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The Culture Vulture

About cultural things: music, dance, literature and theatre.

Whatever happened to RADIO TARIFA?
Sunday, May 29, 2022

No not a radio station, but a unique band that emerged in Andalucía in the 1990s.  After nearly 20 years of touring throughout the world and the release of four albums, the group gave its farewell performance in Barcelona in November 2006.

radio tarifa temporal cd - Comprar CDs de Música Flamenco, Canción española  y Cuplé en todocoleccion - 36278151

A friend gifted me a copy of this band’s second album, TEMPORAL, shortly after its release in 1997.  She hadn’t heard them play, but liked the cover!

Well, the cover was indeed good, but the music was sensational! A fascinating and unique fusion of several styles.

This multi-national music ensemble, combined Flamenco, Arab-Andalusian music, Arabic music, Moorish music and other musical influences of the Mediterranean, the Middle Ages and the Caribbean.

The name Radio Tarifa comes from an imaginary radio station in Tarifa, a small town in the Spanish province of Cádiz, Andalucia, the closest part of Spain to Morocco.


Radio Tarifa and me

Serendipity kicked in during a holiday in Extremadura in 2002 when we arrived in Plasencia and I discovered that Radio Tarifa was due to play in the square that night. What an amazing coincidence!

And what a great concert it was! In the interval I approached the bass player, who I knew to be English, and had a great chat. David Purdye, a Geordie, had joined the band as a temporary replacement. Despite having no Spanish, he was still with the band several years later … and loving it.

I was to see the group perform live twice more, later that year in the huge capacity Bridgewater  Hall in Manchester and a year later in a sports hall in Warrington, with a capacity of about 50. Down on their luck, or what? 

Radio Tarifa split up in 2006, their lead singer and driving force, Benjamin Escoriza, died in 2012 and that was effectively that for this unique band.


History of the band

Both Fain Dueñas (percussion, Spain) and Vincent Molino (flute, France) were students of Moroccan multi-instrumentalist and composer Tarik Banzi of the Al-Andalus Ensemble. Together they founded an early music group playing music from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance called Ars Antiqua Musicalis, although this group was unable to find commercial success.

When they met Benjamin Escoriza (Granada), a troubador flamenco singer raised by gypsies, in Madrid in the late 1980s, the last piece was in place.

Their first recording together, Rumba Argelina, was recorded in 1993 and became a sensation in Europe when it was released in 1996, and again when it was issued (through association with Nonesuch Records) in America in 1997.

Radio Tarifa: Temporal :

The critical and financial success of that disc made it possible to put together a fully-fledged touring band which played throughout the world.

After nearly 20 years together, according to their website their farewell performance took place in November 2006, in Barcelona.



  • Rumba Argelina (1993)
  • Temporal (1996)
  • Cruzando El Rio (2001)
  • Fiebre (2003) (live at the 2002 Toronto Small World Music Festival)

RUMBA ARGELINA was presented as an eclectic work with Arab, Oriental, German Medieval, old Andalucian, Sefardic, Sanabrian music and some themes composed by Fain with lyrics written by Benjamin Escoriza.

The CD had fantastic reviews and received a great public reaction both in Spain and internationally. By this time the group had grown to eight people with a flamenco dancer included. They toured Spain and different European countries, with tremendous success.

On their second album, TEMPORAL (1996), they tried to go deeper into the traditional Spanish folklore that defines them, making a creative and wonderful sound with music from different Spanish regions. Two of the songs were sung by the gypsy singer Rafael Jimenez "Falo" who is one of the great singers of traditional flamenco. His interest for the traditional songs of the north of Spain and flamenco are what attracted him to RADIO TARIFA.

On CRUZANDO EL RÍO (2001), recorded in Faín's then recently completed studio, RADIO TARIFA proposed a new voyage in Iberian music with diversions to Renaissance ("Si j'ai perdu mon ami" de Josquin Desprez) and traditional japanese music ("Gujo Bushi") with the collaboration of flamenco dancer Joaquin Ruiz and the singer/piper Merche Trujillo.

Radio Tarifa – Temporal (1996, CD) - Discogs

This work received great international critical acclaim (one of the top ten best records of 2001 on the "World Music Charts Europe"). RADIO TARIFA was nominated for the "BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music - 2001".

RADIO TARIFA celebrated the tenth anniversary of their first groundbreaking disc in 2003 with the release of FIEBRE (Fever), their first ever live album. With it they not only capture the exhilarating 'fevered' atmosphere of their live gigs, but also show just how far they had evolved during their first decade together.

