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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't know anything about flamenco? Neither did I.

I'll admit that going to a flamenco concert has never been a priority for me.

But last week I had the chance to head over to one of my favourite venues in Winnipeg to witness a musician Guitar Player magazine named as one of the top three guitarists in the world. As a fan of music, and one who is constantly trying to expand her musical horizons, it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

Juan Martin played to a crowd of mostly middle-aged flamenco fans on Nov. 17, 2011 at the West End Cultural Centre. For a cold, snowy Thursday evening in Winnipeg, the theatre was impressively about three quarters full - a testament to the skill and appeal of the 66 year-old Spaniard.

Picture from the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times.
From the moment he took his seat on stage, Martin had the audience in the palm of his hands. He started the show off solo, playing a medley of flamenco styles on the acoustic guitar. With a quiet, commanding stage presence and friendly but minimal banter, Martin proved he could easily carry a show all on his own.

But he chose not to.

Martin soon invited two backing musicians to join him onstage, though the term 'backing musician' doesn't seem fair here. Martin is at ease with his virtuosity, but hardly hogs the spotlight. He seems most comfortable when allowing the woodwind and percussion duo to shine.

Favouring restraint over flashiness, the musicians left the theatrics to dancers Raquel and Miguel. The pair stomped, writhed and pouted their way across the small stage. The hard, percussive nature of their traditional dancing was the perfect complement to the fiery music.

Completing the crew was a singer dressed in a long, black dress. She took her seat beside Martin, and belted out heartrending lyrics in Spanish whenever Martin gave her a musical cue.

Her voice was haunting and eerie, but oddly fascinating.

"It reminds me of a David Lynch film," my companion said. "It's certainly beautiful, but somehow off. It's almost frightening."

After a 15 minute intermission, the crew picked up where they left off.

Instead of stealing the show, Juan Martin chose to sit back and recreate the feel of a warm Andalusian evening where a group of musicians, dancers and artists might spontaneously gather at a small cafe to celebrate the history of a beautiful tradition together.

The audience was obviously on board. After a standing ovation, Martin and company came back for an impromptu encore.

"We look forward to returning to Winnipeg before too long," said Martin with a smile, as he and his band left the stage for the last time.


Good music is universal. Though I may not rush to see another flamenco concert anytime soon, the power of live music from skilled, passionate musicians is undeniable. Juan Martin could easily fill a room the next time he comes to Winnipeg.

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