FolkWorld Issue 38 03/2009; Article by Pio Fernández

Traditions, Drinks & Live Music
Folk & The City: Madrid, Spain (Part 1)

Flamenco Music & Dance ‘Tablaos’

Not being by far any kind of expert in Flamenco music & dance, the main places I can list are:

  • Cardamomo Calle Echegaray, 15 (
  • Casa Patas Calle Cañizares, 10 (
  • Clan Ronda de Toledo, 20 Sala El Juglar Calle Lavapies, 37 (
  • Torres Bermejas Calle Mesonero Romanos, 11 (
  • Corral de la Morería Calle Morería 17 (
  • Café de Chinitas Calle Torija, 7 (
  • Corral de la Pacheca Calle Juán Ramón Jiménez, 26 (
  • Arco de Cuchilleros Calle Cuchilleros, 7
  • Las Tablas Plaza de España, 9
  • Candela Calle Olmo, 2
  • Las Carboneras Plaza del Conde de Miranda, 1
  • La Soleá Calle Cava Baja, 27
  • Los Gabrieles Calle Echegaray, 17
  • Axarquía Calle Calatrava, 32
  • Andalusí Calle Capitán Haya, 19
    The tablaos normally offer a decent menu of Spanish ‘tapas’, main dishes and wines. In some of these places, a ‘tourist-trap’ atmosphere can be as typical as the dresses of the ‘bailaoras’ (female flamenco dancers). Nothing to worry about if the music sounds well, or even with what the flamenco fans call ‘duende’, a sort of deeply inspired talent.

    Bars with Folk Music Activity

    So if you have already got a taste of the Flamenco culture, let’s see if you are so lucky to listen to the other Spanish traditional or folk music. The task may not be easy, since there are no stable bars equivalent to the before mentioned tablaos. However, there are a few clubs, keeping a continuous calendar of performances of all kinds, including at least one or two folk music concerts per month. Such places are for example:

  • Café Central, Plaza del Angel, 10 ( Mostly a bar for jazz music, this place has also concerts of Spanish trad-folk-jazz musicians such as : María del Mar Bonet, Eliseo Parra, Javier, Paxariño, Eduardo Laguillo, Ruper Ordorica, … It is located in the upper part of ‘Calle Huertas’ or ‘Barrio de las Letras’, an interesting area for bars, restaurants & live music places.
  • Galileo Galilei, Calle Galileo, 100 ( This place used to be a cinema until the mid 80’s, when new owners replaced the seats by marmor tables and iron chairs. On its stage have performed an endless list of stand-up comedians, magicians, musicians & bands of all styles and places : pop, rock, jazz, folk, traditional, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Irish, Scottish, Canadian, Arab, … In the late 90’s, when the Celtic & folk music was more fashionable in Spain, Galileo hosted some small folk music festivals. There was a concert from ‘The Dubliners’ the last February 9th, 2009.
  • Clamores, Calle Alburquerque, 14 ( This place keeps a similar list of artists such as Galileo Galilei. Maybe with more emphasis on jazz concerts, Clamores still has some room for folk music events.
    There were a few other ‘legendary’ places for folk and traditional music in Madrid, that are now gone (probably forever) : Suristán, Lamala, La Taberna Encantada,… Today’s list remains short, but luckily, a couple of Irish pubs in Madrid still provide an additional chance for Celtic & folk bands. See next.

    Irish Pubs

    Spain has many cities with probably some of the largest numbers of bars, restaurants, discos… per square kilometre that you can find in the world. Nothing to be extremely proud of, but it explains why since the late 80’s, it has attracted Irish beer brewers to open hundreds of elegantly decorated old fashioned traditional Irish pubs in most cities and towns. Madrid city maybe takes the lead on this, in number and size of such kind of businesses: easily more than thirty, just in the downtown area. This could create some expectation to find Irish trad music sessions & concerts resembling a bit Dublin’s Temple Bar area. But… lets see. Some owners and staff of these pubs in Madrid (Irish people in many cases), have initially given an honest try to live music events. Sometimes even hiring bands and trad session leaders brought from Ireland, and inviting Irish music players from many places. But in spite of their good intentions, they are well aware that nothing fills up their pubs every night, as the classic matches: Premier League, Liga Española, Gaelic Sports, Six Nations,... Large TV screens have taken a dominant place for the football and rugby fans meeting there, many of them Irish and British people living in Madrid. In most Irish and folk music concerts or sessions that I have been to in these pubs in Madrid, I have not noticed much interest (or even respect) in the customers (Spanish or not), who seem to consider the musicians and their activity just as part of the decoration. Quite different from what I have seen in the pubs in Ireland, where the musicians and their show seem to deserve better consideration from the audience. But being fair, from the list of Irish pubs in downtown Madrid, at least a few of them still dedicate a respectable number of hours a week to live music (even more around the 17th of March: Saint Patrick’s day). There are several other pubs sometimes programming live music in Madrid (O’Connor’s, La Fontana de Oro, The Quiet Man, Molly Malone’s, Moore’s, Finnegan’s…), but for now I will just mention three that have (or had) a more conscious attitude towards Irish, Celtic & folk in general :

