In ‘Un tablao en otro mundo’, David López Canales reveals the story of how flamenco conquered Japan: “The flamingos came from there, they could buy a house with what they earned, furnish it and they still had a bundle left over
Can you imagine the authentic Chiquito de la Calzada back in the seventies, in Tokyo, leaving everyone captivated with his flamenco show? And what about Pepe Habichuela, and Antonio Gades or Paco de Lucía, without English pajolera or, of course, Japanese, becoming true idols of the masses there in the Far East while in Spain they were badly paid and taken for the whistle? of the serene, although his legend was already brewing? It is wonderfully recounted by David López Canales in Un tablao en otro mundo. The amazing story of how flamenco conquered Japan (Editorial Alliance), a funny and moving book about that love clash between two civilizations.
But, when did the romance start and why? “It all started in the sixties, when the first tablaos began to open in Japan, which is only ten years after they opened in Spain. And flamenco artists start to arrive regularly and their passion is cooking ”, the author tells this newspaper. “You have to think that Japan at that time was beginning to resurface after World War II, although Okinawa was still occupied by the Americans, but the new economic boom was already starting and a couple of tablaos were opened in Shinjuku, one of the neighborhoods of Tokyo’s most important leisure activities, ”says the expert. Now there are more flamenco tablaos in Japan than in Spain, keep an eye on the data.
And that’s where our flamenco artists began to go, at first with long contracts of up to one year and later, due to the change in immigration laws, for six months. “There are two basic reasons for this connection: the first, because the Japanese really like the ancestral and complex foreign cultural manifestations, and flamenco is like that: ancestral and complex. And the second, because the Japanese is a very repressed society and flamenco is the opposite, pure expression and pure emotion, and there they found what they could not grasp in their daily life ”, he says.
“In flamenco they found a way to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I hate you’, or to be sad and show it. It was even more important for women, because Japanese is a very macho society, and by dancing they found new ways of expressing themselves. All the relevant artists passed through Japan at some point, although there were two ways to go: with long contracts in tablaos or, if you already had a name in Spain, with shorter tours in theaters. In the latter way, Antonio Gades or Paco de Lucía did it, “who generated a lot of impact because they were the great masters of flamenco”.
Temperament and order
“And Pepe Habichuela, who today is a myth, Cristina Hoyos, Eva la Hierbabuena, Tomás from Madrid, Manolete from Granada… they all went there because in Japan they earned a lot of money, much more than in Spain. Come on, they came back from there and bought a house in cash, furnished it and still had the block, as they say, in their pocket. That in Spain could not be achieved ”, she expresses.
From there our artists drew unusual virtues, from there they learned temperament and order, all at the same time. Gades, for example, liked Japan a lot because he was attracted to “the seriousness of the Japanese”: “He began to like how people worked there a lot. Flamenco is undisciplined and wild, and that amused him, but he learned to combine it with how things were done in Japan. And Paco de Lucía, for his part, said that to do flamenco you had to have intention, and that the Japanese had a lot, although contained ”.
The contempt of Spain
The flamenco show in Japan was like the one in Spain: a painting appeared, different styles were danced and played … what changed, eminently, was the audience. There the artists found the respect and admiration that they lacked here. “For Japanese flamenco fans, they were like sumo wrestlers. Almost mythological beings, demigods. In Spain they were artists but they did not receive that veneration, perhaps because in this country flamenco has never been as prestigious or cared for as it deserves. And that the sixties and seventies were golden times! The great figures were in the tablaos. Not even now ”, outlines López Canales.
The expert recalls that, contrary to what has remained in the popular imagination, flamenco was never linked to Francoism, “yes the copla.” “The flamencos have never been close to power, they come from absolute exclusion and absolute rebellion. And when they have approached power it has been to secure, to earn money. If they pay, there they are. They don’t care who to play for, if for Franco, for Stalin or for Trump ”.
The Japanese flamingos
Another very curious thing that happened is that many Japanese began to come to Spain precisely, attracted, in the sixties, by this atavistic art. Imagine, still in the gray Spain of the dictatorship and they came to become flamingos. The people here laughed, it seemed exotic to them and called them “the Chinese” with disdain, because in such a closed world it was not just anyone. And it was also the opposite, eh? Many Spaniards went and stayed there, because they paid them luxuriously and even insisted on buying them everything they wore: shawls, guitars, dresses … the flamencos took advantage and sold everything at exorbitant prices. It is interesting to note that the flamingos sold their things in Japan before the Japanese companies came to Spain to sell transistors ”.
David tells the story of Emilio Maya, a gypsy and flamenco guitarist from Granada, who left for Japan about ten years ago. One day, the artist woke up with the prophecy at the top. He told his wife that he had dreamed that he was going to Japan, and she replied, jokingly: “Emilio, are you already high again?” But two months later, walking through the Sacromonte, he met Teruo Kabaya, a Japanese man who started coming to Spain in the seventies and organized flamenco shows there. He offered to go perform … and he hasn’t come back! “My God, what you told me was viridic,” that I was going to Japan was true and they weren’t pickled cocks, “Maya laughed excitedly.
And so much that he left: there he married a Japanese woman and is tremendously happy. “He says that thanks to Japan, he has got rid of all the bad things about flamenco, bad nights and excesses, and he has rediscovered the sun and breakfast, which had been rising for decades at three in the afternoon”, he smiles the author.
The flamenco landing
There is another beautiful anecdote: “In 1960, the bailaora Pilar López went with her company to Japan – in that company she had Antonio Gades among her dancers. They take more than a month to arrive by boat because she goes from Marseille to Yokohama, and it will take more than a month to return. They are only in Japan for 15 days, they do only a few performances, but it so happens that those performances are seen by those who later became the great Japanese dancers, like Yoko Komatsubara ”. It is iconic and it is symbolic, because there many things germinated and passions mixed.
What demand does the author think that the Ministry of Culture should be asked to cure his forgetfulness and his historical disinterest in flamenco? “I think that we should start teaching in schools what flamenco is, the value it has, where it comes from and its musical wealth. We have to show them that it is something really unique and special and that in other parts of the world they fight about it and are passionate about our art. That they know how to take care of it, value it and that it is not diluted ”, he closes.