18 Jun 2015

'Culture, history, suffering' – the heartfelt music of Paco Peña

Cordoba is a place of fusion. The moors – early Muslims – developed the city in the 9th century, and built one of the biggest mosques in the world.

Half a century later, the Christians came along and plonked an ornate cathedral bang in the middle of the place. And for a time both faiths held their prayers alongside each other.

Good Friday Processions

These days, Muslims are not allowed to pray in the mosque. In a sense the place speaks to the splendour, the ecstasy and the sadness of Spain.

A confusion of emotions that are beautifully represented in flamenco music.

I’ve just been to Cordoba to see Paco Peña, perhaps the greatest living flamenco guitarist. He is constantly developing, augmenting, and experimenting as to what can be done with flamenco.

Next week he is bringing his latest experiment to Sadlers Wells in London.

Paco believes that flamenco is capable of rising to a point of “duende” – which I crudely describe as ecstasy.

He also believes that many other musical genres can ascend to the same point. In particular, the blues. So he’s imported a wonderful Afro-Carribean blues artist called Vimala Rowe and fused her performance with that of an equally exuberant flamenco singer.

He tells me both traditions embody “culture, history, suffering and emotion”.

When we arrived at the rehearsal rooms in Cordoba, the entire building rang to the clackety-clack of dancing shoes on the floor, the yelling of voices, and the strum of guitars.

It’s an intoxicating mix, in exactly the same way as the ornate high altar dressings are with the gorgeous rhythms of the red and white arches of the mosque.


Spain could have been Greece, but isn’t. Yet she has suffered her fair share of agony in these past few years of austerity and uncertainty. More than half of the country’s 24-year-olds are unemployed.

But through it all Spanish culture, and perhaps music and dance more than anything, have continued to buoy Spanish spirits.

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