At the beginning of the 20th century, flamenco in Andalusia, and practically in all of Spain, enjoyed a period of special splendour, since the right conditions were created by a public that was fond of our art and a series of figures of singing, guitar and dance of the highest quality in a flamenco that had become professional; thanks to some establishments that played a fundamental role in the promotion and dissemination of our culture: the singing cafés.
The singing cafes emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, as private premises open to the public for their leisure and entertainment, in which singing, guitar playing and flamenco dancing shows were performed. Although these shows coexisted with other musical styles and performances of all kinds, it did not take long for them to become the main focus of attraction within this type of venue; the flamenco shows thus began to make their way into new public spaces.
From 1846 onwards these establishments proliferated and began to be created in great numbers in the main Andalusian cities and in Madrid – where up to 50 of them were operating at the same time and where the best of Andalusian cafés participated; but it was without a doubt the Sevillian singing cafés that marked the course and destiny of these establishments.
They also extended to the most rural areas, but with less refinement and with a clear predominance of the local cantes and cantaores. And this new way of showing the flamenco culture ended up reaching all of Spain through the cafés, as all of the best of the flamenco genre passed through their tables.
We can say that a large part of the history of flamenco is written in them. In fact, they played a very important role in it, having a positive impact on our art. After a time when the exhibition was quite restricted and badly regarded by high society, it began to arouse great cultural interest among the general public, ceasing to be known by a minority locked up in bars, taverns or private parties and reaching all social classes, even outside the Andalusian borders.
In addition to hosting the most important figures in the history of flamenco, they attracted all the intellectuals of the time, who came regularly to enjoy the arte jondo -among many other names we can remember Jacinto Benavente, Borges, Estébanez Calderón or George Borrow-, later giving them greater exposure and creating new followers.
They were also indispensable for the professionalization of the flamenco sector in which, by means of the improvement and competition between their interpreters, he experienced a great evolution and artistic wealth in each one of them, as well as in their styles and flamenco palos; being some of them well defined and perfected.
In addition, the fact that artists from different places knew and lived together caused a generalization and exchange of repertoires and styles, which are no longer strictly local.
Competition sometimes became fierce; to the point that Tomás el Nitri (Tomás Francisco Lázaro de la Santa Trinidad, 1838-1877) refused to sing in front of Silverio (Silverio Franconetti Aguilar, 1823-1889), so as not to be made a fool of in front of the master. Nevertheless, the first key to singing was for Tomás, who received it as recognition of his mastery at a party -some say that his friends gave it to him because he was the one who opened and closed all the parties in the place-.
There were more and more artists, gypsies and non-gypsies from all over Andalusia who wanted to take part, achieving great professional activity in the sector and a great increase in the value of their work; leaving us an invaluable repertoire, transmitted not only from parents to children and teachers to students, but also in the form of recordings that are preserved from the 1890s and are one of the main sources from which all current flamenco drink, showing the greatness and importance that the era of singing cafes has brought to flamenco.
In this café flamenco, the rest of the accompanying instruments such as tambourines, violins, and bandurrias from the other styles that were practiced on the stage were completely eliminated, leaving the voice and the guitar as the main form of expression in flamenco.
In the beginning, the main attraction was the dance, using the singing as an intermediate between one performance and another, always in charge of the best singers, but little by little the singing began to acquire more importance until creating as much or more interest; with this we can say that the singing was born to listen, around 1870, with a public willing to do it and in whose intervals the dances were executed, which were less and less boleros and folklore and more flamenco.
Around these circumstances a golden era of flamenco was created in which many of the great figures in the history of flamenco emerged, such as Tomás el Nitri and Silverio Franconetti, Don Antonio Chacón (Antonio Chacón García), 1869-1929), Curro Durse (Francisco de Paula Fernández Bohiga, 1825), Enrique El Mellizo (Francisco Antonio Enrique Jiménez Fernández, 1848-1906), Manuel Torre (Manuel Soto Loreto, 1878-1933), Juan Breva (Antonio Ortega Escalona, 1844-1918), Fosforito el Viejo (Francisco Lema, 1869-1940), El Mochuelo (Antonio Pozo Millán, 1868-1937), el Niño de Cabra (Cayetano Muriel Reyes, 1870-1947), Ramón Montoya (Ramón Montoya Salazar, 1879-1949), El Canario (Juan de la Cruz Reyes Osuna, 1857-1885), La Malena (Magdalena Seda Loreto, 1877-1956), La Macarrona (Juana Vargas, 1860-1947)… among an endless list of performers whose art has reached our days through history and, in some cases, through sound records.