FIEBRE proved to be another critical success for the band, with ROOTS calling it "exemplary" and MOJO stating that "they damn near ignite, pouring their souls into the set." The album received a nomination for the "BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music - 2003" and has also been nominated in the Best Folk Album category at the 2004 Latin Grammy Awards.

Temporal - song by Radio Tarifa | Spotify


RADIO TARIFA was created at the end of the 80s by three musicians: Fain S. Dueñas, percussions, strings and arrangements, Benjamin Escoriza, singer and lyric writer, from Granada, and Vincent Molino, in the wind section.

  • Benjamin Escoriza - vocals
  • Fain Sanchez Dueñas - darbuka, plato, backing vocals
  • Vincent Molino - ney, crumhorn, poitou oboe


  • Jaime Muela - flute, soprano saxophone
  • Pedro Esparza - soprano saxophone
  • Amir Haddad - oud, backing vocals
  • Wafir Sh. Gibril - accordion
  • Ramiro Amusategui - buzuki
  • Jorge Gomez - flamenco guitar, electric guitar
  • Sebastian Rubio - pandereta, bongos
  • David Purdye - electric bass, backing vocals
  • Peter Oteo - electric bass

The name RADIO TARIFA is an explicit reference to the type of musical wave that the group wanted its listeners to catch - Cape Tarifa is the point of Spain which is closest to Africa.

According to the group: "Tarifa is a frontier town, a no-man´s land and, above all, the Mediterranean´s balcony". RADIO TARIFA´s world was one of Iberian musical styles (flamenco, Arab-Andalucian, medieval and Castillian) where unfolding melodies and an enriched rhythmic base permitted continued dialogue between the percussive instruments, wood and string sections, and voice.

Distancing itself from all forms of musical purism in their choice of timbres and treatment of melodies, the group mixed arrangements of traditional compositions with their own original works. They used instruments which were played in Ancient Egypt (ney : a cane flute), and others from classical Greek and Roman times and Mediterranean instruments such as the wooden oboe or harmonium, combining them with modern instruments like the saxophone or electric bass guitar. The resultant music is both familiar and exotic.


Touring history

Since the release of Rumba Argelina, they have played in hundreds of concerts and each time RADIO TARIFA played, they left their audience hypnotized by their richness of rhythms and melodies.

Apart from performing regularly in Spain, RADIO TARIFA played abroad and audiences in the following countries had the chance to enjoy their music : Germany, Italy, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Hungary, Eslovenia, Austria, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, ,Egypt, Palestine, Australia, New Zealand, Brasil, Colombia, Mexico, Canada and United States.

RADIO TARIFA´s live performances consist of eight musicians.


The end

RADIO TARIFA broke up in 2006. On their website they announced:

“After 14 years of intense live shows, records, tiring trips, jokes, arguments and good feeling, we are taking a break for an indefinite period of time. Thanks to all of you who have given us all the love and support, following us during these fantastic years.“

Their lead singer and driving force, Benjamin Escoriza, died in 2012 and that was that for this unique band.

They left a great legacy though! I still listen to them often.


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World Book Day
Saturday, April 23, 2022

Today, 23 April, is World Book Day (Día Mundial del Libro). 2022 represents the 25th anniversary of this event, which was established by UNESCO in 1996.

World Book Day was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on April 23, 1995. This date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the deaths of playwright William Shakespeare, poet William Wordsworth and prominent Spanish chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Miguel de Cervantes died on 22 April 1616, the day before Shakespeare passed. Coincidentally, Shakespeare was also born on 23 April, 52 years previously in 1564.

World Book Day and Copyright Day, as it is now officially known, is an annual reading celebration, an opportunity to celebrate and promote the joy of reading.

2022 marks the 25th anniversary of World Book Day. This year's theme and message for all children is: You are a reader! There are a great variety of World Book Day events. In the UK, for example, 60,000 books were distributed across the country in March 2022.

In Ronda (Málaga), La Feria del Libro kicks off today. Stalls have been erected in the Alameda del Tajo where booksellers and publishers sell their books at a discount.

There are similar events in other Spanish towns and cities, as well as in many countries throughout the world.


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Remembering "Paquirri", torero extraordinaire
Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Culture Vulture attended his first corrida de toros at the age of 21 when he was living in San Sebastián in the Basque country. His Basque friends urged him to travel inland to Pamplona to the Fiesta de San Fermín, which starts every year on 7 July, and there he saw his first bullfight. The torero was "Paquirri".


The Fiesta de San Fermín is the annual bullfighting festival in Pamplona where every morning at 7.00 am the six bulls for that afternoon’s corrida are run through the streets of the Pyrenean town from the stables to the plaza de toros. Aficionados a los toros, drunks and American tourists run ahead of the bulls to show how brave and macho they are (or, actually, how stupid!)

