Bruselas Flamenco Festival
February 28-March 3, 2018
In its second year, the Bruselas Flamenco Festival stretches outwards geographically, and backwards in time, to highlight the roots of the form, rather than presenting what many folks would deem the mainline of this music. In fact, not so much of the festival's four-day programme could be called 'straight' flamenco, as the artists presented also embraced the sounds of Turkey, the north African Berbers, and the Cuban influence of Catalan rumba. Bruselas is Spanish for Brussels, and the city has quite a significant population from that land. There was also late-night party DJ Txarly Brown, spinning Archifunk, which may well be a genre that he's invented himself: a modernised manifestation of those old-time rumba sounds from the 1950s.
On the festival's opening night, a flamenco mass was held at Notre-Dame au Sablon, which is quite close to the Bozar arts centre, where all of the other performances took place. A group from the Santiago area of Jerez performed with explanatory narration by Chris De Paepe, a specialist in Spanish poetry and literature. The two male and three female singers (with a pair of guitarists) didn't manage to attain the atmospheric and emotional heights often revealed during such church performances, the weather being extremely chilly, and the audience not showing much sign of being caught up in any kind of passion. The elements just didn't cohere in the expected fashion, and this manifestation of the flamenco form was very much stranded at the formal end of the range, far away from the earthiness of a club setting. Nevertheless, the concept itself was a commendable attempt to explore alternative aspects of flamenco.
Dorantes is that rare beast in flamenco: a pianist. This Andalusian Romani was joined by the drummer and percussionist Javi Ruibal, to deliver a duo mini-set before being augmented by the Taksim Trio, from Turkey. This combination is dubbed Gitanos del Mediterranéo. Dorantes is clearly open to infiltrations from jazz and classical music, in his melodies, phrasing and feel. In fact, he's open to many styles, to the extent that his raw flamenco moves are mostly obscured. His delivery is flamboyant and frilled with flowery details. He opened the performance solo before being joined by Ruibal's scampering around an augmented kit, with cajon, congas and goblet drum. Dorantes combined cutting trills and grandiloquent runs, and also favored the internal damping of strings. He slung in jazz and classical shards, plus fragments of tango, and even the hammering torrent so beloved by GoGo Penguin
and their ilk. Ruibal used brushes to make flicking scatters, with samba rhythm suggestions meeting Dorantes in Havana mode. Still the performance did not contain much actual flamenco.
The Taksims entered stage-left, and immediately established a mysterious mood, with intricate group themes, displaying virtuosic empathy. Aytaç Dogan's qanun suddenly became the most strongly flamenco-styled element, as he delivered the first of many exceptional solos, making the audience marvel at his high-speed dexterity. He also had an unusual technique of laying his flat palm on the strings when not playing fleet runs, opening up an alternative role as a percussionist. Ismail Tunçbilek's baglama had the tone of a jazz electric guitar, and the next moment it sounded like the band were breaking into a Pink Floyd number. Hüsnü Şenlendirici is a star clarinetist, making this trio unusually balanced in their individual soloing prowess, his horn sound coated with a thickening effect. The second half reversed tactics, with the Taksims taking the lead, Dorantes and Ruibal joining in midway through the set, appearing somewhat uncertain when entering the dashing world of the Turks. As the beyond-flamenco possibilities were being deliberately explored during this festival, it would be churlish to complain about this show's veering off into virtually every other genre, but as the long weekend passed by, the actual hardcore form was to become a scarcity, until the final day.