Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator

Chicago may be in the midst of a polar vortex, but the warmth of fiery Flamenco rhythms is about to heat up our winter days and nights.  In the following weeks, Flamenco Festival 2014, back from a 2013 hiatus, is scheduled to take place in several venues from February 14 to March 23.

This year’s programming promises a wealth of experiences in the vibrant Spanish art form, and features emerging as well as established dancers and musicians and both invited and local performers. Chicago, in fact, has a fairly well-established tradition of it’s own which shares the two-hundred year old art-form, born with gypsies in India who took it to southern Spain where it evolved with Arabic and Spanish influences as well.

Here’s a few recommended concerts of the local artists that will grace the stages during the event:

With members hailing from Spain, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the USA, and boasting a brand-new female singer from Cordoba, Spain El Payo y La Tiranta present a night of flamenco music and dance at Old Town School March 14 at 8:30 pm. Their 2011 debut CD, El Payo, nicely shows the versatility of the band’s members, as they incorporate elements of rock, salsa, ska and reggae into a variant of Flamenco called rumba flamenca, a style based on songs that went to the Americas during the times of the colonies and returned to Spain in new forms.


Mehran Jalili, renowned flamenco guitarist of Iranian origin, will perform, March 15 at Uncommon Ground at 9:00. Jalili studied flamenco guitar in Spain where he became well-versed in traditional styles, but he has now transitioned into a fusion of flamenco and jazz tinged with rock. His debut Angels of Persepolis (2010) also drew inspiration from the recent democracy movement in Iran. Recently, Mehran has formed a new group and released the CD Subterranea, which adds some psychedelic tinges.


Invited dancer Sonia Olla will present two performances featuring local flamenco dancers, Wendy Clinard  (Friday, March 21)  and Chiara Mangiameli (Saturday, March 22). Each of these extraordinary Chicago-based dancers and choreographers completed rigorous studies in Spain and have developed much of the local flamenco talent in the city, Clinard with Clinard Dance Theatre since 1999 and the Italian Mangiameli with Studio Mangiameli for several decades.

Flamenco melodies fall into defined categories called palos, based on rhythms and guitar-strumming. This word literally means “sticks,” and one theory as to its origins is that it may have come from an early gypsy tradition of marking the rhythm by beating sticks on the floor, later to be replaced by the rapid-fire percussive footwork that is the hallmark of the dance form. If the dancers, singers and musicians become overtaken by the music, they are said to be possessed by the spirit of flamenco, called duende. And if that happens, feel free to exclaim a very loud Olé! to signal your enthusiasm (which by the way, revealing some of flamenco’s history, probably came from the Arabic cry to Allah).

Originally published in

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