It’s called the encierro, the running of the bulls. There is the occasional death, but always plenty of gorings and/or tramplings.


So, off we went, Jane, Gill and I in the boss’s car – Toni lent it to me! We drove through the night to arrive before 7.00 am and take up our positions behind the barrier.

A gun was fired at 7.00 am and the runners set off, as 100 metres behind the stable doors were opened. Six fearsome looking beasts, weighing half-a-ton each, exited at pace, accompanied by several oxen to help keep the bulls together in a group.

It was all over in no time, as the onrushing people and bulls disgorged into the bullring. There were no deaths or serious injuries that day.


We spent the day wandering around before returning to the plaza de toros for the bullfight, actually six, two bulls for each torero.

Well, I loved it: the atmosphere amongst the packed crowd, the skill and artistry of the toreros and their bravery in making the kill at the end of their 20-minute slot made it a cultural spectacle that I’ve never forgotten. Animal lovers say it’s cruel, an unfair fight.

But it’s not a sport. Corrida de toros has been mistranslated into English as bullfight. It’s not. Bullfights are reported in the culture pages of Spanish newspapers, not the sports section. That’s why this article appears in a blog about culture.


Back to my experience that afternoon in 1971, the best torero was a little guy called “Paquirri”, just two years older than me, who went on to become the top bullfighter of his era. I didn’t know it back then, but "Paquirri" was from Ronda, where I have now been living for the last 14 years.

I had not heard of Ronda at that time. I only became aware of the place when I started to read books by Ernest Hemingway. The US journalist and writer was hooked on the bulls. He was a frequent visitor to Pamplona and helped to popularise the Fiesta de San Fermín in the English-speaking world.

Hemingway was also often in Ronda, the home of modern bullfighting. Pedro Romero (1754 – 1839), from the town, “invented” bullfighting on foot. Prior to that the torero rode a horse.

Hemingway’s books on bullfighting include “The Sun Also Rises” (entitled “Fiesta” in the UK) and “Death in the Afternoon”, both of which are still in print.


I have since discovered more about Paquirri, real name Francisco Rivera Pérez. He is part of a bullfighting dynasty. His father Antonio Ordoñez, himself a top torero in his era, was great friends with Hemingway and also film actor and director Orson Welles, another bullfight fanatic, whose ashes were interred on Ordoñez’ finca near Ronda after his death in 1985.

Paquirri’s two sons were also famous toreros. The older son, Fran Rivera, retired in 2017 to take over the management of the bullring in Ronda.

Younger son Cayetano Rivera is still active, but coming to the end of a career plagued by injuries, namely gorings.

Paquirri retired, but on an ill-advised comeback at the age of 36, he was badly gored in the ring at Pozoblanco (Córdoba) and died from his injury.


There was a TV movie in 2009 entitled “Paquirri” and a biography “Paquirri, en primera persona: La historia de una herencia”. Available from all good booksellers and


Tags: Antonio Ordóñez, Cayetano Rivera, Fran Rivera, Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta de San Fermín,  Orson Welles,  Pamplona,  Paquirri, Ronda,  San Sebastián,  torero, corrida, encierro


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ERNEST HEMINGWAY– journalist, writer and taurophile
Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Ernest Hemingway is fourth on The Culture Vulture’s list of top 5 writers about Spain. Here he tells us more about the man and his books.

The journalist turned novelist wrote two first-class books about bullfighting, The Sun Also Rises (published as Fiesta in England), a novel, and Death in the Afternoon, a non-fiction work. He also wrote a novel about the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and his only play The Fifth Column.

Bullfighting was Hemingway’s passion. He would go to the bull-running and bullfights at the Fiesta de San Fermín in Pamplona (Navarra) every July, and he spent a lot of time in Ronda, the birthplace of bullfighting on foot, and has a street in the Andalusian town named after him, Paseo de Hemingway, which runs round the back of the Parador.

I was recovering in hospital in Germany from an appendix operation, aged 21, when I was introduced to Hemingway. His books about bullfighting kindled an interest in bullfighting which remains with me to this day.

After Germany I subsequently went to San Fermín in Pamplona two years running in the early 1970s. It was there that I saw the young Paquirri for the first time. He went on to become the top torero of his generation, but sadly died in the ring at the end of his career.

When I ended up living in Ronda some 35 years later I got the opportunity to follow in Hemingway's footsteps, so to speak.



Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and sportsman. His economical and understated style—which he termed the iceberg theory—had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his adventurous lifestyle and his public image brought him admiration from later generations.

Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and he was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature. He published seven novels, six short-story collections, and two non-fiction works. Three of his novels, four short-story collections, and three nonfiction works were published posthumously.

