Following on from the success of the free, outdoor Flamenco Abierto concerts on the Cerro San Cristobal in Vélez-Málaga over summer, an autumn programme has just been unveiled and is being given a helping hand with publicity by British couple, Ben and Phillipa Cooper, who live in the town.
A mix of Vélez-Málaga-based and non-local performers, including Rosa Linero and Miguel Astorga from Malaga, as well as Rubén Portillo Ponce, who is behind Flamenco Abierto, will be performing in the autumn concerts.
Ben, who along with his wife Phillipa, is a member of the Vélez-Málaga flamenco club, the Peña Flamenca Niño de Vélez, explains that there will be a combination of experienced and respected performers, as well as giving the opportunity to upcoming dancers to take to the stage.
Providing opportunities is “something Rubén Portillo Ponce is really passionate about,” according to Ben, who says that it's all about “bringing promising dancers - and singers, guitarists and percussionists - on to the next level and encouraging more grassroots flamenco, away from the dance studio”.
The Coopers have long been passionate about Spain and in particular flamenco. The couple met while they were both studying Spanish in Granada between 2000 and 2001. Ben was there on an Erasmus year as part of his Spanish degree and Phillipa, who studied sciences at university in the UK, explains that she had gone to Granada simply because she had “always wanted to learn Spanish.”
“We've both loved flamenco since we lived in Granada as students together all those years ago,” says Ben, adding, “I properly fell in love with it when I went to see Estrella Morente in Malaga. She was absolutely captivating. We also used to go Eshavira, a legendary, smoky old flamenco joint in Granada.”
The pair got married in the city and after a spell back in London, the young couple both decided that their hearts “were in Spain”.
“We missed it,” Phillipa confesses, “and knew that it was where we wanted to be”.
They settled in Vélez-Málaga after looking at properties across Andalucía. They were both clear that they wanted to live in a place that was authentically Spanish and away from places that were more popular with tourists and foreign residents. “We wanted to integrate into the local community. We both speak Spanish and wanted to feel that we belonged somewhere,” explains Ben, 37.
Phillipa, 38, adds that having both lived in big cities such as Ben's native London, they wanted somewhere that “had some life and was a good size” so they eventually chose Vélez-Málaga and bought an old posada, which they set about reforming.
The couple now both work from home as digital marketers, with a client base largely in the UK. However, they also dedicate their time to helping to promote Vélez-Málaga to English-speakers through the website and Facebook page, MiVélez-Málaga, as well as helping with publicity for the Flamenco Abierto nights and the peña.
They have been members for about the same amount of time they have been in Vélez-Málaga. They say that they are far from the only foreign regulars at the club and on some nights up to half the audience can be non-Spanish.
The couple say that Spanish peña members have been “very open and welcoming” to them and that the reaction to two foreigners wanting to publicise the place has been “excellent”.
They are full of praise for Cristóbal Moya, president of the peña: “He's worked so hard for so many years now to retain a strong flamenco presence here in Vélez. He's a legend!”
Ben and Phillipa have even managed to get the Rough Guide to Andalucía writer to change the description of Vélez-Málaga. “In old editions I think they even mentioned something about cock fighting,” laughs Phillipa, “but now it's full of how much Vélez has changed and the great flamenco that can be found here.”
For further information on forthcoming Flamenco Abierto dates in Vélez-Málaga, visit the Facebook page: Flamenco Abierto Axarquía