As for the decoration of these premises, they always followed the same pattern and could be compared, in general terms, with that of the current flamenco peñas, since they share a common nature; large halls with tables and bar, walls decorated mainly with paintings and motifs related to flamenco and sometimes bullfighting; and a tablao where all the artists performed their shows. Illuminated by candles and quinqués, or gas lamps in their last years, some of these places keep their original buildings; although most of them no longer exist.
A start for the singing cafés in Seville
The first recorded reference is made by the cantaor Fernando de Triana (1867-1940) in his memoirs, in which he talks about the opening of Los Lombardos, located in the street of the same name -currently Castelar-, in 1947. However, this information is provided by Fernando nine decades later, about a moment in which he was not born either, so it cannot be assured that that place was actually a singing café or a simple tavern where the flamencos gathered, as was the case at the time.
If we make a route by Seville visiting the places in which they were settled, we will be able to find some of those buildings still standing – although, logically, with other utilities.
There were many singing cafes that were established in Seville during this period, although some became famous even outside our borders, for the quality of the shows and the artists that participated in them. However, the most important of all of them, almost as much as all the others combined, was the Café de Silverio; an authentic university of singing, playing and dancing.
Making a brief summary of the location of the singing cafés, these would be the most remarkable:
Café de Lombardos
The oldest -according to Fernando el de Triana-, located then in the Lombardos street -currently Muñoz Olivé-. One of its main protagonists was the dancer Juana la Macarrona.
Café Teatro Suizo
It was located on Sierpes Street at numbers 27 and 29, with exits on Cuna and Limones Streets, from 1860 to 1899. The emblematic building was later converted into the well-known Teatro Imperial. The artists that stood out in this café were the master Pericet and Las Coquineras. It was also made because it was the first place in Seville to offer a film session.
Café de Los Cagajones
Located in the Plaza de la Paja -now Plaza Ponce de León- in the 1860s. Figures such as José Patiño and Antonio el Sevillano made their debut here.
Café de Las Triperas
Sito en la calle Triperas -currently Velázquez- was a stage where many great artists made their debut; among the well-known figures who passed through its stages we can highlight José Otero and Pastora Imperio -the reason why we can currently find a bust of the dancer-.
Salón Oriente / Salón Barrera
Owned by the dancer Manuel de la Barrera and his children until its closure in 1884, it opened its doors at number 10 Trajano Street in 1865. According to the writer José Luis Ortiz Nuevo it was in an advertisement for this café that the word “flamenco” was first used, in a newsletter dated 21/04/1866 under the headline “Great concert of dances of the country with flamenco songs and dances”.
Café del Burrero / Café de la Escalerilla / Salón Recreo
Located at number 1 of Tarifa Street, on the corner with Amor de Dios Street, it was open from 1865 to 1880. Before becoming the Café del Burrero, Luis Botella ran the Salón Recreo, also called Café Botella for some time -before that it was a dance academy directed by Miguel de la Barrera-. After Botella’s departure, Silverio Franconetti and El Burrero (Manuel Ojeda) joined forces to create the so-called Café de la Escalerilla, later converted into the Café del Burrero; one of the best known and most important cafés in Spain.
In 1881 it closed its doors; Silverio and El Burrero separated their paths to continue on their own in other locations, in a dispute that gave rise to a whole legend of Sevillian flamenco.
El Burrero was moved to number 11 Sierpes Street, until the death of Manuel Ojeda caused its definitive closure in the first years of the 20th century.
There were many and very important all the figures that acted there; between which we can emphasize to Fosforito el Viejo, El Canario, La Carbonera and the own Silverio.
Café de Silverio
When Silverio Franconetti separated from his partner El Burrero in 1881, he decided to set up his own café cantante, with which he had great success. It was located at number 4 of Rosario Street -between Tetuan and Méndez Núñez- and it came to have an unparalleled fame, obtained of course by the great quality of the artists that participated in it.
Don Antonio Chacón, known as “El Papa del cante” was one of its most important members, from 1886. Other great artists, such as La Serneta, La Macaca, Pepa de Oro (creator of the famous milonga), Antonia La Gamba, La Rubia, El Perote, La Macarrona, La Malena, La Parrala or Antonio el Pintor, among many others, also stepped on his boards.
