Welcome To Casa Flamenca
Valeria Montes is the executive director of Albuquerque's Casa Flamenca; a small home-based center for Flamenco art located at 401 Rio Grande Blvd NW. Sitting in the middle of the Casa Flamenca dance floor, we spoke for nearly two hours as she filled me in on the rich history and culture of Flamenco art and on the importance of sharing Flamenco with the Albuquerque community.
A Way Of Life
Admittedly, most everything I thought I knew about Flamenco was incorrect and, as it turns out, I'm not alone. "People initially come here for different reasons", Valeria explained, "mostly because of a pre-conceived notion they have of what Flamenco is."
At first glance, Flamenco appears to be an intricate dance in an elaborate costume accompanied by guitar, vocals, and percussion. And while, this description is not entirely wrong, it entirely misses the point of what Flamenco is.
A Journey Of Self Discovery
Flamenco is many things but first and foremost it is about tapping into and expressing real feelings. No fake smiles and forced politeness here. Valeria explained to me that one of the most interesting aspects of teaching Flamenco to teenagers and adults is challenging students to remove their proverbial "masks" and express a true feeling. It sounds simple enough but most of us have been conditioned against this type of expression since childhood. Women, especially, have been taught to put on a smile and be polite no matter how they feel on the inside. In contrast, the key to excellent Flamenco is genuine, uninhibited emotional expression. The quest towards this level of artistic freedom is a cathartic experience for many students and often leads to a lifelong journey of self discovery.
The Language Of Flamenco
To me, the most interesting aspect of Flamenco is the concept of the art form as a language, an interaction between all the performers. The musicians and the dancers communicate with, and play off of, each other to create a dynamic and visceral performance.
Similar to Jazz musicians, Flamenco performers study the elements of their language. They become intimately acquainted with the rhythms, the techniques, the tones, and the ways in which each performer interacts with the ensemble. In the same way that a student of any spoken language would study sentence structure and grammar in order to communicate fluently and effectively in that language, Flamenco artists also use the elements of their language to communicate. A Flamenco performance is a constant conversation between the dancer(s) and the musicians.
The language of Flamenco centers around genuine expression and this is facilitated by the most powerful human language of all, the language of experience. People all over the world use different words and modalities to communicate but the purpose of all communication is to describe experience.
Throughout the year, Casa Flamenca holds regular Tablao performances for the public. A Tablao is an improvisational performance held in an intimate environment. At Casa Flamenca, the Tablaos are held in the main classroom and attendance is limited to thirty people. Everyone sits in chairs around the edge of the dancefloor and has a front row seat for what Valeria describes as "Flamenco in your face".
I attended a Tablao at Casa Flamenca and can honestly say that it was one of the best live events, of any type, that I have seen in Albuquerque. The music alone was worth the trip, so fiery and dynamic, but coupled with the dance made for an absolutely mesmerizing performance. Everyone in attendance sat transfixed at the edge of their chairs from the moment it started until the last notes were played.
It is a rarified thing to see a room full of people unplugged from their devices and being fully present in the moment. No one was talking or looking at their phones and the energy in the air was powerful.
Artist In Residence, Juani De La Isla
I originally went to Casa Flamenca to interview Valeria, but I would be remiss not to mention the guitarist in residence, Juani De La Isla. I did not get to speak with him very much (we have a bit of a language barrier) but his music speaks for itself. (see the video below)
Another artist I would like to mention is Adrian Cabeza. He is the vocalist and percussionist seen in the videos. Adrian and Juani are world class musicians and to see them play, up close and personal, in this type of venue was a wonderful privilege.
Classes At Casa Flamenca
With classes for all age groups and skill levels, Casa Flamenca is a center for learning. When asked why she felt it was important to teach Flamenco to children, Valeria gets right to the heart of the matter. "Flamenco is a culture, a way of life. Children have fresh minds, where nothing is set in stone. It is a natural thing for them to absorb and understand a new culture without being influenced by preconceived notions."
I was struck by her words because it never occurred to me that learning Flamenco was more than just "going to dance class." At a time when our political culture would have us distracted by differences, division, and conflict, Casa Flamenca is a welcome beacon of light focused on understanding and inclusion.
Casa Flamenca offers classes in both dance and musical Flamenco performance. Classes are available on an ongoing basis and all ages and skill levels are welcome.
To learn more about taking classes at Casa Flamenca, please visit their website at www.CasaFlamenca.org.
