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Duende Comes to Vancouver

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There's an antidote to our long dark summer of discontent and endless post-hockey riot hand-wringing. Paco de Lucia is coming to town and promises to inject Vancouver with a potent dose of duende.

Now for those who have never fandangoed or read Garica Lorca, duende is that indefinable, spiritual essence that enters into one's being and comes out as impassioned dance, a flurry of fingers or a deep cante jondo.

In his Theory and Play of the Duende, Garcia Lorca (whose right-wing, civil war-era assassins and burial place were recently revealed -- a fitting time to invoke his spirit) explains,

"The duende works on the dancer's body like wind on sand. It changes a girl, by magic power, into a lunar paralytic, or covers the cheeks of a broken old man, begging for alms in the wine-shops, with adolescent blushes: gives a woman's hair the odour of a midnight sea-port: and at every instant works the arms with gestures that are the mothers of the dances of all the ages."


Lorca speaks of the duende as "A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.

"The duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: 'The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.' Meaning, it's not a question of skill, but of a style that's truly alive: meaning, it's in the veins: meaning, it's of the most ancient culture of immediate creation."

Thanks to our very own, Vancouver Jazz Festival -- whose recent outdoor concerts have been excellent examples of public gatherings that don't end in violent riots, and whose line up of international and local artists gets better every year -- the duende will soon be with us and Paco's playing will lift the spirits of a beleaguered city.

Now, I've never had the pleasure of seeing Paco perform live. But when I was a student in Spain back in the 80s, earnestly singing and playing romancero gitano in the parque del retiro in Madrid, I used to listen to his 1975 compilation album Entre dos Aguas that featured fabulous flamenco fusion with John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola -- religiously. It augmented my starving student diet of arroz y garbanzo and nourished my soul, giving me the strength to keep riding the metro, singing in the park, and dancing sevillanas til dawn (this was the Almodovar-infused, heady, late-80s era of la movida , after all).

I even brought the cassette with me for a weird semana santa in La Mancha, where I had to pose as the girlfriend of my gay painter room mate Antonio in a special performance for his olive-farming family. (muy Almodovar!) I'll forever associate the resonant strums of de Lucia's guitar with images of black hooded men bearing crucifixes, and questions from Antonio's mother about how many children I hoped to bear.

And by coincidence, the man who played a bit role in Carlos Saura's 1983 flamenco version of Carmen, featuring Paco and other prominent players, had opened a sevillanas and tapas bar down the street from where Antonio and I shared a tiny flat near Opera.

But in the way that duende is a fluid entity, Paco's music travelled with me around the world. The next year, I found myself living in Perth, Western Australia, where as luck would have it, I met up with a flamenco guitarist -- also named Antonio -- who was the nephew of the great classical guitarist Alexandre Lagoya. In a hotel restaurant overlooking the Swan River, whose claim to fame was the invention of the dessert called the Pavlova (in honour of the great dancer's visit to Australia), I sang Garcia Lorca songs with Antonio and even managed a little ditty that Paco played in Saura's Carmen (deja de llorar, no lloras mas).

Now, some two decades later, I might finally come face to face (or at least a few metres away from) the great Paco de Lucia. That is, if the tickets aren't sold out yet. Now I'm not sooo religious about his music that I'm ready to -- a la 70s era Eric Clapton fans -- walk around town with a sign saying 'Paco de Lucia is God.' I'm just saying that after a long pseudo-summer of rain and rioting, I could use a little duende -- and God knows Vancouver could. Like Garcia Lorca, the apparent soullessness of this city often has me asking,

The duende... Where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters... in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child's saliva, crushed grass, and Medusa's veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.

And here's a suggestion to our city's newly formed Integrated Riot Investigation Team -- send those repentant rioters to the Paco de Lucia concert on Sunday. Those disaffected suburban hockey mad youngsters might just find the cultural antidote to what ails them, and a way to more artfully express all that pent up emotion.

As the great de Lucia said, "You must understand that a Gypsy's life is a life of anarchy. That is a reason why the way of flamenco music is a way without discipline as you know it. We don't try to organize things with our minds, we don't go to school to find out. We just live."

Ole!

Paco de Lucia performs in Vancouver Sunday, July 3 at the Orpheum.

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