The North of Spain is generally not renowned for its Flamenco scene. Whereas in the south, particularly in Andalusia, a lot of Flamenco artists earn a living by playing in front of tourists. The flamenco scene did after all originate in the South, where the strong Moorish influence and large gypsy community which gave birth to Flamenco still thrive. If however, you search hard enough, you can find Flamenco in any region of Spain, even in Navarre where the Basque culture is omnipresent.
One evening when walking through Pamplona’s largely Basque old town, I stumbled across La Casa de Sabicas, a bar and cultural centre of Flamenco music, paying homage to one of the most famous, respected and talented Flamenco guitarists to have ever lived – Pamplona’s very own “Sabicas”.
© Photo: EvBuh (The old town of Pamplona where Sabicas grew up)
Sabicas, whose real name was Agustín Castellón Campos (1912 – 1990), was a Spanish gypsy who was born in Pamplona; wherever in Spain you find a gypsy community, you will find Flamenco music; Flamenco is of gypsy origin and had flourished in such communities way before it made its way to the mainstream venues throughout Spain and across the world.
Sabicas, who was self-taught, started playing guitar at just five years old and was already performing by the age of seven. But in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Sabicas fled the country like many others to escape from Franco’s brutal dictatorship. He moved to Mexico City, where he married and had four children, and later moved to New York where he lived for the remainder of his life. It was there where he made his name as an exceptional guitarist with outstanding ability. He would fill out huge concert halls, appear on television shows and collaborate with other artists of various genres. For those reasons among others, Sabicas is often credited as being one of the pioneers of Flamenco guitar who helped spread the genre from the neglected streets of Spain’s gypsy community to the wider world.
© Photo: Joaobr1996 (Sabicas on the right, pictured with Paco Peña on the left)
Despite the name of the bar, the house where Sabicas was born and raised is actually just around the corner at 7 Calle Mañueta; there is a plaque bearing his name on the wall beside the front door. One minute or so away, I was first drawn to the nearby bar and cultural centre which pays homage to Sabicas - at 20 Calle Carmen - by the alluring sound of flamenco guitar and the powerful singing voice that was coming from inside as I walked past at night. What I found upon entering was a dimly lit and cosy environment with live music from local gypsy musicians and a handful of local people there to watch it, certainly no tourists.
For me, watching flamenco in this kind of environment has a far more organic feel to it than going to a big concert packed with spectators; furthermore, it’s free entry. Other nights, particularly on the weekend, I found the little bar packed with people and watched as the artists carried on their music beyond the show and out into the street. It all felt very natural; the vibe of the gypsies, the modesty of the bar and the love shown from the small audience.
© Photo:Ikonya (La Casa de Sabicas at 20 Calle Carmen in Pamplona's old town)
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