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Flamenco Group Celebrates Decade
Ron Foley Macdonald

From the strains of the Gypsy Kings to the electrifying films of Tony Gatlif, the sounds of Flamenco have spread from their native Spain right around the world over the last quarter-century. Here on the East Coast of Canada, we've been lucky to host the St. John's born, Halifax-based troupe El Viento Flamenco for more than ten years.

To celebrate a decade of activity--from concerts, to founding a school for both music and dance, to a major collaboration with the Dalhousie Theatre School last winter--the El Viento Flamenco Company launched their freshly recorded live album at the Great Hall of Dalhousie's University Club in the first week of July to a sold-out house of happy fans, friends and associates.

El Viento Flamenco Company

The six-person group--guitarist Bob Sutherby, percussionists Tony Tucker and Megan Matheson, dancer Evelyne Benais and singers Sean Harris and Maral Perk--deliver a stark, unadulterated version of Spanish Flamenco that has definitely not been watered-down for mass-market consumption.

In fact, El Viento Flamenco's austere purity is something truly amazing to behold. With the longest selection--entitled Seguiriya--on the album clocking in at a massive 15 minutes and 24 seconds, this is raw and exciting stuff, sung in its original language and driven only by acoustic guitar, percussion, handclaps and foot-stomps.

Recorded in front of a live audience by CBC honchos Glenn Meisner and Pat Martin--live sound was by the renowned Sonic Temple-based recordist David Hillier--El Viento Flamenco In Concert is a fascinating, intense and deeply rewarding musical experience.

And while the company has not compromised its extraordinary musical and dance presentations over the last ten years, El Viento Flamenco has worked hard to expand its audience, appearing widely from major receptions--the 2001 Atlantic Film Festival Opening Party was one--to Network Television performance programs (Bravo, The New Style Arts Channel, recently featured the group in its own show put together by the Halifax-based New Scotland Production Company).

The eight selections on the new album range from traditional pieces to more contemporary works, all in the various dance and declarative forms that dictate much of Flamenco's modern-day boundaries. Serious, passionate, and remarkably sustained, the music on the disc celebrates Spain's sense of place where Western and Oriental streams of music meet, making for an unforgettable fusion of ornamented line, furious rhythm and keening emotion.

The bulk of the vocals are handled by Newfoundlander Sean Harris, a singer trained in Western Classical tradition who has plunged himself into the study of contemporary Spanish and Flamenco practices. Realizing one of the great connections between The Rock and Iberia--five hundred years of fishing fleets from Spain and Portugal and the Basque region on the Grand Banks have indeed bred a spiritual closeness--Harris handles the many demanding twists and turns of Flamenco vocalizations with the confidence of someone with deep and abidingly profound understanding of the tradition.

Similarly, guitarist Bob Sutherby drives the sometimes-manic rhythms of the group with an extraordinary dedication to his role as the single harmonic instrument for the group. His interaction with the rest of the troupe's handclaps on the ten-minute second track on the album, Alegria, makes for an engrossing rhythmic dialogue that reveals the group's superb ensemble abilities.

Having received rave reviews from the National Press for their recent return to Newfoundland in June for a Canada-wide Dance Exposition, El Viento Flamenco seem to be entering their second decade with renewed enthusiasm.

For more information on the group, check out their website

© Ron Foley Macdonald 2006

Lezlie LoweAuthor's Biography

Ron Foley Macdonald is a freelance writer and film programmer who has worked The National Film Board, The CBC, and Atlantic Film Festival. He is currently writing theatre reviews for The Daily News.

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