Fall Tablao Series
This fall, Casa Flamenca is offering a four day Tablao series October 4th - 7th. If you have out of town guests coming in for the Balloon Fiesta and want to knock their socks off, this is a must-see event! For tickets and event information, click here: Casa Flamenca Fall Tablaos.
Claudio Tolousse, Then And Now
The first time I heard Claudio Tolousse play guitar was at the Outpost Performance Space in 2012. He was twenty-two years old and his PR company hired me to shoot photos for their various campaigns to launch the young artist. I had no idea what to expect but, when the show started, my first thought was, "Oh.. he's the real deal." His music displayed a complexity and maturity that was well beyond his years.
In the time since, Claudio has distinguished himself as a unique voice in the Albuquerque art community and music scene. Not only has he earned a Bachelor's Degree from the University Of New Mexico in Music Performance & Jazz Studies (2013) but he has also released his first album, The Story Of Part One (2017)
A Family Tradition Of Art And Music
Recording Artist: The Story Of Part One
Last fall, Claudio released his first album, The Story Of Part One. The album was recorded atThe Parlor Recording Studio in New Orleans and released worldwide on the independent record label, Bubble Bath Records. The Story Of Part One is the first of a trilogy, a musical autobiography so to speak, so stay tuned for parts two and three!
The Story Of Part One is now available via CD or digital download and can be purchased through the following link:
Bubble Bath Records: Claudio Tolousse
Heating Up Albuquerque
Claudio is the regular host of the Wednesday night jam sessions at Ben Michael's Restaurant from 7:00pm to 10:00pm.
Other upcoming performances include:
July 4th, 2018: July 4th Celebration With The Claudio Tolousse Band hosted by the Albuquerque Meadows Retirement Community. Claudio will be joined by a quintet to perform The Story Of Part One as well as other groovy tunes to celebrate our nation's independence.
For more information visit Claudiotolousse.com
July 7th, 2018: The Lineage Concert featuring Michael Anthony, John Maestas and Claudio Tolousse at the Outpost Performance Space. Claudio is not only performing in this show but he is also the producer/promoter of the event!
More information and tickets available fromBrown Paper Tickets.
August 16, 2018: Claudio Tolousse and Ryan Montano at the Outpost Performance Space
More information and tickets available from OutpostSpace.Org
For a full list of performances and upcoming events visit: Claudiotolousse.com
An Artist Of Many Voices
While speaking to Claudio Tolousse it becomes clear that, while he dearly loves the guitar, he does not see himself strictly as a musician and is firmly rooted in his sense of himself as a Being of expression.
There are many ways to express oneself and Claudio is not limited by an attachment to any one of them. Rather, he sees himself as someone with many creative tools in his proverbial toolbox. Every time I talk to him, he is eager to share his new projects, all of which require him to be a perpetual student and a master of adaptation.
Most recently, Claudio has been working closely with his father to learn the art of metal sculpture and he has become an accomplished sculptor in his own right. His work is now being presented on a national level. In fact, it is one of Claudio's sculptures that appears on the cover of his album, The Story Of Part One.
For more information, and to see more of Claudio's work visit the"Art" page on his website.
Leaving Footprints Around The World
One of Claudio's great loves is getting to know the world around him and he has an amazing passion for travel.
While pursuing his music degree at the University Of New Mexico, Claudio was fortunate enough to do two semesters as an exchange student: one in Louisiana at the University of New Orleans and another one in South Africa at the University of Cape Town. He has also spent a lot of time in Nashville, TN and traveled extensively across the United States.
Yet with so much travel and opportunity, Claudio continues to call New Mexico home - and with good reason! Like his father; drawn to the Santa Fe art scene, New Mexico remains a prime location to create and sell art. Additionally, Claudio and his father frequently go on the road together, traveling to art fairs all over the country. On these trips, Claudio not only presents his own works but also acts as spokesperson and salesman for his father's art dealings.
When asked about his plans to stay in New Mexico, Claudio says:
"You know, it really doesn't matter where you live. It's the effort you put in to that place. New Mexico is the best place to sell art and, as a musician, I am constantly traveling and I get to play in amazing venues all over the country, plus I can still get my green chili fix whenever I want!
I have lived in other places but none of them have my history, my community. I am able to accomplish more here because I have deep roots."
