.
Gaucín’s festival takes some stamina: like so many events in Andalucía it doesn’t start until past 10.30 in the evening – when the air begins to cool – and goes on until dawn. This is serious stuff with polished performers or rising stars in the flamenco world. The songs are haunting, the guitars magical and the dancing passionate, sensual and earthy.
As you walk around Gaucín you will sometimes hear flamenco echoing through the streets; occasionally an impromptu clap will start up in a bar or a local will break into a soulful wail. Everyone it seems has a tenuous connection to Camarón de la Isla, Andalucía’s favourite flamenco son who died prematurely at the age of 41, and a mention of him in one of the village’s tiniest bars was enough to get Manolo, the bartender, setting the brandy bottle and two glasses on the bar.
A couple of years I saw a flamenco recital called Fuego in the grounds of the Alhambra in Granada. The mainly older and Spanish audience was extremely well heeled and dressed to the nines: the men in pale linen suits and the women in beautiful colourful dresses and cooling themselves with carefully coordinated and exquisite fans. The performance was both powerful and mesmerizing, the highlight for me being when a group of women wearing gossamer dresses in fiery shades of carmine red, saffron and blood orange spun and whipped around the stage emulating the licking flames of the fire of the title. Although quite removed from the intimacy of village flamenco, it was an experience I will never forget…