Hemingway was raised in Illinois, USA. After high school, he was a reporter for a few months for The Kansas City Star before leaving for the Italian Front to enlist as an ambulance driver in World War I.

In 1918, he was seriously wounded and returned home.

In 1921, he married Hadley Richardson, the first of four wives. They moved to Paris where he worked as a foreign correspondent and fell under the influence of the modernist writers and artists of the 1920s' "Lost Generation" expatriate community.

Hemingway's debut novel The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926.

In 1927 he divorced Richardson, and married Pauline Pfeiffer. They divorced after he returned from the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), which he covered as a journalist and which was the basis for his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

Martha Gellhorn became his third wife in 1940. He and Gellhorn separated after he met Mary Welsh in London during World War II.

He almost died in 1954 after plane crashes on successive days, with injuries leaving him in pain and ill health for much of the rest of his life.

In 1959 he committed suicide.


Spanish Civil War

In 1937, Hemingway left for Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA).

Hemingway was joined in Spain by journalist and writer Martha Gellhorn, who he had met in Key West a year earlier.

Late in 1937, while in Madrid with Martha, Hemingway wrote his only play, The Fifth Column, as the city was being bombarded by Francoist forces. He returned to Key West for a few months, then back to Spain twice in 1938, where he was present at the Battle of the Ebro, the last republican stand, and he was among the British and American journalists who were some of the last to leave the battle as they crossed the river.


The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises, first published in 1926, and titled Fiesta in England, the novel captures the moods, feelings, and attitudes of a hard-drinking, fast-living group of disillusioned expatriates in post-war France and Spain.

The novel follows a group of young American and British expatriates as they wander through Europe in the mid-1920s. They are all members of the cynical and disillusioned Lost Generation, who came of age during World War I (1914–18).

Two of the novel’s main characters, Lady Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes, typify the Lost Generation. Jake, the novel’s narrator, is a journalist and World War I veteran. During the war Jake suffered an injury that rendered him impotent. (The title of the novel obliquely references Jake’s injury and what no longer rises because of it.)

After the war Jake moved to Paris, where he lives near his friend, the Jewish author Robert Cohn.

Jake’s former lover, Brett, also lives in Paris. Jake and Brett met and fell in love during the war, when Brett, a volunteer nurse, helped treat Jake’s injuries. Although it is not said explicitly, it is implied that they are not together because Jake is impotent and Brett unwilling to give up sex.

When Cohn confesses his romantic interest in Brett to Jake, Jake cautions him against pursuing a relationship with Brett, who is engaged to be married to Mike Campbell, a Scottish war veteran. Both Brett and Cohn eventually leave Paris: Brett sets off for San Sebastian, a beach resort in the Spanish Basque country, and Cohn for the countryside.

A few weeks after their departure, the writer Bill Gorton (another of Jake’s friends) arrives in Paris. Together, Jake and Bill decide to go to Spain to attend the Fiesta de San Fermín in Pamplona to see the running of the bulls and the bullfights.

Before they leave, Jake and Bill run into Brett, who has recently returned from Spain, and her fiancé, Mike. Brett and Mike ask to accompany Jake and Bill to Pamplona. In private Brett reveals to Jake that she spent the last few weeks in Spain with Cohn.

Bill and Jake take a train to the south of France, where they meet Cohn. Bill, Jake, and Cohn travel together to Pamplona, where they are eventually joined by Brett and Mike. They stay at a local hotel owned by a man named Montoya.

Montoya is a bullfighting enthusiast, and he is eager to introduce the foreigners to the sport. Brett and Jake are especially captivated by the bullfights, and Brett is captivated by a 19-year-old bullfighter named Pedro Romero. While Mike, Cohn, and, incidentally, Jake spar over Brett, Brett runs off to Madrid with Romero.

After the festival ends, Jake, Mike, and Bill leave Pamplona. After a night in the south of France, Jake decides to return to Spain. He soon receives a telegram from Brett asking for help in Madrid. Jake immediately goes to Madrid, where he learns that Brett sent Romero away for fear of corrupting him.

The novel ends unspectacularly, with Jake and Brett talking in a taxi in Madrid. In the final lines of the novel, Brett tells Jake she thinks they could have had a wonderful time together. Jake replies, “Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Hemingway renders the disorientation and distractedness of the Lost Generation in sparing prose, devoid of sentimentality and flowery language. In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway barely develops the interior lives of his main characters. By withholding key details about their mental and emotional states, Hemingway conveys the fundamental emptiness of the expatriates’ lives.

The Sun Also Rises established Hemingway as one of the great writers of the 20th century. Today it is considered one of Hemingway’s masterpieces and a classic work of literature.


