Love and the Art of Flamenco Guitar Making: A Visit to the Guitarrería Mariano Conde

The sawdust on the floor gave it away: this was actually a living, breathing sort of workshop, not one where the workers are tucked away, out of sight for appearances. My ears perked with each twang of the six strings of a flamenco guitar. There was a few hollow knocks, followed by a bit of sanding.

That’s where the sawdust came from. 

Growing up, I played the clarinet and learned music theory while perfecting trills, scales and my embouchure. Upon taking a flamenco course in Seville, I discovered that I shared the innate rhythm bailaores possess, the internal metronome that allows them to recognize palos and styles, then spiral into dance. My ears picked up the 2/4 and 3/4 counts and set my feet into motion with a firm golpe using my whole foot.

There are three big parts to flamenco – el cante, or the song; el baile, or dance;  el toque, or the guitar. The guitar is what accompanies  the cante, and sets rhythm to the bailaor. 

To learn about how flamenco guitars are crafted, Tatiana took us to the Mecca of guitarras flamencasGuitarrería Mariano Conde. Tucked away from the Ópera area on Calle de la Amnistía, this workshop has existed since 1915 and is operated by a third-generation craftsman and his son. 

Mariano hardly looked up from his work as he welcomed us into the bi-lever taller. He was sanding down the intoxicating curves of a flamenco guitar, crafted from cyprus and a century-old design. There was a muttered holaaaaa bienvenidas and a quick dos besos for Tatiana as she led us downstairs into the dimly lit belly of the shop. 

The tools of the trade stood against the wall – picks, sanders, measuring sticks, protractors. Nearly two dozen guitars in various stages of development, each showing just a fraction of the work that goes into crafting a lightweight flamenco guitar. In all, about 300 hours of labor go into producing a single instrument.

Mariano descended the stairs, carrying a soundboard over his shoulder. Made of thin strips of cypress or spruce, this part of the guitar provides for the reverberation and the sound that is transmitted when strings get plucked. Once this part of the guitar has been crafted, the sideboards are affixed, followed by the fretboard, or neck.

Just as a painter signs the bottom of a masterpiece, Mariano’s signature comes by way of the carving on the top of each fretboard – his is a minute, gently sloping “M.”

Many of the guitars we saw were in their final stages of production – applying coat after coat of French shellac, drying, or ready for the strings and bridge to be attached. Around the sound hole, Mariano adds another signature of his workshop, one which is solely dedicated to flamenco guitars: the rosette.

Made from carved and dyed pieces of wood, the color and pattern of rosettes changes regularly, and his current design pays homage to the first generation of flamenco guitar craftsmen in his family. The costs begin at 2800€ and rise steadily from there, depending on the wood used and hours of craftsmanship.

Unless, of course, it’s a Sonata.

A list of about 30 names of guitars, named for the poems that accompany the tag, are specially crafted for famous names in flamenco (including the recently deceased flamenco great, Paco de Lucía) and specialty buyers, including musicians who do not perform in the flamenco style. The Sonata guitars are pricey, but done solely by el maestro himself.

Mariano himself was hospitable, answering my questions between teens looking to replace nylon strings and other curious buyers who walked into the shop.

To say the Conde Hermanos, sobrinos de Domingo Esteso, are household names when it comes to flamenco guitars, would be an understatement. I’m not a flamenco aficionado, but can appreciate the discipline and attention it take to perfect an art, be it el cante or el baile or el toque.

The Art of Making, Alma Flamenca from Deep Green Sea on Vimeo.

I visited Guitarrería Mariano Conde as part of the ‘Origins of Flamenco’ tour with OGO Tours. Check out their website for loads more, from food to walking tours to excursions. Javier and Tatiana graciously invited my friend and I free of charge, but all opinions are my own.

If you’re interested in more Madrid and flamenco: My Perfect Madrileño Day | Mercado San Miguel | Where to see flamenco in Seville

Do you like Flamenco?

I Bought a Flamenco Dress, Now What?!: a Guide to Buying Complementos

My phone buzzes just as I’m hopping on my bike, telling me I’ve got a photo in my whatsapp. M has sent me a photo of two different earrings, set side-by-side with a series of questions marks.

