Episode 19: Flamenco

Flamenco is famous for the emotional intensity of its songs and dances. Argentinian Samanta Gamarra discovered that this ancient art from southern Spain has another quality that is less known for, the ability to heal wounds, the deepest ones.

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Transcript

Martina: When Samanta Gamarra thinks back on Sundays of her childhood in Buenos Aires, she hears music. But not the tango songs one would stereotypically associate with Argentina. She hears Flamenco, specifically songs of great artists like Paco de Lucía, Lola Flores or Camarón de la Isla.

Samanta: Me despertaba con esas canciones cada domingo. Escuchábamos música en casetes. Mamá y yo cantábamos las canciones mientras yo intentaba bailar flamenco.

Martina: Samanta's grandfather migrated to Argentina in the 1930s from Spain’s southern region of Andalucia—that’s where flamenco was born. It’s a mix of dance, singing and guitar playing and is famous for its emotional intensity. It’s been around for over two hundred years.

Samanta: Estoy segura de que mi mamá ponía esa música los domingos para recordar a su padre. Creo que ella dedicaba ese día a recordarlo.

Martina: Listening to flamenco was how Samanta’s mom reconnected with her father, Samanta’s grandfather. And decades later, it would serve as a connection between Samanta and her own mom, when she most needed her.

Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and to gain new perspectives on the world. The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I’ll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again—and we also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

Today’s story comes from Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s called “Flamenco” told by Samanta Gamarra. Please note that you’ll be hearing Samanta speak in an Argentine accent. They pronounce their double LLs and Ys with a SH sound, as in “aSHer” or “caSHe” instead of “ayer” or “calle”.

Angela Romero, Samanta's mother, had hazel eyes that appeared to shift in color depending on the weather and the light.

Samanta: De pequeña, me gustaba mirar sus ojos. En los días soleados eran verde claro y en los días nublados eran de color marrón.

Martina: Angela’s facial expressions changed along with the color of her eyes. For example, she would sit quietly when she drank mate, the tea that Argentines typically drink. And, absorbed in her thoughts, her face would take on a tragic look.

Samanta: Pero esa expresión trágica desaparecía cuando reía. Mi madre podía parecer seria pero rápidamente veías que era una persona feliz. Caminaba con la cabeza en alto y con los ojos brillantes.

Martina: Samanta also distinctly remembers her mother’s voice.

Samanta: Tenía la voz grave, pero dulce. Siempre estaba cantando alguna canción.

Martina: Samanta, her parents and her brother lived in Nueva Pompeya. This is a working class neighborhood in the south side of Buenos Aires where many of the first tangos were written and performed. Music was always playing in their home.

Samanta: Mi mamá trabajó de joven en una disquería.

Martina: Una disquería is a record store.

Samanta: Ella no podía estar sin música. Nos enseñó a escuchar todo tipo de música como rock o boleros. Todos los días, después de levantarnos, escuchábamos canciones de Queen, Michael Jackson, Nat King Cole, Buena Vista Social Club, José Feliciano y muchos más.

Martina: Samanta found refuge in her music-filled home and in her close relationship with her mother. At school, she was quiet and shy. So she had trouble starting up conversations with her classmates.

Samanta: Con mi mamá no necesitaba hablar. Solo con mirarnos ya sabíamos qué pensaba la otra. Mi madre era quien sabía mis secretos. Era mi mejor amiga de niña y en la adolescencia.

Martina: They were such good friends, that Samanta never hesitated to turn to her for help. For example, Samanta had trouble sleeping as a kid and this persisted into her teenage years.

Samanta: A veces yo no podía dormir. Incluso hoy me preocupo demasiado por todo. En ese tiempo me preocupaba por mis notas en la escuela, por no encontrar una ocupación al terminar la escuela secundaria.

Martina: This constant worrying would keep Samanta awake at night. When she couldn’t sleep, she’d get up from bed and look for her mom.

Samanta: Sabía que mi mamá estaba en la sala o en la cocina, tomando un té o leyendo. Me sentaba cerca de ella y esperaba a oír alguna historia de cuando ella era chica, de mis abuelos o del libro que estaba leyendo.

Martina: Samanta found her mother’s stories soothing and instantly calming. Ángela was a constant presence in the house after Samanta was born because she decided to leave her job and be a stay-at-home mom.

Samanta: Los sábados y los domingos me despertaba con su voz. Mamá estaba siempre haciendo algún trabajo en la casa: limpiando, organizando, reparando algún mueble. Era el espíritu de la casa.

Martina: In December of 2008, the Gamarra family was living a quiet life and getting ready for Christmas. Samanta was close to getting her degree in literature.