Death in the Afternoon

Published in 1932, this nonfiction work by Hemingway is the classic exploration of the history and pageantry of bullfighting, and the deeper themes of cowardice, bravery, sport and tragedy that it inspires.

Still considered one of the best books ever written about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon reflects Hemingway's belief that bullfighting was more than mere sport. Here he describes and explains the technical aspects of this dangerous ritual, and "the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal, and a piece of scarlet serge draped on a stick."

Seen through his eyes, bullfighting becomes an art, a richly choreographed ballet, with performers who range from awkward amateurs to masters of great grace and cunning.

Death in the Afternoon is also a deeper contemplation on the nature of cowardice and bravery, sport and tragedy, and is enlivened throughout by Hemingway's pungent commentary on life and literature.

Hemingway became a bullfighting aficionado after visiting the Fiesta de San Fermín in Pamplona in the 1920s. In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway explores the metaphysics of bullfighting—the ritualized, almost religious practice—that he considered analogous to the writer's search for meaning and the essence of life. In bullfighting, he found the elemental nature of life and death.

In his writings on Spain, Hemingway was influenced by the Spanish master Pío Baroja. When Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, he traveled to see Baroja, then on his death bed, specifically to tell him he thought Baroja deserved the prize more than he.


For Whom the Bell Tolls

In 1937 Hemingway travelled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from "the good fight," For Whom the Bell Tolls. 

The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal.

In his portrayal of Jordan's love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo's last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway created a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving and wise.

"If the function of a writer is to reveal reality," Maxwell Perkins wrote to Hemingway after reading the manuscript, "no one ever so completely performed it."

Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author's previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time. 


The Fifth Column

The Fifth Column is autobiographical drama. Philip Rawlings, its leading man and a Loyalist agent, justified his apparently dissolute existence as a "third-rate newspaperman" on the ground that he is really a "second-rate cop."

So Hemingway justified what Rawlings's mistress calls "this absolutely utter playboy business" on the grounds that he was turning it to literature. Except for her unbelievable stupidity, Dorothy, the mistress, is an accurate portrait of fellow journalist and later third wife Martha Gellhorn.

As elsewhere, the author gets good comic mileage out of the speech of those for whom English is not their native tongue. The hotel manager is hilarious. Actually all of the horseplay is amusing. But the utterly serious business depends for its impact on our believing in the hero's romantic political convictions.

In the play, Philip nobly renounces Dorothy for the cause; in life Hemingway married her.

At one point, Philip mentions to his mistress people who have "done such things that it would break your damn heart if I tried to tell you about it."


So, Ernest Hemingway comes in at number four on my list of the top five writers about Spain. I’ve read all his books about Spain apart from the play, The Fifth Column, and four short stories. Coincidentally, last week I stumbled across a tattered copy of the play and the short stories in one volume. I shall start to read it as soon as I’ve finished Sacred Sierra by Jason Webster [also on my top five list at number two].




Encyclopedia Britannica



Further reading

Pelea y guisqui

Remembering Paquirri

Top 5 Writers on Spain

Laurie Lee

Jason Webster

Chris Stewart

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Rilke. Who?
Monday, February 21, 2022

In Ronda (Málaga) there is a real estate agency named after him, plus a driving school, a car park and a pub. A street also bears his name, and there is a statue in his honour in the grounds of the Hotel Reina Victoria. The same hotel also houses a little museum in the room where he stayed in 1912-13. Room 208.

Who was this person? Here Pablo de Ronda gives us an insight into the life and work of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague, then in Czechoslovakia, in 1875. He was raised as a girl for the first few years of his life by his devoutly Catholic mother to ‘replace’ a dead sister. Later he was sent to school at a military academy, which he hated.

In Munich he met Russian-born psychoanalyst and author Lou Andreas Salomé, who remained a strong intellectual influence on Rilke for the rest of his life. When their affair ended, Rilke lived briefly in an artists’ colony in Worpswede, near Bremen. There he met and later married the sculptor Clara Westhoff, but the couple soon separated, and Rilke remained deeply ambivalent about intimate relationships for the rest of his life.

In 1902 he moved to Paris but although Rilke lived in Paris on and off for more than a decade, he experienced the city as an ordeal.

In late 1912 Rilke had a titanic case of writer’s block. Unable to find poetic inspiration, he left his home in Paris and travelled south to Toledo, hoping its dramatic architecture, celebrated landscape and the paintings of El Greco would reignite his creativity. But the inspiration he was seeking eluded him. Instead, he was gripped by a profound sense of alienation.

Rilke travelled on to Cordoba and Seville, but his sense of alienation only deepened. On a whim he took a train to Ronda, where he took a room in the Hotel Reina Victoria, built in the 19th century to attract well-to-do British tourists from Gibraltar.