  • The Irish Rover, Avenida del Brasil, 7 ( This pub opened in 1995, in a modern part of the city (not far from Real Madrid’s football stadium), and has over 500 square meters spread in two floors. Celtic music artists playing here have been : Ronny Drew, founding member of The Dubliners, who played here with Mike Hanrahan from Stockton’s Wing , Andy Irvine of Planxty and Nightnoise , Lunasa , members of Tannahill Weavers and Capercaillie , the Scottish piper Chris Armstrong , The Trash Mavericks from New Jersey (regular visitors with a classic rock & roll mix), folk groups from Estonia and Georgia , batucada bands from Brazil , a curious folk,jazz,rock band from Finland , … There are also a lot of bands based in Madrid, or other parts of Spain, who are regular visitors : Cañones y Mantequilla , Finisterrae , Shineig , X-Tramonio , Smiling Jack Smith , Steevie Zee , Hermana Cruel , The Winnerys , Kike Jambalaya , Inside Voices , Ruxe Ruxe from Galicia , Richard Tormé from Caceres , … to name just a few.
  • O’Neill’s, Calle Principe, 12 ( This one has 1100 square meters spread in two floors (could be one of the biggest in Europe), and it is placed in that old neighbourhood ‘Barrio de las Letras’. O’Neill’s has hosted many concerts and even Celtic music festivals & band contests. Names that I recall playing in O’Neill’s Madrid are : the Irish-American Cherish the Ladies, Sharon Shannon, Liam O’Flynn, … and many Folk, Celtic, Rock, Pop… music bands.
  • Finbar’s, Calle Marqués de Urquijo, 10 ( As good Irishmen and music fans, the founding owners of this pub offered in the mid & late 90’s a taste of the typical trad sessions from Ireland, bringing musicians from their homeland and inviting local amateur ones to join them. I doubt that FINBAR’S still keeps such kind of activities with the same intensity as before, but the love for Irish music is still visible by in the instruments and decorations placed all over : a harp, bohdrans, fiddles, old LP covers, music books,…
    I leave the following one in a kind of special category. Its Spanish owner is not so worried about keeping any kind of ‘authentic Irish atmosphere’. Spanish staff normally runs it. But what is remarkable about it is how for the last twenty years it has become a meeting point for amateur and professional folk musicians living or visiting Madrid: Spanish, Irish, Scottish, French, Bulgarian, American, German, or from any other place in the world.
  • La Taberna de Elisa, Calle Santa Maria, 42 ( Much smaller than O’Neill’s or The Irish Rover, ‘La Elisa’ started as an Irish pub in 1989, also in ‘Barrio de la Letras’, in what used to be a tablao Flamenco. Besides its original Spanish name, you can still recognize that by the Arabic-Andalusian tiles which cover part of the walls, now also furnished with dark colored wood work and whisky bottles. ‘La Elisa’ deserves the credit to be one of the first Irish pubs to take a serious approach on hosting performances for amateur as welll as professional folk musicians. The list of famous names which have stopped here to have a pint, and share their talent, most times in an improvised manner, is remarkable for such a humble place : Fred Morrison, Capercaillie, Alasdair Fraser, Phil & John Cunningham, La Musgaña, Kepa Junkera, Jose Angel Hevia, Xosé Manuel Budiño, Ar Re Yauonak, Radio Tarifa, Wafir, Celtas Cortos, Javier Bergia, Clara Serrano, Xuacu Amieva, Ana Alcaide, … All that activity, lead to the live recording in 1994 of a CD named ‘The Music of the Irish, Bretons, Castilians & Macedonians’ (edited by Tecnosaga). A sampler, with 18 European traditional songs performed by a large group of musicians regurarly meeting in ‘La Elisa’. The Castilian folk music band La Musgaña was in great part responsible for that CD, and for the importance that this pub has had for the folk music in Madrid and in Spain The latest pub manager I believe is still Santy Barral, who is the bagpiper of the Madrid folk band X-Tramonio.

    Other Taverns

    If you had enough cider and ‘black’ beer, there are also a couple of recommendations for food & drink places, not really for live folk music, but somehow related with it. These are also in Madrid’s ‘Barrio de las Letras’:

  • Maceira Maceiras, Calle Jesus, 7 & Calle Huertas, 66. These are two taverns specialised in the traditional food and wines from Galicia (NW Spain). The interesting aspect for us is that the owner of these places is a big fan of traditional and folk music. Therefore, you can taste good Galician white wines and the typical boiled mussels or octopus, while listening to entire CDs from Luar Na Lubre, Milladoiro, Carlos Núñez, Berrogüetto, Budiño,… The place is decorated with traditional farming tools and many old photos of the traditional life, people and landscapes in the Galician countryside. This place is the favourite of Bieito Romero, the leader of the Galician band Luar Na Lubre, in their visits to Madrid.
  • Madrid in 2009 is an almost 6 million people metropolitan area right in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula. That means ‘conveniently located’ if you also want to travel to any other region in Spain, or even to Portugal. Madrid city & its outskirts is an Autonomous Community in itself. It is surrounded by the communities of Castilla-Leon (North) and Castilla-La Mancha (South). Therefore, the traditional music of the Madrid area is mainly related to these two neighbouring regions too.

    However, the local music in the Madrid region has suffered during the last decades, a decay of its most rooted traditions. There are several records of different types of local songs, dances, instruments, etc… which were peculiar of Madrid’s villages. But as in any big urban area, the industry, population, life styles… have continuously evolved, and many local traditions have almost totally extinguished.

    Plaza Mayor, Madrid

    If you arrive to Madrid around the 15th of May, it is probably the only time of the year when the city downtown and some of its inhabitants, rescue the remains of the ‘old’ traditions to celebrate the day of the local patron saint: San Isidro.

    Madrid city has been open to integrate music traditions from many other parts of Spain or abroad. Example: The kind of local dance tune that is considered the most typical of the ‘old Madrid downtown’, is called ‘Chotis’, and is known here since the 19th century. The name is presumed to be an evolution of the word ‘Schottische’, which was a kind of slow polka original from Bohemia.

    Molly Malones, Madrid

    Madrid became the political centre of Spain in 1561. Its old town starts (West) at the Palacio de Oriente (the old residence for the royal families and their court). Then it extends towards the East, with neighbourhoods and buildings of ancient architecture (nine centuries old, some of them), including the Museo del Prado, the national gallery of paintings.

    Places of interest for a folk music fan, are mostly dispersed along the streets of that old Madrid, and range from ‘Tablaos Flamencos’ (taverns with flamenco music shows) to Irish pubs, or rock and jazz clubs, which dedicate certain concerts to Spanish and foreign folk music bands.

    Balbarda playing in Taberna Elisa

    There is a frequent differentiation that we make over here, between Flamenco and “the other Spanish traditions on folk music”. To better explain this duality, I like to compare it with the music of North America. Over there you find two (maybe three) highly popular styles of traditional music, such as Country or Blues, mostly original from Western and Southern states. And then you can also hear a variety of much less popular music traditions, geographically spread from the borders with Mexico up to Canada (Cajun, Zydeco, Blue Grass, North American folk songs,…).

    La Musgana

    In Spain, Flamenco would be our equivalent to Blues or Country music in the USA. It belongs mainly to the Southern region of Andalusia, its surrounding Communities and several Spanish cities. And then we also have, in a more limited level of popularity, different traditional music in each and all parts of Spain, including the islands ( Balearic and Canary ).

    Berroguetto; photo by The Mollis

    I guess that a first list of tips for live traditional & folk music places in downtown Madrid, should go as follows (see box on the right). Of course, all the above lists are susceptible to growth (if bar owners establish new initiatives), or shrinking (as places change or go out of business). We will see how all this evolves as we all go thru today’s world economical crisis. I leave that for some future article.

    Photo Credits: (1) Plaza Mayor, Madrid, (2) Molly Malone’s Pub, (3) Balbarda playing in Taberna Elisa (by Pio Fernández); (4) La Musgana (from website); (5) Berrogüetto (by The Mollis).

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