I know where she’s coming from.

Buying a flamenco dress every two years and figuring out how to deck it out has become my adult version of dress-up (who needs Halloween when you can wear ruffles? And big flowers on your head! And side-eye anyone wearing an outdated dress design!). I’m probably just as excited to shop for complements than I am for the actual flamenco dress.

I confess that my first Feria was rife with mistakes: I wore jeans and a ratty tee to the alumbrado, bought baby-sized accessories and – gasp! – wore my mantoncillo around my hips because I didn’t know you had to buy a brooch for it. Hey, no one helped me, and the lady in the Don Regalón probably laughed when I chose demure earrings that only an infant should have been wearing.

Shame is having a six-month-old show you up on Calle La Bombita while she’s napping in her stroller, trust me.

Oh, and did I mention I also wore a purse and a WINDRBREAKER?! Guiri, no.

I sent M the cardinal rule of flamenco accessories – BE BOLD. When else can you wear ridiculously oversized jewelry? When else is risk-taking so handsomely rewarded? Her dress is black, so the obvious, traditional choice is red. When I suggested gold, fuschia or even neons, I think I confused her even more. Having options makes sticking to a color palate really, really tough.

Let it be known that I am quitting my job for the next month to become a flamenco accessory consultant. 

First, you have to know the basics. Two months before the Greatest Week Ever begins, flamenco dress and accessories stores begin to pop up in the center of town, and you’ll hear the word traje spoken with a word density that makes your head spin (that, and azahar, playa, pasos and vacaciones, four sacred words in the sevillano lexicon when spring arrives).

Look for the stores near Calle Francos, Calle Cuna and Calle Asunción for both dresses and accessories. Your shoes can be bought on Calle Córdoba or any Pasarela store around town. If you’re looking for a deal on a dress, trajes are sold at warehouse prices in the towns outside of Seville, as well as older models at El Jueves flea market. A dizzying variety of complementos can be found at El Corte Inglés, Don Regalón and a number of specialty shops. Chinos also sell bargain items in plastic and sometimes beads.

Rule of thumb when it comes to your accessories: the bigger, the better. I mean it. No color, shape or size is off-limits. My new traje de gitana (you only get a preview below, sorry!) is a greenish turquoise color with cream-colored lunares, complimented by cream-colored encaje under the bust, where the sleeves open at the elbow, and at the ruffles. Since I didn’t pay for the dress, I was willing to splurge on complementos this year.

My advice is to browse before you buy. Because there are endless combinations of colors and styles, it’s easy to lose your head. When you have a dress made for you, ask for a swatch of fabric to take to the accessories stores for matching colors. I beelined straight for Isabel Mediavilla, a local designer who is friendly and helpful when it comes to suggesting possibilities. When she and I had come up with a color palate – dusty purple and gold – it was time to get to work.

Here’s your basic kit:

El Mantoncillo: The Shawl

I always buy the shawl as soon as I’ve got the dress nailed down. These shawls can cost up to 100€ or even more, given that some are hand-painted, hand-embroidered, a mix of patterns and textures. Buying the shawl will help you have an idea of what accessories will pair best.

Some women choose a gargantilla (a choker with flecos, or the fringe that hangs down) or simple flecos that are sewn to the neckline of the traje de gitana.

Mine: Bought from Raquel Terán (Calle Francos, 4), 75€

La Flor: The Flower

The flower is a gitana’s hallmark, meant to look like a rose or carnation and worn either on top of the head or tucked behind the ear. The flowers are made of cloth and have a flexible “stem” with which to secure it to your head with bobby pins. Flowers can be big or small, but you should probably just go ahead and get a big one if you’ve got “la altura” according to the snotty lady at the Corte Inglés.

I went back to Isabel Mediavilla, as she has literally a wall full of flowers of every imaginable color and style. I’m going big this year – BIG.

Mine: Bought from Isabel Mediavilla (Calle Francos, 34), 20€

Los Pendientes: The Earrings

In one of my less memorable Feria moments, I let a cheap pair of earrings I’d bought at Don Regalón get the better of me – I pouted when one slipped out of my ears while dancing (hey, the 13€ they cost meant an entire hour’s private lesson!). I love the bold, intricate earrings that women wear during the fair and am constantly looking for ones that aren’t too heavy.

