Spain, Morocco take center stage at Heritage Center

Elena Martinez/Bronx Music Heritage Center

Jose Fernandez on vocals, left, claps alongside Roberto Castellon who plays the guitar (right) while Nelida Tirado dances flamenco, right.

Bronx Rising! series highlights link between two traditions

The music of Morocco and flamenco dancing from Spain converged in the South Bronx on Sept. 19, giving a local audience a rare glimpse of the two intertwined cultures.

Acclaimed flamenco dancer Nelida Tirado, and the Moroccan band, Innov Gnawa, highlighted two musical traditions when they performed together at “Castanet Connections,” the latest in the Bronx Rising! series at the Bronx Heritage Center in Soundview.

For many in the audience, this was their first glimpse of Gnawa, which combines Arabic poetry with traditional North African music and dancing.

“We want them to experience our music and to see what instruments we have,” said band member, Samir Langus. “We have drums. We have sintirs (a three-stringed instrument). We want to show the people what kind of music we have. It’s very old music. And I’m sure they are going to go in trance. They are going to dance.”

Tirado, who has been dancing since she was six, said the purpose of the international fusion was to strike a chord with Bronx Latinos looking to identify with the Spanish side of their heritage. “I feel like these communities are starving for this type of exposure to things as far as world music and other types of culture, rather than the everyday stuff they see on TV and on the radio.”

“I think for a lot of the older communities there are still people who identify with Spain and the Spanish influence on their countries so there is a certain interest or curiosity, in the culture, she added.

When Tirado addressed the audience before the performance, she said the performance would highlight castanets “because it’s tying into the relationship between Morocco and Spain.”

The link between flamenco and Gnawa dates back to the Middle Ages when the Moors ruled southern Spain, before the Christians pushed them out in the 15th century. The Moors fled toNorth Africa, but the heavy influence they left on the culture of Andalusia is still strongly felt in flamenco music and dance.

Tirado said the South Bronx is eager to benefit from the many cultural offerings Manhattanites have ready access to.

“We are long overdue for a lot of variety, and it’s nice to be able to do that when you’re in your own backyard,” she said.

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