by Emma Elsmo for The Dance Journal
On Sunday, April 28th, The African American Museum of Philadelphia held a free afternoon screening of the film Gurumbe: Afro-Andalusian Memories. The provocative work poked holes in Spanish history as it addressed the true roots of slavery in Spain and Portugal. The screening was followed by a live musical performance paired with captivating Flamenco dance to further teach the crowd with any lingering curiosities about the content of the film. It was a much-needed educational experience about an under-acknowledged injustice that the arts community, and every community for that matter, should discuss more openly.
Initially released in 2016, director Miguel Ángel Rosales crafted his film Gurumbe to explore and explain the foundations of Flamenco in conjunction with Afro-Andalusians. Entirely in Spanish with English subtitles, the story unfolded with unabashed honesty. From skeleton excavation and bone marking analysis to archival research and document readings, the evidence provided explaining the hidden history of slavery in Spain is irrefutable. The 72-minute movie was an ode to passionate artists everywhere as it so beautifully highlighted native talents. But above all, Gurumbe shed light on the influence the African slave population in Spain had on the development of Flamenco dance and music. Mostly, it became clear that as the 19th century progressed, the black population in Spain diminished, and in turn so did any documentation of the influence they had. It’s an important story being documented, and it’s one people should invest time in studying.
However, the intense and emotional energy that filled the room shifted when the movie finished, and a duo of musicians entered the space. Both Hector Jose Marquez and Alphonso Sid performed with a quality that demanded recognition. As one hauntingly sang the other enchantingly played guitar, they clearly felt inspired by the other’s talent, and the audience responded in gentle sighs of satisfaction. They played just two songs, but it felt as though we were suspended in time as the hollow room swelled with incredible sounds. The Flamenco rhythms showcased in Gurumbe were played in front of us in such a manner it allowed for a deeper, more personal understanding of the artform. One singer, one guitarist, and one magical performance.
The heart-rendering performance continued on triumphantly as Aliesha Bryan, winner of the 2016 New York State Flamenco Certamen and headliner of the Victoria Flamenco Festival, graced the stage. Marquez and Sid played on as she entered the space with striking power and an unapologetic presence. Clad in a white, lace shawl and a black, velvet bata de cola, Bryan played with intensity and percussion in a way that seemingly turned her into another instrument in the symphony of sound. Her delicate hands gestures were juxtaposed so perfectly by the directive stomps coming from her heel-bearing shoes, and her passion was perceptible until the last snap of her fingers. Watching Aliesha perform in all her stunning, black glory was comparable to watching history be rewritten to include recognition of Afro-Andalusian influence on Flamenco.