Spanish Flamenco Was Our Life
THERE is a big difference between playing a guitar and blowing a trumpet. Although I have loved the flamenco guitar since I was 17, it was the trumpet that, in a way, changed the course of my life. That was when I was in the Spanish Air Force back in 1975. But first, let me explain how I came to love the guitar.
I was raised in Verdun, a working class suburb of Barcelona, Spain’s busy Mediterranean port. My father is a flamenco poet and enthusiast. Mother is a flamenco singer. (Flamenco is a unique style of music, song, and dance of Andalusia that originated with the Gypsies, Arabs, and Jews hundreds of years ago.) My father, originally from Baena, Córdoba, in Andalusia, naturally loved flamenco and encouraged me to take up the guitar. So I studied with a private teacher for two years and then looked for a job. That was not difficult to find. Because so many tourists visit Spain, flamenco is always in high demand.
A Flamenco Duo Is Formed
After completing my military service, I worked at a tablao called El Cordobés in Barcelona. Our Spanish word tablao, or tablado, which refers to a flamenco show, comes from the wooden staging made of tablas, or planks, on which the flamenco dancing is performed. On the guitar, I accompanied the male and female dancers (bailaores and bailaoras) as well as the singers (cantaores) who are the usual complement of a flamenco show. For those not conversant with flamenco singing and dancing, I can only say that it is an art going back perhaps to the times of the Arab occupation of Spain (8th to 15th century). In the past it was mainly performed by artists with Gypsy background.
While working at El Cordobés, I was impressed by a young dancer who came into the company. She was Yolanda, from Catalonia, a petite, vibrant dancer with dark hair and dark eyes. She changed my life by becoming my wife. We were married in 1978 in a Catholic church in Santa Coloma de Gramanet, near Barcelona. But how did she get into the world of flamenco dancing? I’ll let her tell her story.
Music and Dance in My Blood
Yolanda: From childhood I was immersed in Spanish music. My father enjoyed listening to Sardana music, typical of Catalonia, while my mother and grandmother were always singing the happy jotas of Aragon. Since I had problems with my feet, a doctor recommended that I exercise. As a result, I started to study ballet. When I was seven years old, I saw a girl dancing flamenco, and I liked it so much that my mother placed me in a school for such dancers.
I began to do well and appeared in peñas flamencas, or small flamenco theaters. One day, when I was 14, I was walking with my mother along the famous Rambla de las Flores in downtown Barcelona when we saw a sign advertising El Tablao Flamenco, El Cordobés. Mother suggested we go up to see if they needed a dancer. They accepted me that first night. And who was the guitarist? Francisco (Paco) Arroyo, whom I eventually married! Now he can continue the story.
A Trumpet and a Change
How does the trumpet come into my story? In 1975, I was serving in the air force (Academia General del Aire) at the military prison in La Manga del Mar Menor in the province of Murcia. I was the prison trumpeter who sounded the calls during the day for the officer cadets.
While on duty there, I noticed one young prisoner, a quiet, humble man. I wondered why he was in the prison. So one day I asked him. At first he was reluctant to talk to me because of prison regulations, but I insisted. I wanted to know. He explained that he was there as a Christian conscientious objector, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and by reason of personal conviction, he had refused to serve in the army. I was curious about his beliefs, so he told me that he believed in the Bible and that the present world conditions were prophesied in that book. I had never read the Bible, so he asked me if I would like a copy. I said I would.
But how was he, a prisoner forbidden to preach, going to get me a Bible? One day some of his fellow Witnesses brought him a basket of oranges and hidden in the middle was a Bible and the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. He secretly passed the literature on to me, but after that I was not able to see him again. Shortly afterward, I left the air force and went back to Barcelona. If only I knew his name! I would love to meet him again, since he was used to show me the truth of the Bible for the first time.
Loosening the Grip of Flamenco
As I previously said, Yolanda and I got married. About a year had passed when one day there was a knock on the door. Yolanda answered, and there were two of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I told her to tell them to go away. Then I remembered the young man in the prison and the books he had given me. I invited them in and started to ask them many questions. They saw the need to arrange a further visit, and so a Bible study was started the following week.
I soon got opposition from my family. My father said: “I would rather that you were a thief than one of Jehovah’s Witnesses!” This opposition convinced me that we would be better off working in another country, away from the family. So in 1981 we went to Venezuela with a work contract. Soon Witness missionaries started to study with us. We associated with the Witnesses for some time without making any real progress. Eventually, in 1982, we moved to the United States, where we got work in a Spanish restaurant in Los Angeles, California.
In spite of negative attitudes from both our families, in 1983 we finally got baptized in Los Angeles. My father was so disgusted that he told me to remove his last name, Arroyo, from my name. However, since then his attitude has changed, and now he even accepts visits from the Witnesses. Also, one of my sisters is now studying the Bible.
Another reason it took us a long time to get baptized was that we were deeply immersed in the flamenco world. That life tied us up in the evenings, as we had to perform in nightclubs and restaurants. The association was not always the best for us as Christians. The restaurant owner wanted us to entertain at Christmas and at birthday parties, and we were not willing to compromise. So we finally quit that world.
In the meantime we had had two children, Paquito and Jonathan. To support our family, we now earn a living teaching dancing and guitar to students who come to the house. This leaves us more time for our family and our spiritual interests, including at times increasing our activity in public preaching.
Something More Important Than Flamenco
Flamenco is expressed in a tremendous variety of styles and is an authentic manifestation of the ancient folklore of Spain. We both still love it as music and as an expression of human feelings. But we know that there is something more important in life—serving God and our fellowman.
We enjoy relaxation with our Hispanic brothers and sisters when occasionally we have a fiesta with Mexican and Spanish music and dancing. What a joy to see the unity of Jehovah’s people from many nations! And what a pleasure it will be for all of us soon to share our musical experience in God’s promised new world on a clean, peaceful, purified earth!—By Francisco (Paco) and Yolanda Arroyo.
[Pictures on page 18]
Our family ready to preach from house to house
Performing flamenco for a group of friends