Finding America in Granada - Melting Pot on BTR


Lion Fountain in Alhambra, Granada, Spain. Photo by Captain59.

When you live in a city that has no major subway system or metro line, as I did for four months in Granada, Spain, learning to appreciate the finer art of walking is beneficial, if not downright necessary if you want to get around. As I adjusted to the small city located in the south of the country, I found myself fortunate enough to discover that having to walk everywhere did come with a few perks. It seemed as though every corner of the city was a piece of history. When I left my host-home in the morning for class, on my left was a park named after the Spanish playwright Lorca, and as I made my way up the street, I could catch a glimpse of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on my right.

As for the nightlife, when I went out dancing at the club El Camborio, my friends and I enjoyed an unobstructed view of the Alhambra through the club’s glass walls. As one of the most recognized pieces of architecture in Spain, having that kind of view would be like going out with your friends and seeing the Statue of Liberty just outside the window.

Still, in a modern city teeming with ancient monuments, there are better places than others to get your history fix in Granada and still have a good time. Plus, I don’t suspect that El Camborio was the kind of hot spot Rick Steves had in mind when he wrote his guide to the Alhambra.

The problem is, I learned that if you spend all of your time following guidebooks to the letter and going to spots where you will only meet other Americans, you get labeled a “guiri,” as the locals put it, or an utter tourist. Now, I was under no impression that I would be able to pass for a native grana’ina, but I certainly did not want to be considered a guiri. Looking for a more authentic experience, a few of my friends and I ventured one night to a less conspicuous club we had heard about called Booga Club.The flyers we read about Booga promised a night of traditional Spanish flamenco styles and jazz music. I had already been to other cafés that hosted flamenco performances, so I was curious to see how the powerfully emotional style of singing and playing I saw from Spanish flamenco would mesh with the rhythm and blues of American jazz.

Much to my surprise, the two sounds blended together well for a very cool performance. The jazzy instrumental style of repeating and riffing on variations of the same chords worked harmoniously with the style of repetition I had heard from traditional flamenco singers. Cooler still was the fact that sitting in the audience was one of the singers I had seen perform at Le Chien Andalou, another hip music venue in Granada. Booga Club, I learned, had earned a great reputation in Granada for the variety of jam sessions they hosted every week.

What was it about Granada that worked so well for a jazz-fusion music venue like Booga Club?

José Luis Garrido, a native of Granada and fellow patron of Booga Club, explains how the southern Spanish city is a special case among others in its country when it comes to musical influence.

“The thing is that in the rest of Spain, jazz music became famous because of the influence of Cuba, you know, the blues at New Orleans, Miami, and New York, too,” says Garrido.

“But in Granada, I think that the reasons are different. Here there have always been musicians, people that really know how to play and enjoy playing an instrument, but they are constantly coming and going from all over. Here you can meet a lot of people that play instruments, but next year won’t be here, so you just sit with them, and play and you improvise.”

Granada, as it turns out, is the ultimate melting pot for musicians to play and experiment with their sound, but the country’s tolerance for new music has not always been this open, says Garrido.

“Until the fall of the dictatorship of Franco, our music did not see much influence from yours [in America].” The dictatorship he is referring to is that of Franscisco Franco, whose totalitarian rule over Spain lasted until his death in 1975.

“Until the Spice Girls, [Spanish popular music] had been almost exclusively Spanish, and we’ve had American music since Eminem, more or less. With respect to more alternative music, there has been more fusion in rock music since the end of the dictatorship.”

Garrido describes how now the constant influx of travelers and musicians provides the perfect environment for experimentation, and how the American influence of jazz is the ideal formula for the process.

“Jazz, blues…is a good base to begin to play and mix with an instrument that, say, some guy brought from Morocco or the other one he brought from Senegal,” he suggests. Garrido points out that the jazz scene in Granada attracts musicians from all over, saying, “Jazz is a base to begin to share music, not only from the north of Africa, but the American who plays harmonica or the French guy who plays the bass. You know, you can find people from everywhere.”

“Spanish flamenco,” he adds, “is something that is so pure, but you can mix it with other styles to produce all types of fusions. Flamenco with rock, lounge, and with African rhythms,” he lists, “yes, flamenco is very good for mixing with other styles and sounds.”

Booga Club and Granada’s music scene provides an example of how a country that previously had a tightly closed-door policy is learning to incorporate an increase in foreign influences, and the resulting exchange of musical ideas is what the concept of a melting pot was truly meant to be.

Now, I may still be a guiri, but I think that’s pretty awesome.

Written by: Mary Kate Polanin