Looking out over the deep ravine which divides the city in two, Rilke was transfixed by the landscape. Writing enthusiastically to another of his female friends, he praised the “strong and splendid air” of Ronda, and the mountains which “spread out like a psalter you could sing psalms from”.

The epithet for Ronda, Ciudad Soñada (City of Dreams) is attributed to Rilke: “... He buscado por todas partes la ciudad soñada y al fin la he encontrado en Ronda.”  (“… I have sought everywhere the city of my dreams, and I have finally found it in Ronda.”)

In Ronda his poetry finally began to flow.

‘For Rilke, Ronda was a place of liberation,’ says Tony Stephens, one of the world’s foremost Rilke scholars, and emeritus professor of German at Sydney University.  ‘The poems he wrote there are quite experimental. He kept them back from his publisher. One of the great poems he wrote there, The Spanish Trilogy, wasn’t published until after his death.’

Rilke is arguably the best-known German poet, and a towering figure in 20th century literature. His stay in Ronda proved to be a turning point in his poetic development, but the poems he wrote there have only rarely been translated, and are almost unknown in English.

In fact, Rilke made some of the most daring and innovative poetry of the early 20th century thrive during his stay in Ronda. In The Spanish Trilogy, written in the weeks from December 1912 to January 1913, he achieves, at least temporarily, the unity of self and world which was the ultimate goal of his tormented pilgrimage.

Why Rilke chose not to publish this remarkable poem in his lifetime remains a mystery. But this and some of the other poems he wrote in Ronda, such as The Raising of Lazarus and The Sixth Elegy, certainly restored his confidence.

Read new translations of Rilke's poems by Tony Stephens and Tom Morton

The Spanish Trilogy

The Sixth Elegy

The Raising of Lazarus

In 2012, the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda, a cultural institute within the world’s oldest functioning bullring, commissioned a special edition of Spanish translations of the letters and poems Rilke wrote in Ronda and an essay by Stephens to mark the centenary of Rilke’s visit.  

The director of the institute, Ignacio Herrera de La Muela, agrees with Stephens that Rilke is primarily a European, rather than a purely Austrian or German poet, with a unique place in the literary and cultural landscape of the 20th century. De La Muela must be onto something; the centenary volume, En Ronda. Cartas y Poemas, was voted one of the best books in Spanish that year— a sign that Rilke’s unique poetic voice continues to speak to readers nearly a century after his death.

In the last years of his life, after the First World War, Rilke finally settled in the French speaking part of Switzerland, in a chateau which his patron Werner Reinhart placed at his disposal.  Until then, says Stephens, Rilke ‘constantly roamed Europe on a tormented pilgrimage’. He never worked, relying on the generosity of patrons and his long suffering publisher, who also footed the bill for his stay in Ronda.


The Reina Victoria hotel was taken over by the Catalonia Hotels group and was remodelled in 2013. As a result Room 208 is no longer the Rilke Museum. However, a few preserved artefacts have been made into a tiny exhibition of Rilke’s realia behind a glass display case. There are a couple of books, a photo of the poet and a framed page of something he’d written in German. Intriguingly there is also an old copy of his hotel bill.

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"The Imaginary Invalid"
Thursday, January 20, 2022

"Le malade imaginaire", first performed in Paris in 1673, was written by the French dramatist Moliere. It is the most performed of his plays. Despite its age it still resonates today, particularly in the age of Covid-19 and the ever-increasing profits of pharmacists and drug manufacturers.

Brought to life this last weekend in Ronda (Málaga) by theatre group Proyecto Platea “El enfermo imaginario” played to packed houses at the Teatro Vicente Espinel in the City of Dreams.

Beautifully directed by Ronda-born actor and director Marcos Marcell, the 21-strong cast excelled themselves. This is an amateur drama group bolstered, I think, by just two professionally trained actors, Marcos himself and Emma Cherry, originally from the UK. The rest are ordinary folk with ordinary occupations; for example, a retired doctor, a sports shop proprietress, a waitress, housewives and students.

Yet the director coaxed outstanding nad deliciously over-the-top performances from every cast member. I particularly liked Ana Belén Sánchez’ hilarious interpretation of Antonia, the maid. Charo Carrasco was perfect as the unfortunate daughter Angélica, as was Nieves Rodriguéz as her sister Beralda. The invalid himself, Argán, played exquisitely by Avelino Écija, was suitably grumpy and irascible.

And let’s not forget the two pros, Marcos Marcell as the delightfully camp Diaforius and Emma Cherry as the go-getting wife of the protagonist, Belisa.

