Updated: Feb 18, 2020
On the 7th and 8th February, I had the pleasure of hosting a homage to the 1983 flamenco production Macama jonda, by the poet, flamenco producer and first Gypsy university professor in Spain, José Heredia Maya [1947–2010]. Macama jonda is widely recognised as the first production to bring into dialogue flamenco and Arab-Andalusian music. Based on the story of a Moroccan woman from Tétouan marrying a Gypsy from Granada, the production combined musical fusion, dance, narrative and stage props in one of the first examples of ‘flamenco theatre’. To attract audiences at the time, it brought together a stellar cast of flamenco artists from Granada including the singer Enrique Morente (1942–2010) and dancer Manuel Santiago Maya ‘Manolete’ (b. 1945), along with the Andalusian Orchestra of Tétouan led by the renowned singer and violinist Abdessadaq Chekara (1931–98). At one level, the fusion between the two genres was relatively limited – the production features a number of pieces in which the flamenco ensemble and the Andalusian orchestra are separate. Yet there are key moments of artistic encounter between the two groups – encounters that continue to influence both Moroccans and Spaniards today who develop fusion projects.
I was delighted to able to present this event at the Peña la Platería in Granada, a flamenco club that I have been attending since my doctoral studies in 2010. For those not in the flamenco know, la Platería is the oldest and most prestigious flamenco peña (a club for traditional flamenco) in Spain. Before becoming a formal association in the 1960s, la Platería began life in 1949 during the height of the Franco regime as a series of tertulias [meetings] between flamenco aficionados and artists in Granada. At that time, it was forbidden for formal associations to be formed and so the peña began its life as a space in which aficionados could listen to recordings and burst into spontaneous song, always attended by someone from within the regime to vigilate proceedings. It is indeed in the context of these early meetings that we start to see the first glimpses of Moroccan involvement in flamenco life of the city, as the Spanish protectorate came to an end in 1956. One of the earliest socios [members] of la Platería was Mohammed Fadeh Benyaich who was studying in Granada at the time and who became deeply involved in the flamenco scene of the city. And indeed, part of the point of this event was to demonstrate the role that Moroccans living in Granada have played in the city’s flamenco scene and how they have carved a space for themselves, especially through flamenco-andalusí fusions.
The event was split into two parts. On the Friday evening, I delivered a presentation [see full video below] on the importance, historical context and legacy of Macama jonda. [The full text of the presentation in English translation can accessed here]. I was highly conscious of the fact that a number of the aficionados and artists in the peña had either attended the original event that premiered at the Auditorio Municipal de Manuel de Falla in February 1983 or were the actual artists involved in the production. Therefore, my aim in the talk was to draw attention to some of the unique features of Macama jonda that make it such an important work, such as the line-up of top-rate artists from Spain and Morocco, the fusion of flamenco and Arab-Andalusian music, Heredia’s creation of a new genre of flamenco ‘teatral’ [flamenco ‘theatre’] and some of the technological innovations involved in the audio recording. But I also wanted to bring a new perspective to Macama jonda, by linking it to important social and political events in Spain in the early 1980s, most notably Andalusian autonomy, artistic freedoms during the Transition following the Franco regime and Spanish-Moroccan diplomatic relations. But finally, and perhaps most importantly, I wanted to raise awareness of the continued influence Macama jonda and its artists such as Enrique Morente and Abdessadaq Chekara have had on the contemporary flamenco scene. A number of Spanish and Moroccan musicians continue in the same vein, taking inspiration from Macama jonda and innovating in their own ways, moving forward the musical and cultural conversation between flamenco and Arab-Andalusian music.
The highlight of the Friday evening was the opportunity to watch an original recording of Macama jonda. In 2016, when I was doing research on the show, the Centro de Documentación Musical de Granada kindly digitalised a copy for me of an audio-visual recording that was made of the performance at the Teatro de Lope de Vega in Seville, 1983. This recording is not publicly available, apart from through the library, and so at the time I thought it would be a great idea to try to put together a public showing of the recording. And Granada, and la Platería specifically, seemed the ideal place to do it, given that the original performance and rehearsals of Macama jonda took place in Granada, and many of the artists were renowned singers, guitarists and dancers from the city. After some time and after getting permission from the family of José Heredia Maya to show the film, the moment finally arrived where I could revive this work for a community that view it as a crucial part of local flamenco history. Although the recording is a slightly reduced version of the original performance and the quality isn’t the greatest, it was still a delight to be able to show the film in la Platería. And it was very well received – many people saw the work for the first time and, while they knew its history, they were taken in by the timeless message of fraternity that the production seeks to encapsulate. And for those who actually attended the original performance, the projection brought back happy memories of their youth at a time of immense social and political change.
A key objective of the event was to demonstrate the legacy of Macama jonda. For many musicians on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar, Macama jonda is more than simply a moment in time, but a process – a source of inspiration for a generation of Spanish and Moroccan artists who continue to experiment with the links and affinities between flamenco and Arab-Andalusian music. And as such, on the Saturday evening I arranged a double concert [see below for full video] of two prominent flamenco-andalusí groups resident in Granada who continue, in very distinct ways, the legacy of Macama jonda. The first group was Suhail Ensemble, led by the Moroccan-Spanish singer and oud player Suhail Serghini. Accompanied by the local guitarist José Cortes ‘El Pirata’ and a flamenco singer from Huelva Javier Flores ‘El Indio’, Suhail incorporated a mixture of melodies from within the Andalusi and broader Arab music tradition, as well as texts from original Andalusí poets such as Ibn Haszm [994–1064].
Following Suhail, we had a short break as the main act got ready – the Orquesta Chekara Flamenca, led by Jalal Chekara. Jalal is the nephew of the famous Arab-Andalusian and chaabi violinist and singer Abdessadaq Chekara, who worked closely with José Heredia Maya in the creation of Macama jonda and performed in the production itself. Like his uncle, Jalal trained in the Conservatoire of Music in Tétouan, an institution created at the height of the Spanish Protectorate during the 1940s that specialises in Arab-Andalusian music and Western classical music. The conservatoire is also home to the renowned Tetuani orchestra of Arab-Andalusian music that was led by Abdessadaq Chekara at the time of Macama jonda and with which Jalal has also performed. Since moving to Granada in the late 90s/early 2000s, Jalal has dedicated his professional career to continuing the legacy of his uncle, expanding on the early flamenco-andalusí fusions that characterised his uncle’s career. Jalal’s group changes quite frequently, so on this occasion he was accompanied by the local flamenco singer Alicia Morales, the guitarist Antonio de la Luz, and two brothers from Tangiers – Moustafa Bakali (oud) and Mouchin Bakali (darbuka). Jalal hadn’t performed in la Platería since the late 1990s and so for him it was a privilege to return to the venue and pay homage to his uncle and to Enrique Morente who also performed in Macama jonda, and with whom Jalal had close artistic relations before his death in 2010.
It was an amazing event and it was a pleasure to host it in la Platería. I would like to thank everyone involved in the organisation and all the fantastic musicians who took part. I hope to be able to replicate the event again, both in the UK and in Morocco!
For more information on Macama jonda see:
Machin-Autenrieth, Matthew. 2019. 'Spanish Musical Responses to Moroccan Immigration and the Cultural Memory of al-Andalus' Twentieth Century Music, 16(2): 259–287.