SAN FRANCISCO —
In a nation of immigrants, with a 'melting pot' culture, it should not be surprising that American music is also an international blend.
That's especially true of Flamenco, brought to southern Spain by 18th-century Romanis-Gypsies from North India, and performed today by a California band that incorporates Arabic and other Islamic influences from Turkey, the Black Sea, Persia and North Africa.
The unmistakable sound of flamenco - Spanish guitar and heels - is transformed by the members of the San Francisco band, La Ruya.
One of the band’s founding members is Sam Foster. He’s a rock and jazz drummer who became fascinated with Arabic and Turkish percussion, and from there to Flamenco. He brought in flamenco dancer and choreographer Melissa Cruz, and other musicians to create La Ruya’s unique sound.
“We are taking forms and in some cases actual songs from other parts of the world and flamencoizing them," Foster said, "so you have something new, a sound I haven’t heard before.”
The instruments used by the group include the oud, which is the middle eastern lute; the flute; the cajon, the box drum; and darbouka, the gourd drum, also known as dumbek.
And, they have the palmas.
“Palmas are flamenco hand claps," said Melissa Cruz. "And typically it is the flamenco singer and flamenco dancer who are doing the palmas.”
Wherever La Ruya performs, they find an appreciative audience.
“I feel the audience very intensely when I dance, and I love to even be playful with people in the audience," said Cruz. "It helps me move through what I’m trying to create in the moment, gesturing to them. It makes for a complete experience for both performers and the audience.”
Some say traditional Spanish flamenco should stay the way it’s been.
Others say La Ruya’s Arabic style takes the dance back to the roots of the Spanish peninsula, to Moorish Spain.
For Cruz, La Ruya’s flamenco style of Moorish and Arabic rhythms and instruments isn’t changing flamenco; it’s bringing the tradition back to its origins.