Seis: Duende

The Paseo de la Cristobal Colon, on the east side of the mirror-smooth Guadalquivir River, is home to some of the swankiest clubs in Sevilla. A little after midnight early Saturday morning, the sidewalks are so packed with gorgeous, well-dressed people I can barely make my way through.

This is definitely not a place where I fit in, so I cross the Puente de Isabella II to Triana.

Triana was traditionally the working class neighborhood of Sevilla, known for its large population of Romani, or gypsies. It’s also arguably the cradle of flamenco. Flamenco sprang from the persecuted classes of Spain — the Romani, the post-Reconquista Moors, the Jews. Like all great folk arts, it’s mostly about pain and suffering. And all that pain and suffering found a home in Triana.

Which is not to say that Triana is still some romantic working class barrio where soliders vie for the hands of fiery gypsies. It’s a tourist destination now. But it is quieter than the central city — and in the middle of January, there aren’t many tourists to be found.

I ended up in a little hole-in-the-wall called Bar La Cinta, drawn by the distinctive palmas (clapping) used to accentuate the beat in flamenco. The triangle-shaped building probably couldn’t hold more than 20 people. I pushed my way through to the bar, where the stout bartender struggled with my request. “Cruzcampo! CERVEZA!” I shouted above the noise. He nodded and stretched the distance between his hands from big to small; did I want a big glass or a small one? I stretched my hands as far as they could go.

A few feet in front of me, a Zach de la Rocha lookalike was banging away at a guitar. I could only see the top of his head through the crowd, undulating like a possessed bobblehead. He was shouting in that distinctive flamenco rasp, brought on no doubt by a lifetime of smoking (a LOT of Spainiards still smoke, from what I can tell). Although there was barely room to move, couples locked hands and twisted and spun. These were older, wearier people than most I’ve seen out and about in Sevilla. A very different clientele from that on the east side of the river.

There’s a term in flamenco called “duende“— basically, it describes the type of hair-raising experience one can only have when enveloped in a particularly passionate expression of the performing arts. Federico Garcia Lorca, the tragic poet hero of flamenco, said: “Duende could only be present when one sensed that death is possible.” The great blues and soul singers have duende. Fiona Apple has duende. Kendrick Lamar has duende (have you seen that Colbert performance?). Clapton had duende on “Layla” and not much else.

(Lorca was also an outspoken socialist. At the outset of the Spanish Civil War, Fascist forces kidnapped him, drove him to an Andalucian field outside of Granada, and — as fascists are wont to do— blew his brains out).

I headed out around 1 a.m., but the impromptu performance showed no signs of ending. This is Spain, after all; duende doesn’t even peek out from under the covers until the sun is threatening to rise.