It maybe far from it´s Andalucian roots but Madrid can boast to be the capital of flamenco.
An evening at any of the city’s tablaos or bars is an experience few forget. We give you a glimpse into its nocturnal world and offer a guide as to what its about, where to see it and how to enjoy it along with our selection of six of the best tablaos offering this unique Iberian dance form that has beguiled and inspired generations.
Flamenco became a recognised art form in the 18th century, but its roots go back further, and is believed to have begun in the secluded villages of Andalucia, most probably in the modern day provinces of Cadiz and Malaga.
The songs and dances reached back to the inhabitants Moorish past and the Berber settlers from North Africa who made up a sizeable proportion of the population. Their imprint on Spanish language and culture has been profound.
At its core is the duende – an intangible power, talent or quality that everyone can perceive but no one can quite explain.
The Spanish poet and dramatist, Federico García Lorca, said that the only thing we know about it is that, “it burns the blood”, describing it thus: “the duende is not in the throat; the duende surges up inside, from the soles of the feet.”
To find where you can experience duende in Madrid we have compiled a basic glossary for the dance, movemements and song as well as our guide to the “six of the best” of Madrid´s tablaos, where you can hear flamenco in its purest state as well as enjoying some good red wine and tapas dishes at your table.
PALO: The name given to the differing musical forms of flamenco – each palo is identified by a variety of musical features such as its rhyth, characteristics and types of stanza used for the lyrics.
PALMAS: Rhythmic accompaniment for song and dance, consisting of tapping the fingers of one hand in the palm of the other hand. There are two types: sordas, a muffled clap made with cupped hands, and secas, a dry clap made with the palms of open hands.
ZAPATEADO OR TACONEO ( male or female): Elaborate footwork to the beat of the different palos. It has different names according to which part of the foot is used: golpe (whole surface of the foot), planta or media planta (ball of the foot), punta (tip of the toe) and tacón (heel).
BULERÍA: One of the most lively palos. Its name is a combination of burlería or burla (“joke” or “jest”) and bulla (“frivolity”, “racket”). Most of the 12-beat palos, like the alegrías and the soleá, end with a bulería.
OLÉ! : Interjection of Berber origin used to cheer, applaud or spur on the artists ( no clapping in flamenco!)
CANTE JONDO: The most authentic Andalusian song, of profound sentiment, is the dictionary definition. The word jondo is thought to come from hondo, but as it is pronounced in Andalusia (with an aspirate ‘h’), or from the Hebrew term jom-tob, which means day of festivity.
CANTAOR: Flamenco vocalists are known as cantaores rather than cantantes, the usual Spanish word for singer. The dancers are called bailaores, and the guitarists, tocaores.
CAJÓN: A percussion instrument on which the musician sits to keep the beat with his hands. Of Peruvian origin, it was introduced in Spain by the guitarist Paco de Lucía, who was captivated by its sound while on tour in the country.
TRAJE DE VOLANTES: An ankle-length tight-fitting dress with a flounced skirt and flounced sleeves, originally worn by gypsy women. It typically has a polka-dot pattern, although it can be plain as well, and is usually brightly coloured.
Six Of The Best Flamenco Tablaos in Madrid
The most famous being Corral de la Moreria, situated in the Moreria district by the Royal Palace. Since its opening in 1956, it has been entertaining kings and presidents. The furnishings, Arab corbels and lamps from the 18th and 19th centuries take visitors back in time, creating an ambience of the original cafe cantante ( cafeterias with singing) from which modern tablaos have their origins.
Torres Bermejas was supposed to have been celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2020 but survived the pandemic in their beautiful downstairs salon that recreates the interior of the Bermejas Towers in the Alhambra in Granada. Camarón de la Isla performed here for twelve years, and met another flamenco great here – Paco de Lucía.
Café de Chinitas occupies the ground floor of a former 17th-century palace in Madrid’s historic centre. Its stage, which is famous for the colourful Manila shawls that decorate it, has hosted a vast constellation of flamenco stars over the years.
Las Carboneras: Although relatively new ( at just 20 years) its quickly established a reputation for excellence with outstanding performances that impressed locals and visitors alike. Located just behind the Mercado de San Miguel in the old Count of Miranda palace. The ultramodern image and style of this tablao offer a perfect backdrop for the finest contemporary performers.
Las Tablas is a venue that stimulates the senses. Home to the art, creative power and passion that are synonymous with flamenco.
Cafe Ziryab Established by a German expat, Anja, this tablao punched its way through to the top and given the top accolades of flamenco performers who have responded to its original and innovative flamenco acts, as well as more traditional flamenco performances which can be enjoyed with a cold dinner menu of Iberian tapas.