I like to think I know a bit about the world of drama, acting and directing. At an amateur level I acted a lot and directed too. I have been a sometime theatre critic. My first wife, Jeryl Burgess, is a professional actress and my son and daughter-in-law, Tom Whitelock and Susannah Austin, also. Curiously these latter two trained at the same drama college as Emma Cherry, albeit in different eras.

The companies I worked in were generally regarded as being of a professional standard, but I have to hold my hands up and say that Proyecto Platea were better at the weekend than SPADES, the Playmakers of Stockton Heath, Salford Players or Altrincham Garrick.

It is a widely-held view that amateur actors don’t know what to do with their hands on stage. Not the case with this company. Their exaggerated gestures were wonderful.

The set was beautiful, the costumes stunning, and the pace and movement was sustained throughout the more than two hours of this masterful production. The audience loved it! ¡Enhorabuena a todos!

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CHRIS STEWART – rock drummer, sheep shearer, hispanophile and writer
Friday, January 14, 2022

Chris Stewart shot to fame with Driving Over Lemons in 1999. Funny, insightful and real, the book told the story of how he bought a peasant farm on the wrong side of the river, with its previous owner still resident.

I was given this book by a friend, John, a fellow Spanish teacher, as a 50th birthday present in 2000. Strange title, I thought, but, hey, what a great read it turned out to be. It prompted me to read other books by foreigners who had bought property in Spain.


Driving Over Lemons

No sooner had this Englishman set eyes on El Valero than he handed over a cheque.  Now all he had to do was explain to Ana, his wife that they were the proud owners of an isolated sheep farm in the Alpujarra Mountains in Southern Spain.  That was the easy part.

Lush with olive, lemon, and almond groves, the farm lacks a few essentials—running water, electricity, an access road.  And then there’s the problem of rapacious Pedro Romero, the previous owner, who refuses to leave.  A perpetual optimist, whose skill as a sheepshearer provides an ideal entrée into his new community, Stewart also possesses an unflappable spirit that, we soon learn, nothing can diminish. 

Wholly enchanted by the rugged terrain of the hillside and the people they meet along the way—among them farmers, including the ever-resourceful Domingo, other expatriates and artists—Chris and Ana Stewart build an enviable life, complete with a daughter, Chloe, and dogs, in a country far from home.

His sequels to Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia are A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, and The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society. They are also great reads and became international bestsellers too.


Chris Stewart - Background

Born in Crawley, Surrey, in 1951 and raised in Horsham in Sussex, Stewart was a classmate of Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel at Charterhouse School in Surrey, and joined them in a school band which went on to become Genesis in January 1967.

Stewart appears on Genesis's first two singles, The Silent Sun / That's Me and A Winter's Tale / One-Eyed Hound. He also drums on their first album. Despite this he was fired from the band in the summer of 1968 due to his poor technique and was replaced by John Silver.

After his somewhat short career as a rock musician he joined a circus, learned how to shear sheep, went to China to write the Rough Guide, gained a pilot’s license in Los Angeles, and completed a course in French cooking.


Other publications

Stewart's publisher, Sort of Books, released another memoir in 2009, entitled Three Ways to Capsize a Boat: An Optimist Afloat. This one focused on sailing.

In 2014 Sort Of Books published a further book of stories, Last Days of the Bus Club, which focuses on his daughter's going to university, and his and Ana's subsequent life alone on the farm.

Stewart has also contributed to two books in the Rough Guides series: the Rough Guide to Andalucia and the Rough Guide to China.


A personal perspective

Chris Stewart's trilogy about life in Órgiva certainly inspired me to buy property in Spain, do it up and eventually live here.

By 2001 my first wife and I had bought our first Spanish property, a modern apartment in a comunidad de propietarios in Ronda (Málaga). I kept Piso Blanco for 18 years.

In 2003 we bought a house, a semi-ruin, to do up. Also in Ronda. I sold Casa Blanca in 2008.

In 2005 I retired and got divorced and that summer I 'reformed' a house in Ronda for my girlfriend of the time. El Rincón was sold on in 2010.

In September 2008 I met a lovely German lady who was living in Montejaque, a mountain village near Ronda and I moved to live there full-time at the end of December 2008.

In 2011 I bought a villa with pool and gardens for me and the German lady, who became my second wife in 2010, to live in. 12 years on we are still in Villa Indiana, which is in Fuente de la Higuera, just outside Ronda.

In 2020 I bought another reforma. I’m just finishing off Casa Real, in Montejaque, which will be a vivienda rural from April 2022.


So, thank you, Chris Stewart for the inspiration. That’s why you are number three on my list of top writers about Spain.


