THOROUGHLY MODERN MRS: Zik’R Leicester Square: Latin Music Festival

For fifteen years London has hosted an annual Latin music festival, La Linea which ‘til now, I’ve always managed to miss. Celebrating the multi-cultural melting-pot that is our capital city, it promotes new artists, projects and collaborations and the show I finally went to see was itself a joyous celebration of a cross-cultural music, flamenco.

To say ‘flamenco’ is to think of Spain: it’s images of gypsies, of joy and pain, of hard living and a love of life – all bound up in iconic emotive music and proud and sensual dance. It’s easy to forget that the gypsies travelled to Spain from North India across the Middle East and North Africa before making the Mediterranean crossing that brought them to Andalucia. In this journey of generations they picked up musical elements from the lands they passed through, rhythms, melodies, harmonies and vocal styles that mixed together with the folk songs of Southern Spain, became flamenco.

In Zik’R, it’s this journey that is celebrated. Through subtle musical suggestion and instrumentation the roots of flamenco are unearthed and watered. The show which tells the story of one woman’s journey from India to Spain and is itself a metaphor for her spiritual and physical awakening, opens with a haunting harmonium drone and solo ney (vertical flute). Immediately we are placed somewhere in India or perhaps old Arabia. The stage is set in darkness and dry ice for the dramatic entrance of a single woman into this evocative soundworld.

Dressed in a black flamenco dress and in an inversion of a typical flamenco night, she dances a solea, the soulful late night yearning song of the small hours. The beats of her flashing footwork are intertwined with the interlocking rhythms of the tabla and cajon, the whole uplifted by the syncopated clapping of the supporting trio of Spanish flamenco artists and the flourishes of the Spanish guitar. The dance is proud and emphatic and in her performance Karen Ruimy brilliantly conveys both strength and vulnerablilty, the essence of femininity.

The solea beautifully sung by one of the two male vocalists sounds traditional although all the music and songs are composed by the group put together by the producer/musician Youth and Karen Ruimy. The combination of Eastern instruments within the traditional flamenco line-up works beautifully and this band of multi-instrumentalists blends tightly together to support the dancing.  This includes traditional Indian dance as a male dancer reminds us of the dervish and introduces a nuance of Sufism to the evening. A great display of machismo is offered up in the dance of the male flamenco dancer and the highlight of the evening is when the lead male and female flamenco dancers perform a duet.

The action, which is effectively paced so we keenly experience the soulful reflective moments as well as the joyous partying, takes place against a simple and effective backdrop of a graphic sun rising in the sky until the moon appears, under which the fiesta kicks off with a rousing buleria, (up-lifting fast paced flamenco). There’s a lovely female duet where the Spanish backing singer steps out into the limelight and although the lyrics throughout are sung in both Arabic and Spanish, it does not detract from the enjoyment of the evening if you don’t understand either language.

Zik’R is Arabic for ‘remembrance of God’. This evening of flamenco with its subtle, clever twist is a lovely way to be reminded that spirituality and music and dance and song and excitement can – and do – go hand in hand.

You can catch Zik’R at the Edinburgh fringe festival from the 21st. to the 30th. of August. More information here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Mrs.