Will coronavirus spell the end for Spain’s flamenco clubs?

Flamenco clubs are pleading for help to survive the coronavirus crisis.

Will coronavirus spell the end for Spain's flamenco clubs?
Sara Baras during a performance in 2019. Photo: AFP

After 32 years, the curtain has finally fallen at Madrid's Casa Patas flamenco club, its vibrant shows silenced by the epidemic which has dealt a dramatic blow to Spain's flamenco 'tablaos'.

Hugely popular with tourists, these flamenco clubs say the pandemic has put them “at risk of extinction” and are urgently seeking government help to ensure their survival.

“If they don't help us, the flamenco tablaos will disappear,” warned Federico Escudero, head of ANTFES which represents around 100 clubs across Spain that employ 3,400 people and have been shuttered since mid-March.

With the epidemic now well under control and Spain's economy slowly picking up steam, ANTFES says the very future of these clubs — which provide work for “90 percent of flamenco artists” — is at stake.

Added to the UN's list of intangible cultural heritage in 2010, flamenco is a high-octane form of dance accompanied by guitars and singing that was born centuries ago among the poor gypsies of southern Andalusia.

For these tablaos, which take their name from the raised wooden floor that reverberates with the clacking heels of the dancers, the global lockdowns wiped out all foreign tourism — from which they draw up to 90 percent of
their income.   

Although Spain is just a day away from ending its months-long state of emergency, its borders will only be gradually reopened, with European tourists allowed in from Sunday and everyone else from July 1st.

But these clubs, which offer intimate shows with a handful of artists — dancers, singers, guitarists, the cajon (box drum) players and the rhythmic clappers — in smaller spaces will also find it difficult to adapt to new social distancing norms.

In this sense, the closure of Casa Patas at the end of May is just “the tip of the iceberg”, a warning of what may lie in store and a “harsh wakeup call” for the sector, says the club's owner Martin Guerrero (pictured below).

Photo by Javier Soriano/ AFP


Artists, gypsies and students 

“We have no international clients.. and without that and with earnings amounting to between 10 and 20 percent of normal levels, it makes it impossible to open,” Guerrero told AFP.

Opened in 1988 in the Lavapies neighbourhood, Casa Patas is widely seen as a “temple” of flamenco in Madrid.

A typical tablao it features a small stage in a small room, with 120 chairs packed in very closely, making it impossible to “balance the books” if the venue's capacity is limited, he says.

Inside the now silent venue, the walls are lined with photos of flamenco greats who have performed there — singer Diego El Cigala, dancer Sara Baras, gypsy guitarist Tomatito — as well as regular visitors like the late guitar legend Paco de Lucia.

For Guerrero, closing has been “very difficult to cope with”, particularly as he has had to let go of 25 staff, including some who had spent over two decades working there.

Standing next to a huge picture of his late father, who set up the club, Guerrero admits he is really missing its “fantastic atmosphere”.    

“This is a bar in which you could meet artists, fans, gypsies, people from Andalusia, from Madrid, flamenco students and tourists from all over the world,” he says.

In Barcelona, Mimo Aguero is hoping to avoid a similar fate for the Tablao de Carmen, which opened three decades ago in honour of legendary flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya.

“Until the tourism gets back to normal, to the pace it was before, we won't be able to open,” admits Aguero who runs the club.    

“And if the government doesn't help us, we don't know what we're going to do.”


'In danger of extinction'

In a bid to save the sector, ANTFES has been lobbying the government to extend its furlough scheme for tablaos until the year's end and for subsidies to cover the lack of tourists under a campaign called “Flamenco in danger of

It is also asking the government to drop its capacity restrictions that are aimed at avoiding any new outbreak — or “95 percent of tablaos will have to close”.

So far, the flamenco sector says it has had no response from the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez who has already extended help to cultural venues such as museums, cinemas and opera houses.

But even though the tablaos are facing an existential crisis, flamenco itself “is very much alive” as part of popular culture in Andalusia and other regions of Spain, Guerrero says.

And its artists will continue to appear at traditional events, fiestas and festivals, their emotionally-intense art form supported by institutions like the Casa Patas Foundation, whose conservatory and rehearsal space will both
keep working, Guerrero says.

By AFP's Diego Urdaneta 

READ MORE:  PM unveils €4 billion aid package to save Spain's tourism sector

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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.