Musicians from all over the world are drawn to Granada because of its unique and bubbling music scene. Spanish, African, Northern European, Asian, American, Latin American – all these backgrounds combine to create an eclectic musical culture in Granada.
Why this city and not the next? Well, the general message of this blog should answer that, but Granada’s status as a musical kingpin in Spain can more or less be attributed to two reasons.
Firstly, there is generally a simple and positive approach to life here that complements the uncluttered and laid-back environment a musician needs to be creative. People want to be happy and make other people happy; making music and performing it for all to hear is the perfect way of doing this.
Secondly, Granada has a long history of musical accomplishment, and has attracted huge talents over the years. The most notable of these would be the late and now legendary Joe Strummer, of The Clash. During the 70s Strummer would often just turn up in Granada, usually alone, and write music. There was a growing punk scene in Granada at the time and Strummer soon became something of a local hero. The hit ‘Spanish Bombs’, which referred to Granada as his corazon, basically immortalised him, and three years ago a square in el Realejo bario was re-named after him, to honour his influence on Granadino culture.
Out on the streets; up in the hills; in musty, timeworn Flamenco bars; even in the darkest and dingiest of grunge bars – musical creativity thrives everywhere here, and is an asset to the city that ought to be celebrated.
Out on the Street
Granada’s city centre is awash with buskers and street performers, from acoustic guitarists and full-on brass bands to Flamenco dancers and spaced-out nomads lightly tapping on an instrument that resembles the lid of a large wok.
Anyone who wants to perform any kind of act publicly must get proper permission down at the Ayuntamiento building first (free, and just a stamped piece of paper, apparently), or else they risk facing a hefty fine if approached by police. Even if you play the guitar like Hendrix there’s no excuse for not having the proper permission unfortunately.
Carrera del Darro, the long, cobbled street that runs parallel to the river beyond Plaza Nueva, is the most popular (and scenic) place to go and busk to your heart’s content. Many musicians set up by the Cathedral too, where crowds of tourists are likely to build up.
As spring turns from wet to warm, the outdoor party season is set in motion. Word-of-mouth raves often take place up in the hills beyond San Miguel Alto, attracting a few hundred revellers throughout the day. The sound system that is dragged all the way up there is solar-powered and thus energy efficient (true Granadino hippy style). The police don’t get involved, since the location is out of the way and the music inaudible to the nearest residents in the higher part of the Albaícin.
At the start of spring, Dragon Festival is held close to the nearby town of Santa Fe, but this is much bigger and lasts for a week. Although the land is privately owned there have been a few run-ins with the police recently (and more than a few when it was in its original home of Órgiva).
Gigs and Concerts
Although there aren’t too many big-name bands and musicians that come to showcase their talents in Granada (Bob Dylan, playing at Palacio de los Deportes in July is a notable exception), the city does have a good stock of its own, homegrown talents and venues that frequently host lesser-known, but highly talented Spanish bands and artists.
Plantabaja, one of my favourite clubs in town, has gigs going on every weekend. A regular act is Nirvana tribute band The Buzz Lovers, who have nailed it so perfectly that it’s basically impossible to tell the difference. Other great venues are Booga Club, where the regular Jam Sessions on Thursdays and Sundays (live reggae, dancehall and funk) never fail to please, and Sala El Tren, where bigger reggae, hip-hop and indie bands from Spain and international DJs come and rock the place through its impressive sound system.
There are various venues in and around the city that host traditional Flamenco nights. Some are very well-known and get a lot of mentions in popular guidebooks like Lonely Planet and Rough Guides; others receive less attention but invariably offer the same high standards.
Personally, I am not a Flamenco aficionado but occasionally like to be reminded of its deep-seated role in cultura Granadina. The best and most authentic Flamenco bars can be found in the old and white-washed Sacromonte barrio. Here, generations of gitanos (gypsies) have kept up the tradition in its original and purest form. There are no gimmicks, no tourist traps, no obnoxious halfwits to spoil the show. There is a fee to pay on the door, but that goes directly back into the community, which pulls together to make such shows possible.
We’ve already heard about the springtime Dragon Festival, but that arguably falls into the ‘free rave’ category of live events. Considering there is no commerical aspect or sponsorship involved (which is a good thing), there is definitely an anarchic element in there which some people may not enjoy.
Alternatively, there is Granada Sound festival, formerly known as ‘Alhambra Sound’, which is held every September in Granada city centre. This is a small festival by comparison to other similar events but nonetheless features relatively big acts on the roster. This year’s event will see The Kooks, Supersubmarina and Dorian headline the main stage (there is only one other).
Music doesn’t have to be played in the street, in a bar, or at a festival for it to be considered representative of a place. There is, of course, a lot more to it than that. Music played from peoples’ homes – audible from the street or sometimes your bedroom as you’re waking up in the morning – is arguably the most definitive example of musical culture. At least here it is anyway.
In Granada, alternative rock, reggae, jungle and Latin alternative (think Manu Chao) get the most airtime, but anything goes really, so long as it’s got soul…