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“Flamenco is ours, unique in the world, but it is more valued outside of Spain than within”

The sanluqueña Laura Vital is one of the most representative of the current flamenco scene and one of the most moving voices on the flamenco scene. She is one of those flagship women in all aspects of her life; fighter since she was a child and a national and international reference in the world of flamenco.

In the Flamenco Week of Benalmádena, through the Club Más Madera, the documentary is screened Menese at the Casa de la Cultura, where Laura Vital is one of the great figures of the cast. The artist explains to readers of Ole Benalmádena details the details of the documentary and emphasizes the need for institutions to bet on the education and projection of Andalusian art par excellence among the youngest public.

– How did you meet José Menese?

-In 2001, just won the Giraldillo de Cante in the International Young Flamenco Competition of the XI Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla, I coincided on a poster with José Menese. His representative, Luis Torres, explained to me that José had a show, with lyrics from the Golden Age and a chamber orchestra conducted by maestro Joan Albert Amargós, and he wanted to have a female voice and that he had thought of me. And there It arose To my solitudes I go, from my solitudes I come. We started working that same year and we were practically until 2008.

-With that show you took flamenco to half the world …

-I had been singing for many years, but the truth is that for me that project was a huge springboard. We did the great theaters in Spain from the Real, the Maestranza, Isabel la Católica… and then we were in Jordan and performed for Queen Raina… we were in a thousand places. That experience, in addition to the professional level, meant enormous learning for me on a human level, since being close to these teachers was impressive.  LaterSentimiento de Pasión was mounted, and well, from that a friendship arose with both him and his family, which continued until his death.

– How did your participation in the documentary Menese come about?

-I was called by its director, Remedios Malvares, with whom I had already worked on another documentary, El Silencio, and she told me about the project she had in mind and I was delighted to accept. She wanted to convey the message that a myth like José is still alive through cante and the generations that have transcended them. In the documentary we participate three contemporary women, and each one makes a stick of José, but reinvented by us. Menese’s art lives on through our voices and continues to transform.

– What was José Menese like?

-In the artistic dimension you only have to see his performances, his discography, but… in the human dimension he was also unique. People like José are so necessary … he was a committed, rebellious artist, who used his cante as a tool for social transformation in a time when it was very difficult, because today we artists enjoy another freedom, but in the 70s it was very difficult to do what he did. He was a brave man. He left a discography that, in addition to being a renewal of popular lyrics, was an example of the use of art as a tool for social transformation.

-It is curious to see how art permeates other areas of society, such as politics …

-Yes. And besides, José was consistent and sincere throughout his life. He was a brave man, as I told you. He was a consistent and honest person in his way of being and in his way of being.

-Laura, how did you get started in flamenco singing?

-I started in 1992. My mother tells me that since I was three years old I already started to hum. Note that my father sings and also my grandfather El Tapón, and in truth it is that flamenco is the soundtrack with which I grew up. I made my debut at the Puerto Lucero flamenco club, in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. From the year 92 I began to participate in different competitions and already in 98 I went to Seville, where through a scholarship I studied psychology while combining cante with the university. For a few years I have already had my place at the Seville Conservatory of Music and, furthermore, I continue to perform.

– Is training important for artists in flamenco art?

-Yes of course. I started as my father and my grandfather, in a self-taught way because there were no other alternatives. He thinks that the conservatory has had flamenco for not even 14 years, and it is an art that has been around for two centuries. How many flamenco artists have we missed? Is that, to give you an example, to find something from La Niña de Los Peines you had to go look at the gas stations … it is very strong. Now young people have more options to train.

– What role do peñas play in the world of flamenco?

-Well, a fundamental role. Right now the peñas are the associative fabric of flamenco. They have the power to preserve flamenco art and to encourage young people through the competitions they organize. I owe a lot to the peñas. It was, thanks to them, that I took boards and made myself known.

– Is flamenco the great forgotten within public institutions?

-Institutional support seems to be increasing little by little, but the reality is that it is not given the relevance it deserves.  Look, for example, flamenco clubs are an important support for artists. We work in shows, in theaters, but when there is no programming of this type, peñas are fundamental for artists.  In addition, it is a way for flamenco to reach all the towns of the country.

– What moment is the current flamenco scene living?

-In the pandemic, music, and the arts in general, has been the most vulnerable group. Many flamenco artists, and I am talking about great figures, have not had any support and have had to make a living in other trades because eating must be eaten.  It is that they have not given us anything at all … no subsidy, no help and it has been more than a year of inactivity. Now the market has been reactivated somewhat, but everyone forgets that during the confinement art has accompanied us because we have all read, listened to music, seen a movie … and that is done by artists and they are very crushed. Flamenco has been a very mistreated collective.

– Is flamenco an art that you like more outside of Spain than inside?

-Unfortunately yes. We have it so close that we do not value it. Outside of Spain, it is valued at the level of cache, of the influx of public to shows, of respect, in purchases of flamenco music…. I speak from my own experience. Outside of Spain you fill a theater with a much higher ticket cost than here, and on top of that they buy you CDs after the show… here you hardly fill a theater half full, with tickets much cheaper than outside. It is the music that represents us… I have been in business for 30 years and have seen as, for example, in the Netherlands, a benchmark for classical music and where there is no flamenco culture, they have that respect for the flamenco artist, they appreciate and support him by going to the shows… We are not aware of what we have here. That is why I advise you to enjoy the Benalmádena Flamenco Week because afterwards, the same show goes to Europe and there, even if the tickets exceed 50 euros, the theaters fill up. In France, for example, they treat us like divos… it’s amazing.

-Laura, do you understand that it is missing in Spain to give flamenco the place it deserves …

-Everything starts with education, and it starts at the bottom, with the children. Public institutions have to do dissemination and education work. Flamenco needs to capture new audiences. There is no work of education or   recruitment of young audiences. In general, flamenco programs are at dawn, there is no cultural offer of flamenco for children … How do we want this to survive if we are not sowing the seeds of flamenco in children? They are the future, and flamenco is no exception. I do not mean that things are not done … the supporters’ clubs do a very important job but there is still a lot to do and it is in the hands of those who govern. Flamenco is unrepeatable, it is unique in the world.

-In your teaching work you will have experienced many anecdotes….

-You can’t imagine. Foreign students who told me they had left everything because flamenco called them… they had left their job, their life… people do crazy things for flamenco. What power flamenco has that poisons people for the rest of their lives… it’s amazing. It is such a rich and complex art, the result of the opening of Andalusia to all the civilizations that have passed through here and that have left their mark and their power.

– Will we see Flamenco in Andalusian schools as part of the music course?

-It’s in their blood. I have promoted a show called Flamenclown which is for children and they come out of there clapping their hands, singing the songs they have heard… Children like flamenco you just have to teach them from the fun, from the dance, from certain happy styles… Flamenco needs positioning. You go to Cuba, for example, to tell you something, and there the first thing children learn is their local music, not here. You have to do a job of spreading flamenco to children from school. It is not only a task of the parents, it is also the obligation of the institutions, but there is no real commitment.  They go with the flute out of tune to music and why can’t they go with a guitar? You have to give them the opportunity to know their musical roots. And it is that flamenco is ours, it is a cannibal music that where it arrives, sweeps. You have to put your batteries in and give flamenco the place it deserves.

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