Samanta: Enseñaba clases a niños y jóvenes en escuelas. Estaba también ahorrando para hacer un viaje a Europa. Todavía vivía en casa con mis padres y mi hermano mayor.

Martina: While doing some Christmas shopping, Angela asked Samanta to get her a bag of tomatoes. She kept repeating “tomatoes”, but she was pointing to a bag of nuts.

Samanta: Yo no la entendía y ella estaba cada vez más nerviosa. Cuando íbamos a casa, intenté convencerla de ir al médico. Me dijo que después de las navidades. No le gustaba ir al médico, pero entre mi padre, mi hermano y yo la convencimos.

Martina: The next day, at the doctor’s office, they discovered Angela had a brain tumor. That's what was affecting her speech and confusing her. Surgery was scheduled to remove it after the holidays, and it looked like the prognosis was good.

Samanta: Esa navidad la pasamos tranquilos. Mi hermano y yo pensábamos que mamá se iba a mejorar. Mi padre no decía nada.

Martina: They had dinner at home like every Christmas Eve but they canceled their traditional lunch at a restaurant on Christmas day. Angela didn’t have much of an appetite.

Samanta: Esa Navidad escuchamos música como siempre. Celebramos a medianoche el 24 y nos acostamos temprano. Al día siguiente almorzamos en casa y vimos películas.

Martina: Angela underwent surgery at the end of January. They did a biopsy and removed part of her tumor. Several doctors and tests later, they confirmed their worst fears: Angela had late stage brain cancer. She started chemotherapy right away.

Samanta: El diagnóstico fue muy duro para todos. Mi mamá salió bien de la operación pero después de eso se puso peor.

Martina: In less than two months, Angela could barely move or speak.

Samanta: Ella decía pocas palabras y era difícil entenderla. No se levantaba de la cama. Sufría también cambios rápidos de carácter. Se enfadaba o lloraba sin ninguna causa.

Martina: Angela spent 15 days hospitalized after surgery in January. She went again for physical therapy. And as her condition worsened, she had to be treated for infections and other health problems. Samanta was constantly in and out of the hospital with her mom.

Samanta: Yo estaba preocupada, pero creía que iba a mejorar. Una noche, leyéndole uno de sus libros favoritos, ella me dijo que tenía miedo. Yo me sentí muy triste, pero ella no lo notó.

Martina: Just before Easter Sunday, Angela had just finished a session of chemotherapy when she suddenly suffered a heart attack. She did not survive.

Samanta: Murió el 12 de abril del 2009 a los 59 años. Yo tenía 26. Su muerte vino por sorpresa como un golpe que no esperas.

Martina: The months after her mother’s death are all a blur for Samanta.

Samanta: Yo dormía todo el día. Me sentía mal por su muerte, por no haber visto los síntomas. Estaba paralizada por su ausencia. No salía de casa. Paré de ir a la universidad.

Martina: Angela’s death also hit Samanta’s father and brother very hard, but they were able to keep functioning. Samanta, on the other hand, continued to be paralyzed by her grief. Everything in the house was a constant reminder of her mother’s absence.

Samanta: Yo veía la taza en la que ella tomaba su té por las noches, el libro que no terminó de leer en la mesa de la sala, su ropa en el armario con sus zapatos. Ella estaba en todas partes. En ese momento, yo volvía a la cama.

Martina: When it came time to deal with her mother’s belongings, Samanta found it excruciating to give any of them away.

Samanta: Yo no quería tocar nada. De esta manera, me parecía que en algún momento ella iba a entrar por la puerta y todo iba a volver a ser como antes.

Martina: Little by little, Samanta started coming out of the house, but the painful memories of her last months with her mother kept coming back.

Samanta: Yo pensaba en sus últimos momentos en el hospital, en las noches durmiendo a su lado, esperando a verla mejor. Fueron noches difíciles. No dormía para estar alerta por si ella necesitaba algo. Me sentía sola.

Martina: On the anniversary of her mother’s death, Samanta started thinking about activities to help her move forward.

Samanta: Volví a mis clases de piano y francés, pero no encontré la motivación. No me gustaba el deporte y no quería ir al psicólogo.

Martina: But one day, out of the blue, she remembered the Sundays of her childhood...

Samanta: … cuando me despertaba con la música flamenca que mi mamá ponía para recordar a mi abuelo.

Martina: It turned out, a friend from college was taking flamenco dance lessons. Samanta asked her about the studio and decided to register for a beginner class. She took classes once a week and felt inspired by her teacher, Claudia, whom she calls her “flamenco mom.”

