In Pound for the Sound, Phoenix New Times get technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature tones.
Angelina Ramirez, visionary and founder of Flamenco Por La Vida, is all about being a flamenco artist. If you get to know her, you will soon realize her intense level of passion and commitment to her craft. You will also realize she holds a very deep spot in her soul for flamenco and its connection to the world. The love and inspiration surrounding it is what really drives her.
Ramirez is an Arizona native who grew up in Tucson. She was a very lazy kid, and will be the first to tell you that she didn't choose flamenco dancing, it chose her. Over one summer break, when she was about 8 or 9 years old, her mother pulled out the Tucson Parks and Recreation Department catalog for summer classes, and she was told to pick between folklorico or flamenco dancing. She did an "eeny meeny miny mo" pick and ended up with flamenco. She loved the classes so much she continued for the next year until they were no longer being offered.
Instead of giving up, Ramirez studied with another teacher, Olivia Rojo, who is still her close friend and mentor. She studied with her throughout her teenage years, but eventually moved to Albuquerque, the mecca of flamenco here in the United States.
In Albuquerque, Ramirez attended the Conservatory of Flamenco Arts at the National Institute of Flamenco for two and a half years, and also worked as a member of Yjastros, the American flamenco repertory company.
She moved to the Valley about 12 years ago, working with Mosaico Flamenco in Scottsdale before forming Flamenco Por La Vida was born in 2009. The group is going stronger than ever, and they have been holding a weekly show at Crescent Ballroom every Saturday for the past four years, one of the longer-running weeklies downtown Phoenix has to offer.
Ramirez and Flamenco Por La Vida have another show this Saturday June 30, at Crescent Ballroom. Phoenix New Times was able to get some words in via phone and email with Angelina Ramirez about her passion for flamenco, their gear, and the group's upcoming performance.
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Phoenix New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" style?
Angelina Ramirez: Realness. Flamenco is so in your face in real time that audiences get captivated, curious, and moved by flamenco. It’s important for me to approach my performance, my teaching and my sharing of flamenco about how present it is. For example, I might be doing the same “song” over and over again, but it’s not written in stone. Depending on how I’m feeling and how my support is connecting to how I feel (guitarist, singers, palmeros, fellow dancers) ends up being the outcome of the song, and it’s rarely ever the same outcome. I put my feelings out there for all to see, feel, and interpret. I think that’s what makes me unique. To define my style in words, real.
What's your favorite piece of gear in in Flamenco Por La Vida collection and why?
Our hands. If you think about it, all the elements of flamenco use hands. Not only to play a tune, or keep rhythm, but also for expression. An open hand or closed hand tells a different story. The rest of our bodies react depending on the where our hands take us. Next time you watch flamenco, watch the hands of the guitarist. Watch the expressiveness of the singer with every note belted. Watch the cajon player tap, cup, hit, pound, roll, with every different inch of the hand. Watch the palmeros (hand clappers) whose dynamics can be changed and rhythms can be manipulated with every strike. And, while watching the dancer, count how many different ways they’ve used their hands. It’s a fun game.
Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
Everything is special. The vocal is the most priceless, then the guitar, and then the dance, and then the percussion, and then the ... I can go on and on about all of the elements and the importance of them. The funniest thing we’ve acquired is my shaker. It’s so silly, but she comes out every now and then when we do more uppity, fun rumba tunes. Flamenco can be heavy, but there is also a party element, too. So when it’s time to party, the shaker comes out. I should really think about giving her a name.
Just checked out your video for “Tablao De Albuquerque.” Great work here, very engaging and very intense. When you composed this routine, how did you go about your decisions for choreography? Do you work off the vocals and guitar, or do you start with dance and build it into a full composition? We would love to understand the process.
There are many ways to enjoy flamenco. Tablaos [platform floors] are the second to the best way to intimately connect with your surroundings, from your fellow artists to the audience. Most times in these tablao situations, there’s minimal to no rehearsal or discussion about what happens in a piece.
Structure is key. As a dancer, you might have a base idea, a go-to approach. But if you study and understand the structure of flamenco, the possibilities are endless. If things are going really well, not even you know what you’re going to do next. If you're feeling it, a new idea will arise subconsciously. Most of it is improvised. Like jazz, there are calls, tones, and breaks we watch and listen for by the whichever artist is leading that particular moment, and it's up to the support to follow.
Oh, the very best way to enjoy flamenco, is a jam in your living room, backyard or a small bar with your flamenco family. Talk about realness! Super-raw!
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You had mentioned specifically during our phone call about how much growth you feel like you have experienced in the past three to four years, within yourself and the company, with the addition of your partner in crime, Olivia Rojas. Can you expand upon this growth for our readers?
Working with Oli has taught me a lot about myself, my desires on FPLV, and also my artistry. Olivia is a hard worker and gives her all and then some on her craft. Flamenco cante is the hardest element of flamenco in my opinion. We’re talking about a vocal manipulation that is beyond non-gypsy blood singers. But she never gives up. She practices all the time. So that drives me. I am the dreamer of this flamenco duo. I say I have an idea, and she says, "OK, let's do it!" We take the time to learn about each other, communicate, make mistakes, make accomplishments, make ideas to make the flamenco we make. We stand by it. But most importantly, we allow ourselves to grow. We both share this idea that we haven't mastered this until we absolutely couldn’t do it anymore. Until there is no more breath.
Flamenco Por La Vida has a performance this Saturday at Crescent Ballroom. Any words you wish to share with readers about your upcoming show?
We feel so at home at Crescent Ballroom. When you experience our show, expect rawness, playfulness, intensity, and even goofiness. We have so much freedom there, we can just do our thing. If you want to see Flamenco that is honest, unexpected, and raw, come to Crescent. We are so appreciative for the support from Charlie and the Crescent Ballroom Fam. We’ve been going strong for almost six years at CB, and we are proud to be there! Lastly, Flamenco Por La Vida is there every Saturday. See you soon!