NEW ORLEANS (press release) – Local flamenco dancer María José Salmerón welcomes Spanish superstar Joaquín Grilo to New Orleans to help tell the story of her search for identity and the joy of finding community through her Spanish roots and Flamenco.  An “Empire” in himself, Maestro Grilo will be accompanied by one of the most sought-after flamenco guitarists, Diego del Morao, powerful Carmen Grilo on vocals, and highly energetic percussionist Luis de La Tota, who will tie the sights and sounds together with the hand clapping that makes flamenco like no other art form.

The ensemble will perform at Roussel Hall at Loyola University of New Orleans, on Tuesday November 30, 2021, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are on sale for $25, and a price of $15 is offered to students with I.D. 

The event will take place November 30, 2021, followed by a patrons’ reception. This first-of-its-kind event will feature world-class artists direct from Spain and highlight our New Orleans culture, reviving a tradition that was strong in the city some decades ago, when flamenco dancer Teresa Torkanowsky invited her colleagues from Spain to perform with her in a flamenco tablao that later came to be known as Chateau Flamenco, located in the French Quarter. In honor of Torkanowsky, Grílo´s concert will be part of the inaugural presentation of the New Orleans Chateau Flamenco Festival.

Salmerón operates Peña la Pepa, a physical space opened in 2012 for people to gather to study and perform flamenco. She later established a (501c3) non-profit, named Mamacita Social Aid Pleasure Club, Inc., to promote historical New Orleans Spanish culture-flamenco arts and continue the tradition of her late teacher, Teresa Romero Torkanowsky. Salmerón’s mission to present flamenco in New Orleans sits at the intersection of the Spanish art form and second line culture. Grilo, she says, is an ideal artist to delve into the crossings of these cultures, which together reflect Salmerón’s identity, in her words.

For nearly a decade, Salmerón danced in New Orleans with the company Olé Flamenco Olé, under the direction of Torkanowsky, who passed away in May of this year. Salmerón shared the passion and strength of flamenco with audiences across the city, including at Jazz Fest, and the famous Red Room. Salmerón remained close to Torkanowsky after she retired, learning not only about dance but life from her director.

Salmerón connected with her Hispanic heritage through flamenco dance. Both of her parents are from Spain, and she chose to live in the southern part of the country, called Andalucía, for years as an adult. Already with flamenco dance in her muscles and musical mind, she became absorbed in the cultural expressions of the region that reached far beyond flamenco. In Andalucía, dance and music are part of daily life, much like dance and music are part of the daily life of the culture of New Orleans.

She also chose to live in New Orleans, where she now feels her roots are planted – and nurtured. That anchor did not come easily, however, as she sought community while re-establishing herself in New Orleans after moving back to the city. It was at the invitation of a close friend that she attended a second line and began to understand why she felt at home in two places: Andalucía and New Orleans. 

“I remember this in detail. I was at the gathering of the Young Men Olympians second line parade in New Orleans. When I saw a Creole man dance, my body reacted, because I recognized what he was doing from a point in my cultural memory that is old, very, very old. He was dancing in the streets in New Orleans, but I recognized it as Spanish. And, that is no accident. New Orleans was part of Spain, and this is part of my evidence.”

Academics may one day gather facts to analyze the connection that Salmerón draws between the dance and culture of the second line and that of flamenco. But, her story is about emotion and heritage. The connection that she found in movement became her entry to the world of social aid and pleasure club culture. “I found a community where I belong and uncovered my own identity.”    

Columbia University Professor Edward Said has theorized that we get to know ourselves better when we seek to understand those who seem to be nothing like us (“the Other”). Salmerón took a chance on entering an unknown community the day that she attended a second line for the first time. She did not know the language, the customs, or the people of that community. At a time when she struggled to return to New Orleans, she found an art form that is part of the essence of the city, waiting there to embrace her. With arms open, she was welcomed, and so was her Hispanic heritage – without question or prejudice.  In a transformative moment, she created an identity in Spanish-New Orleans culture.  The spark that Salmerón felt is one that opens bridges, to find that differences between others and ourselves make us recognize one another more clearly.

Grílo’s concert comes at a time when theaters are reopening and audiences are ready to gather for performances, after being away from live music and dance for a year-and-a-half.  And during that dark period, we also endured a wave of racism that brought about action and the sounds of new voices in a civil rights saga with deep ties to the city.  Whether it is through returning to the performing arts theater or exploring a new community to understand race, ethnicity, humanity, the upcoming flamenco concert offers an opportunity for healing.

In honor of Torkanowsky, Grílo´s concert will be part of the inaugural presentation of the New Orleans Chateau Flamenco Festival. Torkanowsky operated a flamenco tablao in the French Quarter called Tablao el Flamenco and later became Chateau Flamenco under the famous flamenco dancer Ciro Diezhandino in the 1960’s. As recognized in the book Bulbancha (of many languages), by Jacobo Rivero, and published in April 2021, some of the biggest stars of flamenco performed in the club, and later throughout the city under the management of Torkanowsky. This publication chronicles world-renowned artists, musicians, and other figures of the culture of New Orleans and recognized the work by Salmerón and Peña La Pepa of New Orleans to continue the legacy and tradition of presenting acclaimed artists from Spain, as well as  promote the history of flamenco in the city, which is anchored in centuries-old gatherings under the Spanish flag. 

About Mamacita Social Aid Pleasure Club and Peña La Pepa of New Orleans

Peña La Pepa of New Orleans is home of Mamacita Social Aid Pleasure Club, Inc., which is a 501c3 nonprofit company dedicated to research, history, presentation, and education of Spanish art and its roots in New Orleans. Established in 2014, the organization’s mission is to integrate into New Orleans Culture an appreciation and continuum of the art of Flamenco through performance and education programming by exceptional Flamenco artists.