Samanta: Clase a clase aprendí nuevos movimientos. El proceso era difícil; necesitaba mucha energía y yo trabajaba duro. En esos momentos mi cabeza no estaba ocupada pensando en mi mamá.

Martina: But as the classes got harder, Samanta became more critical of herself.

Samanta: En las clases de flamenco las personas bailan enfrente de un espejo para aprender los movimientos. Yo me miraba cuando bailaba. No me gustaba como lo hacía.

Martina: During class, she would critique herself in the studio’s full-length mirrors. She would try to imitate her instructor, striking strong and forceful poses with her arms, but Samanta thought hers looked awkward and flimsy.

Samanta: En esos momentos no podía parar de pensar en mamá cuando estaba en el hospital, en la cama. Quizás mis movimientos mal hechos me recordaban a cómo estaba ella en sus últimos momentos.

Martina: On a rainy day in July of 2010, Samanta was the only person to show up for class. While practicing steps with her teacher, Samanta confessed to her that she was thinking about quitting. She said she didn’t think she had enough talent to dance flamenco.

Samanta: Ella me miró sorprendida y luego me dijo que hay que sentir el baile. Me dijo que el baile tiene que salir solo, que no hay que pensar. Solo bailar.

Martina: “Just feel the dance,” her teacher told her. She also said that if she practiced more, the moves would feel less awkward.

Samanta: Había algo sincero en lo que me decía. Pensaba demasiado, recordaba demasiado y no sentía el baile.

Martina: So Samanta decided that’s what she’d do: she’d practice, a lot. She even bought a small piece of wood where she could practice the rhythmic stomping known in flamenco as “zapateado”, from the word “zapato”, or shoe. She practiced the steps a few minutes every day.

Samanta: El baile flamenco tiene, como una de sus características, hacer percusión, es decir, golpear con las palmas de la mano o con los pies en el zapateado.

Martina: Flamenco shoes actually have pieces of metal on the toe and heel, so that they make a very particular and very loud sound when you stomp.

Samanta: El zapateado ocurre cuando el cantaor no canta.

Martina: El “cantaor” is the flamenco singer.

Samanta: Es un momento muy intenso y es cuando la bailaora hace sus movimientos apasionados.

Martina: “Bailaora” is the flamenco dancer. Samanta practiced her steps every time she thought about her mother’s disease. It didn’t matter were she was. Even in public, if those thoughts came… she’d start stomping… always to that particular flamenco rhythm.

Samanta: Hacer los zapateados con pasión me sirvió para quitarme el dolor y me ayudó a recordar a mi madre. Dejé de verla enferma en la cama del hospital y empecé a pensar en ella antes de su enfermedad.

Martina: At the end of the year, Samanta’s dance teacher organized a flamenco show with musicians, “cantaores”, and other students.

Samanta: Después de solo siete meses yendo a clases y dos meses practicando diariamente, llegó el gran día. Era mi primera vez en un escenario. Tenía miedo de no poder hacerlo, pero entonces recordé las palabras de mi profesora. Solo tenía que bailar y sentir la música.

Martina: Before getting on stage for the show, Samanta thought about her mother.

Samanta: Mi hermano y mi papá estaban en el público.

Martina: She was about to dance what is known as tango flamenco, a basic form that’s ideal for beginners and known for being joyful. Once she was out on stage, Samanta let herself feel the music, and feel the movements as if they were her own.

Samanta: Pude imaginar a mi madre sentada en el público, al lado de mi hermano y mi padre.

Martina: As she went through the choreography, Samanta imagined her mother out in the audience watching her, smiling and proud.

Samanta: Y después de mucho tiempo, mientras bailaba, me sentí feliz.

Martina: This story was written by Samanta Gamarra. She is based in Buenos Aires and she is still taking flamenco lessons every week. She works as a facilities coordinator for the Education Department and as substitute teacher.

If you liked this story, we’d love it if you shared it with your friends who are also learning Spanish. Send them a link to podcast.duolingo.com. There, you can find a transcript of this story and the rest of the episodes. Subscribe at Apple podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss one. With over 300 million members, Duolingo is the world's largest online language learning platform and the most downloaded education app in the world. Duolingo believes that everyone should have access to education of the highest quality for free. Learn more at duolingo.com. I’m Martina Castro, gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode includes recordings of flamenco music and dance classes featuring Melissa Cruz and her students dancing, singing by Feliz de Lola and José Cortez, guitar by Itamar Shapira, and palmas by David Paez, Kerensa DeMars, José Cortez and Carola Zertuche.

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Author: Samanta Gamarra
Senior Editor: Catalina May
Script Editor: Teresa Bouza
Sound Designer: Claire Mullen
Mixing & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz Farga
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro