The city of Granada is dominated by the Alhambra fortress, the former palace of the Muslim dynasty which ruled Andalucia from 711 until 1492. In the shadows of the Alhambra are two neighbourhoods – Albaicin and Sacromonte, where many of the city’s musicians live and perform.
It may come as no surprise that flamenco is the dominant music in these areas. The city’s most celebrated flamenco singer, Enrique Morente, was born and raised in the Albaicin and fans can even spend a night in his family home on Cuesta de San Gregorio. But the area also has strong connections to punk, jazz and reggae music. This makes this area of Granada a must-visit destination for fans of musical history.
Getting to Granada
Getting to Granada is easy. Most UK cities have flights to nearby Malaga where you will be spoilt for choice for car rentals. Malaga car hire services include long-term and green rental options and prices are surprisingly reasonable, on par with Spain in general.
Once you’re on the road, Granada is just over an hour away and is one of the easier Spanish cities for driving and parking, which will make your life much easier.
The history of flamenco
Along with Seville and Jerez, Granada features heavily in the history of flamenco. There are many stories of the origins of the music but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Granada played a big part in the development of flamenco.
After the reconquest of the city in 1492, the Muslim population remained in the Albaicin district where the 40,000 inhabitants had access to over 30 mosques. In neighbouring Sacromonte, the city’s Roma population resided in the hundreds of cave houses that were built many centuries before by the original settlers in the area.
Later, as the Catholics became less tolerant of the practice of Islam, those who refused to convert to Catholicism were ordered to leave the city. Many fled to other areas of Spain but some pretended to be gipsies and moved to Sacromonte, where they were welcomed into the community. It is thought that the fusion of the Arabic music of the Muslims and the folk music of the Roma provided the foundations for modern flamenco.
The punk rock connection
With such strong links to the gipsy community, early flamenco could be considered the punk music of the time. It was developed and played by outsiders and constructed from many different influences, soaked up by the musicians as they travelled from one place to another.
The aforementioned Enrique Morente was considered a rebel of the flamenco world, combining traditional sounds with ambient, poetry indie and rock music (he even performed with Sonic Youth) and sparking debate among the purists. Today, however, he is considered a pioneer of the genre.
The rebellious atmosphere of the Albaicin attracted Joe Strummer, former frontman of English punk band The Clash. Strummer spent much of his free time hanging out with musicians in the neighbourhood and partying into the small hours. He became involved with local bands such as Radio Futura and 091, and helped produced the latter’s album Mas de Cien Lobos (More than 100 Wolves).
Strummer’s exploits in Spain were chronicled in the documentary I Need a Dodge: Joe Strummer on the Run by Filmmaker Nick Hall. Following Strummer’s death, he was named an honorary son of the city and a small square was named in his honour. Ironically, the location chosen for the “Placeta Joe Strummer” is just a few yards walk from two of the city’s most famous flamenco guitar workshops – perhaps an unconscious representation of the strong link between punk rock and flamenco.
Travelling to Granada is a journey to the history of some of the most passionate music we have enjoyed – and continue to enjoy – far beyond Spain’s confines. Have a good trip and don’t forget to seek out some live music whilst there!