I bought these ceramic beauties, but they’re a bit heavy, and my earlobes may not be able to handle them!

Mine: Bought from El Corte Inglés (Nervión), 23€

El Broche: The Brooch 

Many times, you’ll find brooches that match with your earrings, particularly at the Corte Inglés. A broche is mega important if you’re wearing a mantoncillo, as this will attach the  shawl to your dress and making dancing, eating and drinking hands-free.

Just, please, don’t tie the ends of the shawl together. Spend a few bucks on a brooch and you’ll not regret it!

Mine: Bought from El Corte Inglés, 9€

La Peineta: The Comb

Even in the age of bobby pins and hairspray, many women choose to add plastic or metal combs to their hair. They often don’t serve any sort of purpose, but many women wear them just behind the flower or to capture the whips of hair that aren’t shellacked to their skull.

When matching your combs, try and be consistent with your other accessories. If you’ve got plastic earrings, stick with a plastic peineta. Same goes for metal and for colors.

Mine: Bought two years in a chino, 12€

Los Tacones: The Shoes

Although I’d argue that shoes are the least of your aesthetic worries during the fair (hell, they’re covered by your ruffles!), it’s important that you wear something comfortable for all of those hours on your feet. Women opt for espadrille wedges or even cloth flamenco shoes that have a thick heel for support. Calle Córdoba, near Plaza del Salvador, is a narrow alleyway full of zapaterías, so make that your first stop.

Let me just say this – if you’re wearing stilettos, you’ll be doing very little dancing and probably a lot of pouting!

Mine: Bought from Pasarela two years ago, 15€

Lo demás: Everything else

You’ll also need to buy hairspray and bobby pins to secure the flower’s stem and the combs without a doubt. I’ve also got a donut for making a big, thick bun, as well as a fan because this year’s fair goes well into May.

 

Flamenco Complementos

Some women opt for necklaces, bangles, mantoncillo or no – what it all comes down to is feeling comfortable and wearing your accessories confidently. Remember that the flamenco dress itself is heavy and it can get hot under there!

As for M? I sincrerely hope she went with hot pink. Lo dicho: go big or stay at home!

Want to read more on the Feria de Sevilla?

On my first time buying accessories successfully // The Dos and Don’ts of the Feria de Sevilla // The Music of the Feria de Sevilla

Seville Snapshots: SIMOF and the Moda Flamenca Industry

A few years ago, I had this moment where I had to pinch myself – I was sitting seventh row at a flamenco fashion show. I couldn’t tell you anything more than it’s name in Spanish, let alone rattle off the colors, fabric, cuts and even the numerous ways to style those ruffles.

SIMOF, short for Salón Internacional de Moda Flamenca, is one of the world’s greatest flamenco fashion shows. Showcasing more than 50 designers (including kids!), Seville’s convention bureau rocks to bulerías as the year’s top designs go down the runway.

When I went three years ago to a Friday afternoon to see Loli Vera’s designs on show at SIMOF, I was drawn into a design world, Tim Gunn style. Even though the models looked like they couldn’t have been more bored as they strutted (well, it’s hard to strut in a traje de gitana) in front of fashion bloggers and video cameras. I began to take interest in desginers – not just of dresses but also shawls and accessories – and giddily begin planning my Feria look a few months before the big event.

The Reyes Magos came a bit late this year, but they left me a fantastic present – money to go towards a new flamenco dress for the Feria de Abril, which I started designing last week with a modista. It was both nerve-wracking and exciting!.

If you go: SIMOF 2014 takes place from this Thursday to the following Sunday in the Convention center of Seville, FIBES. Entrances to the fairgrounds and stands, where you can buy fabrics, trajes and accessories, is 5 and each fashion show costs 10. You can find all the information you need at FIBES Sevilla’s official site for the event.

Have you ever been to SIMOF, or own your own flamenco dress?

