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Candela: goodbye to the cave that turned flamenco around

It happens with few and chosen places, those that manage to inhabit minds and hearts in a lasting way above the passage of time and things lived, ephemeral by their very nature. Such a phenomenon could occur with the nights of Candela, the Madrid bar that has recently closed its doors, to the misfortune of Lavapiés, its neighborhood, and especially of the flamenco world, which was so nourished by the exceptional atmosphere created by its founder, Miguel Aguilera Fernández , Miguel Candela for everyone, a special being who aroused unanimous affection. The late nights of “la Cueva”, the basement of the bar, became a kind of public heritage, such was the fame they acquired. Its protagonists coincide in remembering them with singular vividness.

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Miguel Candela, the agitator of the modern flamenco

In its almost forty years of existence, the Candela has gone through many stages, but no one doubts —and least of all those who lived through it— that there was a time when it became “the common little house for all flamencos in all of Spain, who since the eighties they came to Madrid to look for a future”. This is how the guitarist, writer and producer José Manuel Gamboa refers, who admits that in those years he lived more time there than in his own house.

Guitarist Gerardo Núñez was another of those who had decided to settle in the capital to carve out a niche for himself in the flamenco scene, and he soon found in Candela the ideal setting in which to grow artistically. “Al Candela —says Núñez— all the guitarists and flamencos from Madrid used to go, as well as those who were passing through. It became a place of worship and the temple of flamenco guitar. In the cave, with sepulchral silence and extreme respect, authentic concerts were produced until six or seven in the morning”. In addition to being a “common house”, the bar was also a rehearsal space. “Miguel —he adds— was a good fan and understood very well the idiosyncrasy of flamencos. He left us spaces to rehearse and to give dance and guitar classes without charging us”. The same experience is shared by bailaor Joaquín Grilo, who came to have a key to the premises to enter in the morning to rehearse. “For me, Miguel was like a brother and there I learned a lot both artistically and personally”, he recalls.

And beyond, the cave was the space in which the artists shared their creations and contributions of each day. Núñez relates that they met there to show off their new compositions and falsetas. “With all the piques in the world,” he adds. It was the jungle: we were going to death, because we had to stand out to make a hole for ourselves, but always with respect, admiration and education. We nurtured each other, but the older ones also came to plunder the younger ones”. In this way, the Candela became the stage where much of the new revolution in concert flamenco guitar was forged. With the confluence of today's masters Riqueni, Cañizares and the aforementioned Núñez, among others, is the germ of the generation that would succeed Manolo Sanlúcar, Víctor Monge Serranito and Paco de Lucy. For this and for more reasons, Gamboa is forceful and states that “the Candela was the place that turned everything upside down: the flamenco that we live today is, in large part, the result of the Candela”.

A worker in front of the Candela on the day of its closure, January 11, 2022, in Madrid.Eduardo Parra (Europa Press)
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All the witnesses of those years coincide in naming Enrique Morente as the main figure and absolute reference. “It was enormous luck that he was there almost every day and night, even though this was a symptom that he didn't work much at that time,” says Gamboa, who emphasizes that despite the few concerts that came out, he distributed his money by giving him youth work: “He was the only one of the renowned artists who truly supported youth.” This is corroborated by Gerardo Núñez, who narrates how he hired him for a performance at the Teatro Real.

A fundamental character of that time was also the guitarist from Granada, Pepe Habichuela, who dragged the photographer and record producer Mario Pacheco to meet his son Juanmi and his nephews Antonio and Juan Carmona, future members of the group Ketama, backbone, along with La Barbería del Sur and others, from the label Nuevos Flamencos of his label (New Media).

Another regular visitor, whenever he was in Madrid, was Paco de Lucía, who chose the bar to celebrate his birthday there. Although the story that best illustrates his relationship with the site was the one that marked his return to the sonanta after his diving accident in Mexico, which could have removed him from playing for life. Gamboa recounts that one day, in the kitchen of the Candela and with his arm still in plaster, Paco asked him if the guitar in the house had strings and asked him to have it tuned while he approached a help house. He came back without a plaster cast and picked up the guitar to, without thinking twice, leave the entire staff amazed with one of his incredible dives.


El Candela had a very special way of transcending in the show At night (like someone who waits for the dawn), by Jerez-born bailaor Joaquín Grilo, which premiered at 2001 within the V Festival de Jerez to later do a season in the capital. It was a highly celebrated work, reminiscent of Cernuda, which conveyed a very explicit homage to the local's early mornings, a recreation of its atmosphere and the encounter between art and recognizable nocturnal characters addicted to its nights. Grilo acknowledges that he poured into it the whole backpack of experiences at the venue, with its parties and, underlines, “talks, many talks”.

Musically, in addition to the inevitable flamenco (with compositions by Paco de Lucía and Bolita), the bailaor recounts that he also tried to transfer the closeness of jazz to the Central or Berlin cafés in Madrid. The work is thus remembered as a symbol of the heterogeneous and peaceful coexistence of the cave, where representatives of all artistic disciplines met: the pianist Chick Corea, the maestro Sabicas on his return from New York, the director Pedro Almodóvar or the German choreographer Pina Bausch, among many.

In 1991, during the first Gulf War, Bausch spent time in Madrid to prepare a new creation and went there every night. Miguel had put on a television so that everyone could be aware, and the dancer cried with the images. Gamboa says that they encouraged her with cantes and conversations until dawn. When the choreographer later presented the show at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, in the playbill she made a dedication to the people of Candela: Miguel, Morente, Gamboa and Juan Verdú, another of the site's essentials.

In March 2008, Miguel Candela died “accidentally by the force of fate”, as his great friend, cantaor Enrique Morente, recalled, dedicating his recording of that year to him: Pablo de Málaga. Perhaps, to close, it is necessary to resort to the words of Miguel himself, who at dawn said goodbye to his friends with the well-known sentence: “Nothing is eternal, gentlemen, start getting used to the idea”.

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