Flamenco heats up Tucson
Festival brings Spanish culture with food, art
Amy Phelps/The Daily Wildcat
Misael Barraza performs in the Tucson Flamenco Festival on Thursday at Casa Vicente Restaurante Espanol. Barraza won the guitar competition open category.
Vicente Sanchez has cooking in his blood. His traditional Spanish family has restaurants all over Spain; but Sanchez, craving adventure, wanted nothing to do with the family business.
He moved to Tucson in 1995 to pursue a career in architecture and urban planning while his wife, Marita Gomez, studied counseling. But Sanchez’s destiny soon caught up to him.
Eight years ago, Sanchez opened Casa Vicente on Stone Avenue and 14th Street and began sharing aspects of Spanish culture with Tucsonans, encouraging locals to embrace different styles of art and get a true feel for traditions of Spain.
“I had a moment of weakness and I came back to my family tradition and opened this place,” Sanchez said. “We opened and we let it grow organically. It’s now a business that we planned from scratch and it’s perfect, just like it’s supposed to be.”
Sanchez said he wanted to open something that would serve not only as a restaurant, but also as a cultural center for the entire community.
Partnering with Flamenco Del Pueblo Viejo, Sanchez began the Tucson Flamenco Festival five years ago, promising the community a weekend every September dedicated to music, food, dancing and the culture of Spain. The festival returned beginning Thursday to give Tucson a glimpse into the art of flamenco.
“There’s nothing square about the definition of flamenco. It’s very free and open,” Sanchez said. “We spend this weekend in kind of a synergy. You get these artists from all over the world … You put them all together and you create something that wasn’t there before.”
Casa Vicente began the Tucson Flamenco Festival as a way to give Tucson multicultural diversity and variety, Gomez said. The festival provides a sense of authenticity that can’t be found elsewhere.
“We serve out Spanish wines only, and the food is from Spain, and the flamenco is authentic and real and it’s a chance to see artists in a much more intimate setting,” Gomez said. “It’s nice to have a more intimate venue where you really get to live it … People really connect to the audience and there’s that joint energy.”
According to Gomez, the festival is expected to draw in a crowd of more than 1,000 people and will feature musicians and dancers from Tucson, Phoenix, New Mexico, Spain and Mexico. Each day, the festivities will open with a flamenco fashion show where designers show off popular flamenco attire, followed by a series of performances. These performances will change throughout the course of the four-day event and include flamenco dancers from Flamenco Del Pueblo Viejo as well as guitarists chosen with the help of the UA School of Music. These guitarists competed at Casa Vicente earlier this week for a slot in Thursday’s events.
Each performance represents part of the culture of Spain.
“We took a big risk with doing it the way it would be done in Spain,” Gomez said. “In Tucson, it’s a whole different rhythm of life. Part of what we wanted to do was give people a little taste of what Spain’s about.”
Flamenco dancer and percussionist Jason Martinez said he is appreciative of the influence the festival has had on Tucson.
“Tucson struggles a lot in the area of the arts,” Martinez said. “To have something like this dedicated to flamenco is a rare thing, particularly in a place like Tucson where there’s not a lot of support for it.”
Macarena Giralda, a Casa Vicente staff member and a flamenco dancer and singer, described the art form as strong and emotional.
“Flamenco is an art with a lot of emotion and lot of passion that’s transmitted to people,” Giralda said. “It is important for the person who feels it.”
The Tucson Flamenco Festival began Thursday and will continue through Sunday. Sanchez encourages locals to come out and experience the culture of Spain, and develop an understanding for the art that it’s showcasing.
“It’s like developing a taste for something you didn’t have before,” Martinez said. “It’s something that one probably doesn’t even know one is craving until you experience it. It’s being able to live out loud.”