Seville Snapshots: Flamenco Recital

It’s 9:32 when Carmen strolls in, still tightening the straps on her flamenco shoes.

Bueno, chicas, empecemos. An air of confidence has blown in with her, though you’d hardly know on such a hot night. The cante cracks on the old stereo, and we roll our heads and stretch our fingers. I’d argue that they’re the two most important conveyors of emotion in the baile, so we spend extra time making sure they move gracefully but with tension. One of flamenco’s contrasts.

I roll my ankles, tapping out a tiki-tat, ending with a golpe, the stomp that produces a great, flat sound. It’s Tuesday night flamenco class, and I’m ready for the arte, the duende and the emotion that accompanies flamenco.

A year later, I’ve bowed out of the class, but Cait is still tapping away three or four nights a week with Carmen. The outdoor stage is set up with an array of microphones, lights and gadgets, but flamenco needs no introduction or fancy equipment. Carmen’s master class takes the stage and I raise Camarón to my face. Lights, camera, arte.

If you’re new here, check out my first few entries in a series on photogenic Seville, which will be posted every Monday. If you’d like to participate with your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of the recital on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

It happened one night at Anselma…

Two years ago, my dear friend Lindsay called me with a journalistic question: How do you write for a guidebook and not make it sound like a 23-year-old party girl wrote it?

You give the job to me, I replied.

Two years later, when the Rough Guides series asked her to update another addition, she did. I’m in the process of revising the flamenco, nightlife, shopping and practical information sections of their Andalucía version, a task I welcomed and looked forward to doing.

Until I went to Anselma.

I gathered my two other married/pareja de hecho friends (ok , I’ll be fair, Lauren is engaged and Mickey is thinking about doing pareja de hecho) and grabbed a tapa from Dr. X in Triana. At half past 11, we took our spots in line in front of one of Triana’s most famous flamenco joints, Casa Anselma. I’d always marvel at all of the people lined up around the block while having my punto-pinchi-chipi-champi at Las Golodrinas. The owner, a singer who never really hit the big time but is friends with Pantoja, Paquirri and the lot of them, overcharges for beer but the show is earthy, long and fun.  figuring the place must be good, we snagged three seats at a table in the second row.

The place filled up so quickly that even the waitress couldn’t move through the crowd. I gave her a 20€ bill for our three glasses of wine before the show began. An old trianero, hair ablaze, strummed his guitar while he and two others played a copla. Two other stood up and requested a sevillanas. So did a drunk American, claiming she could dance. As it turned out, she was just being obnoxious and tried to clap her way out of it. Everyone in the place but us three roared with laughter.

Anselma, feeling upstaged by the guiri, took her place front and center and began to sing a well-known copla, Piensa in Me. She wasn’t outrageously good, but the crowd drank in her attempts to squeeze more money out of the free show. When she sang the namesake, she raised her hand to her mouth as if drinking a mug a beer and pointed with her other to the bar.

While singing another shortly after, a loud crash echoed through the virgin-covered walls. We all turned around, and the waitress had tripped and spilled a gin and tonic on a patron. He had one of those “Me cago all over your favorite Virgin” looks on his face, and the queen of the tablao took it personally. “Hey, she’s mine!” she shouted at sour puss, “If you have a problem I, as the queen of this house, ask you to leave!” The man stepped further into the bar and his friend came to his rescue, “You don’t know how to behave properly in your own business. This is no way to treat clients, and you’re just after the money!” Other clients started jeering and shouted, “FUERA!” until the pair left. I turned around and asked Lauren, how do we get out of here? I expected to have the bar empty out.

No one left. Typical, Spain.

Afraid to get up and leave, for fear she might follow us to the street, we stayed on as she told jokes. No one was safe – catalanes, homosexuals and foreigners were all ripped on. I started to grow more and more uncomfortable, yet couldn’t help but be entertained. Next, it was reported that someone’s wallet had been stolen and the owner did nothing to help. We knew then it was time to go and literally crawled over people to get to the door.

I went and met Kike at a bar on Calle Betis. I offered to buy him a drink, but upon opening my wallet, realized I hadn´’t been returned my 11€ from the drinks. Anselma is out of the guide.

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