Decades-old Madrid cafe keeps flamenco spirit alive

MADRID (Reuters) - In one of Madrid’s oldest flamenco venues, a heart-wrenching voice commands attention as arms rise, fingers curl and feet strike wooden floors to the sound of gypsy chords.

Renowned for showcasing artists at the forefront of Spain’s flamenco scene for six decades, the family-run Corral de la Moreria attracts a nightly mix of aficionados and foreigners.

Housed in a 19th century building just steps away from Spain’s royal palace, the venue’s candle-lit walls are peppered with pictures of visiting celebrities ranging from Paul Newman to Justin Bieber that were taken by the owners.

Other visitors have included politicians such as former U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, musicians from 1970s hard rock band Kiss, songstress Mariah Carey and sports stars such as Brazilian soccer player Pele. Some have even taken to the stage to dance.

“Flamenco may have been born in the south but Madrid is its capital,” said Juan Manuel del Rey, director of Corral de Moreria and son of the founder who opened the ‘tablao’ in 1956.

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“Tablao”, Spanish for floorboard, emerged in the 1960s as a cabaret-style cafe for flamenco shows.

Rich and harrowing, flamenco is designed to stimulate all the senses, performed passionately by men and women typically involving a fiery singer, dancer, guitarist and “palmero” who claps the rhythms.

The founder’s widow, Blanca del Rey, is an award-winning flamenco dancer who made her debut at Corral de Moreria at age 14. She still scours Spain’s flamenco festivals for top talent, handpicking the weekly programme that includes a roster of celebrated artists complimented by Spain’s rising stars.

Sitting at arm’s distance from the stage, aficionado Eloina Martinez, 68, has been enjoying flamenco for years.

“This gives me life. If it weren’t for flamenco, I wouldn’t be the same,” she says, swirling a glass of red wine.

Editing by Sonya Dowsett and Gareth Jones