‘Flamenco is not just a dance, it’s a culture’

In this week’s instalment of My Spain, Seville-based flamenco student and one-time Spanish teacher Jani Rodrigues fills us in on what she loves most about the sunny capital of Andalusia and what it’s like to be an outsider performing flamenco in the art form's traditional heartland.

'Flamenco is not just a dance, it's a culture'
Jani Rodrigues loves Seville's relaxed pace of life. Photo: The Local

Where are you from and what’s your background?

I grew up in Boston. My mum’s African American and my dad’s Cape Verdean American.

And how did you end up in Seville?

I've been dancing my whole life but when I was 23 I saw a flamenco show at the Lincoln Centre in New York and I thought this is a perfect combination of everything, including tap and the Middle Eastern hand movements. There are so many layers. Now I dance a minimum of three hours a day, if not more. I’m hooked.

Originally I was coming  to Seville every July to study and eventually I moved here.

Do you ever feel uncomfortable as a foreigner performing flamenco in Seville?

No. I've been encouraged to do so. But I do feel a great sense of responsibility and a huge awareness that flamenco is not just a dance, it’s also part of a culture. I want to dance with integrity. Flamenco requires a lot of study and I want to make sure that I've studied hard so that I’m not just saying: “Oh, I want to dance a bit of flamenco.”

How would you describe Seville in three words?

It’s beautiful, traditional and relaxed.

And how would you describe the people?

I tend to think of Seville as neighbourhoods. The Alameda (at the northern end of the old town) has a younger, more bohemian crowd, with lots of different kinds of music. For Triana — a suburb across the river Guadalquivir from Seville — I think of flamenco. It’s more family-oriented. I also think of the old ladies at the bus stop who are always willing to have a conversation. And I think of how slow everything is.

Would you say Sevillianos are open to outsiders?

I honestly don’t think I would. People are very traditional and when it comes to being open to different kinds of food and getting involved in different cultures, they're not so open.

And how is it being a black in Seville?

This is my fourth year of Spain and I have to say, it’s generally not an issue but I've had some intense experiences that have sometimes made me wonder why I'm in here. I'm not talking about the flamenco world: artists are used to cross-cultural communication. But it can be difficult outside that world.

For example, I've been solicited as a prostitute by strangers on the street a number of times. I've also had offensive songs sung in my presence and I've been targeted randomly for no reason. Once I was sprayed in the face with silly string by some young people in blackface at carnival time. But these things don’t happen every day.

If something does happens here in Spain, I’m not really understood when I talk to people about it. There’s a bit of a resistance towards believing me. There’s often a defensive attitude instead of a reflection.

Describe your perfect afternoon in Seville.

I would definitely walk along the river, and have coffee on Calle Betis in Triana, or go up to the Alameda district. Then I'd go to a flamenco show, of course. I really like Casa Memoria because there are great quality flamenco dancers at a good price. Otherwise, I would recommend a flamenco peña, or club. You can find them on the internet.

And where would you go for a drink?

I like El Cachorro in Triana, and the flamenco crowd hangs out in Los Corralones which is on the Ronda de Capuchinos. They have flamenco shows and everyone goes there and waits for the party to happen.

Finally, has Spain lived up to your expectations?

Absolutely. I’m very happy with the people I've met and with what I've learned about flamenco. Then there’s the great weather and the food. It’s great. Also, one of the reasons I left New York was to get away from the rat race and slow down a bit. So in that sense Seville is perfect for me!

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The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years

Jordi Faulí is the seventh chief architect of Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia since Antoni Gaudi began work on the basilica in 1883, and he had been expected to oversee its long-awaited completion.

The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years
Jordi Faulí is the seventh architect director of the Sagrada Familia following Antoni Gaudi and, for many, the one destined to finish it. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

But the pandemic has delayed efforts to finish this towering architectural masterpiece, which has been under construction for nearly 140 years, and it is no longer clear whether Faulí will still be in charge when it is finally done.

“I would like to be here for many more years, of course, but that’s in God’s hands,” says Faulí, 62, a wry smile on his lips.

He was just 31 when he joined the architectural team as a local in 1990 — the same age as Gaudi when the innovative Catalan architect began building his greatest work in the late 19th century, a project that would take up four decades of his life.

“When I arrived, only three of these columns were built and they were only 10 metres (33 feet) high,” he explains from a mezzanine in the main nave.

“I was lucky enough to design and see the construction of the entire interior, then the sacristy and now the main towers.”

When finished, the ornate cathedral which was designed by Gaudi will have 18 towers, the tallest of which will reach 172 metres into the air.

READ ALSO: Pandemic to delay completion fate for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia

The second-highest tower, which is 138 metres tall and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, will be officially inaugurated on Wednesday with the illumination of the gigantic 5.5-tonne star crowning its highest point.

It is the tallest of the nine completed towers and the first to be inaugurated since 1976.

The long-awaited completion of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia will no longer happen in 2026 because the coronavirus epidemic has curtailed its construction and frustrated funding, basilica officials admitted. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP
Construction halted by Civil War

In 2019, the Sagrada Familia welcomed 4.7 million visitors, making it Barcelona’s most visited monument.

But it was forced to close in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, with its doors staying shut for almost a year.

This year, there have been barely 764,000 visitors, municipal figures show.

And as entry tickets are the main source of funding for the ongoing building works, the goal of finishing the basilica by 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death — he was run over by a tram — has been abandoned.

“We can’t give any estimate as to when it will be finished because we don’t know how visitor numbers will recover in the coming years,” Faulí says.

It is far from the first time Gaudi’s masterpiece has faced such challenges.

During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction work stopped and many of Gaudi’s design plans and models were destroyed.

For critics, this major loss means they do not view what was built later as Gaudi’s work, despite the research carried out by his successors.

READ ALSO: Central spire will make the Sagrada Familia tallest church in the world

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime.

But Faulí insists the project remains faithful to what Gaudi had planned as it is based on the meticulous study of photographs, drawings and testimony from the late Modernist architect.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Some local opposition

Nominated chief architect of the project in 2012, Faulí took over at the head of a team of 27 architects and more than 100 builders.

Today, there are five architects and some 16 builders working to finish the Sagrada Familia.

“It is a lot of responsibility because it’s an iconic project, which many people have an opinion about,” says Faulí.

Building such a vast monument which draws huge numbers of visitors is not welcomed by everyone, with some arguing that the hoards of visiting tourists are destroying the area.

Many also oppose plans to build an enormous staircase leading up to the main entrance, the construction of which will involve the demolition of several buildings, forcing hundreds to relocate.

“My life is here and they want to throw me out,” says one sign on a balcony near the Sagrada Familia.

Faulí said he understands their concerns and wants to find “fair solutions” through dialogue.

And if he could ask Gaudi one question? Faulí pauses to reflect for a few moments.

“I would ask him about his underlying intentions and what feelings he wanted to communicate through his architecture,” he says.