The intensity is a little disturbing. It’s not often I get wrapped up in dance, but I suppose it’s more than that. She stamps her feet like a child with a tantrum, shakes her fists, slams her hands on her tiny little hips and makes the earth quake. I cower into my sangria. The music stops. She stands statue-still for an uncomfortable moment, proud nose in the air. Then she smiles. As the guitarist strums a softer tune she sways her hips, lowers her head and studies her own gentle feet, now making circles on the parquetry, and peeks up at us from under lashes, coyly grinning. We smile with her. Until she says ‘Ole!’ again and switches moods like a bitch in heat. I think I’m in love.
Flamenco fits in this country. It makes me wonder why we don’t see more of it. It’s an amalgamation of Arab culture and gypsy emotion, and after all, we expats are all gypsies of a sort (for me, the very bourgeois sort). It’s impossible not to liken the Cante to the wail of the mosque. I can’t understand the words, but I see the passion that is so often linked to Arab people. He sings so fiercely, I’m frightened at some times he’s going to blow an artery. The Baile (the dance) is proud and dominant, and the female figure is used in ways that display the incredible power of this ‘frail’ sex. It reminds me of the way some women in abayas and hijabs in this country attain both individuality and attention despite their demure uniform.
The guitar is red and glows behind the dancers. These vibrating strings what I came for, but the dance is so strong I find I have to close my eyes to hear it properly. Then I can’t watch the guitarist – the way his fingers move at lightning speed, mistake free though he never once looks at them. He’s too busy in turn, watching the dancer in red. Is there something going on there? This music is like blues – the chords and the tempo just hit me right in the heart, and I feel like I could sing along with no prior knowledge of the tune. It’s melody that fits, predictable, but I like it that way.
And do you know where I saw this? Sitting in the synthetic neon glow of a “Biggles British Pub” sign on a terrace at the Millenium Airpot Hotel. It is the best Flamenco I’ve encountered since a cave in Granada, 17 years ago. Not only that, it’s the best live act I’ve seen in Dubai. Ever. They handled it beautifully – from the food and wine (Spanish of course – some clever ceviche, incredibly juicy lamb kebabs and the rustic and vibrant “Sangre de Toro” wine were the highlights) to the service, the acoustics and the venue design (on the terrace with a great view for all and a gentle breeze to toss down with your paella). Unfortunately it’s a one-off for them – and at 290AED per person including food and drinks, I have no idea how they made any money off it anyway – but it’s another one of those ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover‘ venues that merits a second look. After those lamb kebabs, I’m going to give their BBQ night a go.
Performer for the night was Carmen Iniesta and her team – another female dancer, a singer and a guitarist. Between them they made as much noise as an orchestra.
Dubai has a sad lack of Flamenco. You can see it occasionally at Seville’s, who had a festival in April this year with a stack of flamenco acts – let’s hope it happens again. You might also see a bit down at the Spanish pavilion at Global village.
When it comes to any good live acts in Dubai, you’ll quite often find it in the most unassuming of places. It seems the five-star venues have an adoration of Sade, washed-up-never-has-beens and cheap synthesizers set perpetually on bossa nova. Music is just another thing in Dubai that never manages to hit middle ground properly. Dubai constantly hands us big name quality at a high price, or miserable rubbish on a very expensive silver platter. Where can I go for a good local blues band and a nice glass of red? Probably nowhere (please illuminate me if I’m wrong). But worth a try are The Music Room and Jambase who actually have some quality regulars. If you can handle the fun without the booze, try The Fridge in Al Quoz, who have some of the better acts going around.
If you want to go and see real Flamenco head to Granada in Spain (check out the Alhambra while you’re there) and try one of the following:
Pena la Plateria – the oldest flamenco club in town. Local artists, Thursday and Saturday only (I think)
Eshavira Club – smaller club for those in the know. You’ll get jazz or flamenco (or both)
Jardines Zoraya – a bit more touristy, but in a lovely area near the Alhambra.
(But I’m going to try and catch some in Marseille next Summer. I hear there’s a thriving flamenco culture there.)
Disclaimer: Millenium Airport Hotel invited me as their guest for the evening, for which I am very grateful, as I would never have found out about the event otherwise. I would have paid double what they charged.