The Definition Of Success
When asked what it means to be successful, Claudio has what is perhaps the best answer of all saying:
"For me, success is doing what you love and finding a way to have what you love be your means to an end, and to live comfortably. I think when you're doing what you love, you're not working a day at all. And when you're doing what you love with as much passion and drive as you can then you are succeeding every day."
With Claudio Tolousse, there is always more yet to be discovered. Stay tuned for his new podcast called Art Talk Music with Claudio Tolousse, coming soon to airwaves near you!
Creating Art For The Love Of Route 66
Darryl Willison is arguably one of Albuquerque's most recognizable artists. His career, spanning over twenty years in New Mexico, has produced a signature style and his work can be seen in galleries, museums and restaurants all over town and even in the White House.
Once known for his two dimensional art; cowboy themed paintings, pastels, and colored pencil creations, Darryl's work has evolved to meet the demands of a changing marketplace and he now specializes in steel sculpture - which he creates with a plasma cutter and describes as "drawing with fire", and in creating designs for gift items such as tee-shirts, coasters, wall art, and bumper stickers. All of his designs are original and still drawn by hand.
Currently, my favorite Darryl Willison art pieces are these absolutely fantastic saw sculptures.
Holding On To The History
Darryl is the director of merchandising for the New Mexico Route 66 Association and his lifelong love of Route 66 shines through in his work.
When asked about his fascination with The Mother Road, Darryl says:
"Route 66 is steeped in the rich history of this country and represents the heart and backbone of the people who live here. Families would get in the vehicle and enjoy the landscape without the distraction of electronics. You enjoyed the ride because the road was the destination. As the older generation passes away, it's like a library burning to the ground and this history is something we can't afford to lose."
Bringing History Back To Life
Albuquerque's Central Ave. is a living and breathing stretch of historic Route 66 and New Mexico hosts the longest stretch of Route 66 in the country.
Along this main drag are numerous roadside motor lodges, many built in the 1930's that have since fallen into various states of disrepair, some have even been abandoned and become derelict.
When it was built in 1937, the El Vado Motel was one of New Mexico's first motels to greet Route 66 travelers. In more recent times, it had been rundown and was considered an eyesore and all around dangerous place to be (though I believe it made an appearance in an episode of Breaking Bad)
Fortunately, the El Vado was rescued by the city and in 2017 it was renovated into a beautiful commercial space hosting many shops and restaurants as well as a boutique motel for those who want to spend a night on The Mother Road.
I wish I had photographed the El Vado prior to it's renovation, just to show the before and after. What I remember was a boarded up motor lodge in a lot overgrown with weeds and enclosed by a razor wire chain link fence. Needless to say, the transformation has been incredible.
Merc 66 In The Newly Renovated El Vado Motel
Never content to sit quietly behind the scenes, Darryl Willison is not only a gifted artist but also a lifelong entrepreneur. Recognizing that functional gifts meet the needs of travelers, Darryl's latest venture is a fun and quirky giftshop full of one-of-a-kind creations that are not only decorative but also serve a purpose.
Merc 66 is part of the newly renovated commercial space at the El Vado Motel located at 2500 Central Ave SW in Albuquerque. It is walking distance to Old Town and is right across the street from the Botanical Garden.
Merc 66 is actually a co-op giftshop and not only features numerous fun and functional "Darryl" creations but those of other artists as well; all of whom have a vested interest in the success of the shop.
Merc 66 has a tiny boot print, occupying only 350 square feet, but there is no wasted space here. The quantity and selection of products is impressive and every explorer of The Mother Road is likely to find the perfect thing to bring back home.
In addition to wall art, there are tee-shirts, coasters, bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, New Mexico shaped cutting boards, hand made soaps, fruit preserves, steel sculptures, neck pillows and even pool wrap ponchos made from southwest themed beach towels. Like I said, something for everyone!
For more information about Darryl Willison, visit his website at WhimsicalWest.com and be sure to "like" Merc 66 on facebook. Merc 66 merchandise is also available online and can be ordered at www.Merc66abq.com and if you're traveling through Albuquerque, don't forget to book your room at the El Vado Motel.
Jim Gross has been a staple in the New Mexico music industry for over two decades.
After producing over 3000 local events, Jim's live performances have led him to become one of the most recognizable guitarist in Albuquerque.
More than a Wedding DJ
In addition to building a successful entertainment agency, Jim Gross is also a recording artist and has released two albums featuring his notable musicianship.
Circle Of The Lord
What's next for Jim Gross?