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Flamenco a way of life for Juan Martin

Spanish guitarist tours the world with his Andalusian ensemble

- Juan Martin and a flamenco dance ensemble featuring direct from Spain dancer Raquel de Luna, Andalucían singer Amparo Heredia 'La Repompilla' and musicians Paul Fawcus and Chris Karan, Kay Meek Centre, Friday, Nov. 4.

"I started playing at six years old. I was given a very old guitar. It had been used so much there were dips in the wood between the frets, like very old steps that had been walked on a lot. It was hard to press on the strings but when I did get a good guitar it was then for me very easy."

The six-year-old with the battered guitar was Juan Martin, who grew up to be one of the foremost flamenco artists in the world and, according to Guitar Player magazine, one of the three best guitarists alive today in any genre.

Martin and his six-piece ensemble will perform at the Kay Meek Centre Nov. 4.

Martin grew up listening to records of his idols and figuring out how to reproduce the songs himself. With the blessing of his parents, Martin left his home in Andalusia at 17 and journeyed to Madrid, where he got to play with the same performers he had heard on vinyl.

"They helped me out with the fingering. I think they were flattered I worked it all out," Martin said.

From there he travelled to London, where good reviews of his concerts lead to his first record deal. Today, Martin manages his own label as well as touring and writing books on flamenco technique.

"It's like a potent drug, flamenco, when you're really involved with it. That's it, for life. Even when you go to other places you carry it with you and you don't feel right unless you have that music with you. It's becoming universal, a bit like jazz. You can go to places like Norway and come across an incredible trio or quartet and you say 'How did they learn this in Norway?' But talent is talent.

You see a lot of flamenco in Japan now too."

As well as helping to spread flamenco around the world, Martin is also known for reaching back into the genre's past.

"Spain had 800 years with the Moors. Buildings like the Alhambra Palace in Grenada reflect that, the mixture of Andalusia and the Moors.

Architecture, leatherwork, many things. That fascinated me so I went to places like Tunisia and Cairo and looked into that music quite closely.

And there are some Sephardic songs I've done the wonderful Spanish soprano Victoria de los Angeles recorded. I listened to them and transcribed them for the guitar and the clarinet. We did a set of five songs doing that. It's fascinating how all these cultures came together in this big hot pot in Andalusia.

They have all had their effect. The Hebraic culture, the Moors, the gypsies came from the north of India, the Ragasthan area. Even now with the long hair and the earrings the women look like Indian women do. That has survived since the 1400s."

While he speaks of "the great tradition" with obvious respect, Martin also has a deep affection for jazz, and has played with such greats as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock.

"I've really gone into jazz harmony in such a way that has taught me a lot about improvisation. Flamenco has a lot of rhythm and improvisation within the rhythm. But the idea that you take a standard and then abstract out of that, is something in flamenco we don't do. The exciting thing has been the journey of learning."

Concert goers can expect to see Martin open the show with a solo performance, before introducing male and female dancers, a percussionist, a clarinet and saxophonist and a singer. To the untrained eye, it may appear that guitarist is in charge, but Martin said the interplay between the musicians and the heel-stomping dancers is actually far more complex.

"People imagine the dancers are dancing to our music, but the truth is you follow the rhythm," he said. "You both know the rhythm but they will use all sorts of counter-time, syncopation and you mustn't get thrown by that, you have to keep the rhythm straight for them. Or when they are dancing straight you use the syncopation. The singer, on the other hand, you never know what they will throw at you in terms of chords. So you have to have a lot of experience listening to the cante. It's difficult to be a good accompanist. You have to follow the steps and also give the right chords to the singer at the same time. It's very good training as a guitar player."

For tickets call 604913-3634 or visit www.