During this time, such a great rivalry was generated between Chacón and Fosforito for the throne of cante, that Silverio and El Burrero were forced to agree on a schedule, so that the public could attend both cafés on the same night to see the two cantaores.
Silverio changed his location again to move back to La Campana, where he opened Café Novedades, which featured artists such as Juan Breva, la Niña de los Peines or El Mochuelo… until in 1889 Silverio decided to close it permanently. This year was also the year of Silverio’s death.
Fernando González de la Serna y Pino founded the Salón Novedades in 1897 with the aim of recovering the artistic space that used to fill the old cafés of El Burrero and Silverio, at number 7 of Santa María de Gracia street, corner with Martín Villa street – formerly called Calle Plata. The building, built in the 18th century, was demolished in 1923, in front of a crowd of people carrying banners that read “Novedades, nunca te olvidaremos” (News, we will never forget you). It was the stage for artists such as Niño Medina, Manuel Torre, La Coquinera and Niña de los Peines. It gave the opportunity to some young people who were just starting out and who went far… like Pepe Marchena, El Carbonerillo or Pepe Pinto.
Café del Arenal
Located in La Mar Street -nowadays García de Vinuesa-, Nº32, it was opened in 1854 1892.
Café de La Marina
In the same street as the previous one -probably in the same premises-, it was active in the last years of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century.
Café-Concierto Vista Alegre
It was active only a few months in 1899 in the old Genoa street -present day Avda. de la Constitucion-.
Probably one of the last to disappear, it was located at 6 O’Donnell Street, San Acacio -currently Pedro Caravaca- 4 and Sierpes 8, from 1914 to 1935.
Salón de Variedades
Next to the Alameda de Hércules, it had accesses at 23 Amor de Dios and 14 Trajano streets, in the famous Trajan’s Cinema, in 1918 and until 1936.
Café de Variedades
Its location, from 1866 to 1875, was the house of the corner, located in 13 Bayona Street -currently Federico Sánchez Bedoya-.
In the Alameda de Hércules, it occupied number 24 of Calatrava Street, from 1919 to 1924.
Its location was at number 1 of Tarifa street, in the same place where the first Café del Burrero was located; until 1935.
At 35 Sierpes Street, it closed its doors in 1927.
In the area of the Alameda de Hércules, like several of the previous ones, it was located in Amor de Dios, Nº23.
Café Sin Techo
It was a second store that El Burrero opened during the summer, located on the corner of Reyes Católicos and Paseo de Colón. It was also known as “Nevería El China” and “Nevería del Burrero”.
- Manuel Chaves Nogales, the famous writer and journalist, in his book “La Ciudad”, refers to a singing café called Cabeza del Turco, founded in 1922 on Sierpes Street, although there is no more information about it, nor about the artists who performed there; although there is information about the flamenco styles that formed the basis of many of the songs of today.
- La Nevería del China o del Burrero –El Café Sin Techo-, located next to the Triana bridge, was the scene of the death of El Canario, at the hands of the father of the singer La Rubia, in an act that contributed to the bad reputation among the high society of flamenco environments, on August 13, 1885.
- El salón de Variedades, in the Alameda, after its closure in 1936, was used as a provisional prison.
- In the words of Fernando el de Triana, the tablao at the Café del Burrero was so large that bullfights or bullfighting were held there. It also had boxes and rooms reserved for wealthy families.
In 1908 a ministerial order, as a consequence of the bad reputation that the detractors of this genre were spreading, questioning the usefulness of these venues -because there used to be more publications in the events sections than in the shows section-, gave the tip to the cafés, which would disappear -almost all of them- in the 1920’s, but leaving a much more complete, professionalized and revalued flamenco, which would return to the theaters from that moment on; beginning the period of time known as the “flamenco opera”, in which a generation of artists would take the baton of art without equal; Manuel Vallejo, Tomás Pavón, Pastora Pavón, Manuel Escacena, Pepe Marchena, Manolo Caracol, el Niño Gloria, Manuel Centeno, Manuel Torre, Juanito Mojama… to give some examples.
A moment in which the fans and public presence was only increasing -supported by the continuously growing amount of flamenco discography, which ends up shooting with the beginning of the slate records-.