David López Canales warns that, despite appearances, his new book is not about flamenco, nor about culture. “It’s a book of parallel universes and fascinating lives that, against all odds, end up colliding and exploding.” And it is true that there is a lot of flammable material in A tablao in another world (Alianza Editorial), whose subtitle, “The amazing story of how flamenco conquered Japan”, sums up well this adventure that names such as Paco de Lucía, Pepe Habichuela, Antonio Gades and, yes, also Chiquito de the Causeway. “The best thing about flamenco is not its music, which is also its art, but its characters. To know what they are like, you have to see where they come from, from the exclusion, from the parties and the penalties at home, from looking for life as it may be ”, explains this journalist and writer, who in his previous book, The dealer (The Sphere of Books), investigated the life of the Syrian arms smuggler Monzer Al Kassar, known as the Prince of Marbella
“In this search for life, Japan crossed their path and they took advantage of it. It was a paradise for them. As some say: there was work, food, drink and they fucked. What more could they ask for ”. In its pages, full of mythical names and priceless anecdotes, the author recounts how these flamingos who moved there with their guitars and their revelry got lost in the subway and disgusted sushi, but they were the first Spaniards to travel in tren bala And when flamenco tablaos became fashionable and proliferated in Tokyo and other cities in the country, they ended up working with the discipline of a Japanese.
Among those artists who embarked on the adventure, was Chiquito de la Calzada, a by then anonymous “cantaor from behind”, as he is called in flamenco jargon. “Chiquito sang for the dance, placed behind the bailaor,” explains López Canales. “He was not a good cantaor but he had a lot of time and there were dancers, like Mariquilla from Granada, who took him with them to sing to them ”. A paradoxically quite silent job with which Chiquito could barely survive in Spain. “He was selling for sale and from tablao to tablao in Andalusia but he barely made the end of the month, so he went to Japan, because he wanted to give a better life to his beloved wife, Pepita”, says the author of A tablao in another world.
It was the seventies and eighties, Chiquito accumulated stays of six in six months in Tokyo, where he led the frugal and rigorous life of a samurai, with little spending. “I ate cans of tuna to save as much as possible. Japan for him was not a great experience, although he would turn it into a joke later. “To eat well in Japan you have to be a black belt,” he said. And he made us laugh, but he was the one who hadn’t laughed then, ”says the journalist.
For many flamingos like Chiquito, the Asian country was a sentence that only the accumulated yen made bearable (and that being able to change them to dollars that later became pesetas when they returned to Spain was also a complicated odyssey for them). According to López Canales, the former traveled to the tablaos for periods of one year that were later shortened to six months, but they became very long. “They could barely communicate with anyone other than their own classmates and everything was as strange as it was aggressive, they were scared. The first weeks they took to the streets like families of ducklings, all together, scared and without detaching. The places or the stations were learned from the shop windows or from the posters and some of them got more than a scare when they changed the poster or the store with which they identified their metro stop ”.
Not all were complaints. Japan changed many lives and even saved a few as well. “Some flamingos moved to Japan, settled there and got away from the long and bad nights that flamenco also has. As they say, they began to see the sun again and recovered their breakfast, which they had lost for many years ”.
The book, strewn with scenes in the best picaresque tradition, also recalls that that kind of airlift that was created between flamenco and Japan was not only used by Spanish artists. The art and the goblin conquered a Japanese audience that not only gave up as a spectator. There were many Japanese who saw in this discipline an eloquent departure from the rigor and repression of the customs of their country and threw themselves, in their own way, to the I complain the zapateado and to the touch. “In a society where emotions are not on display, for them it was like an anxiolytic. With flamenco they could express themselves and do it, also, dancing, playing and, yes, singing too, without limits or filters. For them it was, and is, almost an exorcism ”.
Thus, López Canales says in his book, the first Japanese also began to come to Spain. To become dancers. “In the Spain of the dictatorship, they were pure exoticism. Not because they wanted to dance flamenco, which too, but just because they were Japanese, when in Spain of Japan nothing was known. Some were looked at strangely and laughed at. Shoji Kojima, the most famous bailaor in Japan and one of the ones who spent the most time in Madrid, had to listen to how some cantaor refused to work with him. ‘I don’t sing to that Chinese!’ ”They said to him. And the demons took him away: ‘Don’t sing to me, I’ll dance only with the guitar ”.
But nothing has been able to with the love that the Japanese feel for flamenco. “They have made a huge effort to understand it and make it their own, even to learn even the most complicated cantes that they didn’t even understand”, celebrates David López Canales. The passion has lasted for more than 50 years and the story continues on both sides of the world. “The Japanese have made flamenco their own. So much so that today there are more dance academies in Japan than in Spain ”.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.