Note: To read about numbers 1 and 2 on that list and indeed the Culture Vulture’s full top five, see elsewhere in  this blog:



My Top 5 Writers about Spain



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Saturday, December 4, 2021

The zambomba is two things. It’s a musical instrument, but also a traditional  Christmas “fiesta” of carols where said instrument is played. The Culture Vulture, who has just been to one of these zambombas flamencas for the second time, having made his debut in 2020, explains.

The zambomba is a friction musical instrument. In Spain, the zambomba is an instrument that frequently accompanies the singing of Christmas carols and popular songs. It is also used in many other Latin American countries in their traditional music.

It consists of a more or less large hollow cylinder that can be made of different materials (ceramic, wood, etc.) with one of its ends closed with a piece of leather. This is crossed through the centre with a rod, which can be made of wood or other materials. This rod is sometimes replaced by a rope. By rubbing the rod or rope with both hands, the vibration produced by the rod or rope is transmitted to the leather, producing a low and peculiar sound.

Zambomba is also the name of a typical Christmas fiesta in some parts of Spain, especially in Andalucía, at which Christmas carols are sung accompanied by said instrument.

In 2020 in Ronda, the local group La Marmorena presented two different zambombas at the Teatro Vicente Espinel. One was a group of twelve actors, musicians and singers, entitled Ven a mi casa por Navidad; the other a collection of flamenco singers and players called Ronda suena a Navidad.  

Because of the Covid-19-limited capacity of the theatre, the tickets, which were free-of-charge, went quickly. My wife and I had the good fortune to get two seats for a performance of Ven a mi casa por Navidad.

The stage was set as the Last Supper, with the 12 participants sitting at a long table decked with food and wine. The quintet of women were the singers, five of the men formed the band and the two remaining men and one of the women were the actors that linked the songs, with their optimistic observations on the difficult times we were experiencing and how Christmas could be a way of lighting up our lives.

Over the course of an hour and a bit, the audience was treated to a fiesta of singing and dancing of the greatest variety and highest quality. Songs ranged from traditional flamenco to jazz to Irving Berlin, most with a Christmassy theme. There was no programme, so we did not know who was who, although I did find out subsequently that the redheaded lady with the magnificent singing voice was a rondeña called Martha Pérez. She was outstanding, but the other four were extremely good too! They each had about three solos, as well as contributing backing vocals.

The band, comprising two Spanish classical guitarists, one of whom sometimes played what looked like a ukulele; an electric guitarist-cum-bassist; a keyboard player; and a percussionist, who played the zambomba on some numbers, were really tight and played the various musical genres on offer with great skill.

This was our first ever experience of a zambomba and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Worth every penny!

This year the zambomba was performed by a group from Jerez de la Frontera, believed to be the home of flamenco. A less imaginative set – just a line of chairs, each with a mike.

There were seven women singers, several of whom performed solos, three male singers, two guitarists and two males on percussion, one of whom, a young lad of about 14, was the star of the show for the subtlety and verve of his performance. He also did a dance in the encore at the end which brought the house down..

This was out-and-out flamenco: hoarse, agonised voices, accompanied by vibrant guitar-playing and  lots of toque (clapping). The theatre was full to bursting and the locals really got stuck in with their calls of Olé, Anda, Vamos etc. 90 minutes of pure fun.

If you get the chance to see a zambomba, I recommend you take it.

¡Feliz Navidad!

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JASON WEBSTER – Writer, flamenco 'nut' and hispanophile
Saturday, December 4, 2021

Jason Webster is second on The Culture Vulture’s list of top 5 writers about Spain. Here he tells us more about the man and his books.


Biographical details

JASON WEBSTER was born in California to British parents in 1970 and spent his childhood in the US, Britain and Germany. He first moved to Spain in the early 1990s having graduated in Arabic and Islamic History from St John’s College, Oxford.

He has written five non-fiction books on Spanish themes, which we shall consider later in this article.

He has also written a biography of the Spanish WWII double agent Garbo (entitled “The Spy with 29 Names”); and the Max Cámara series of crime novels.

He has appeared in TV documentaries for the BBC, Channel Five and the Discovery Channel as an expert on Moorish Spain.

Webster has also written extensively for British and Spanish newspapers, including The Financial Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Observer, and El Asombrario.

He is married to the flamenco dancer Salud Botella and has two children. 


Books on Spain

I first came across Webster’s work when a friend gave me a copy of the recently published “Duende” back in 2003. I was stunned. This “outsider” had managed to penetrate the closed world of flamenco and had been able to unearth some of  its secrets.

The following year he published “Andalus”, a book about the impact of the Moorish occupation from 711 to 1492 on the Iberian Peninsula.

Then, in 2006, came “¡Guerra!” which studied the wounds left by the Civil War on contemporary Spain.

In 2009 “Sacred Sierra” described the first year of his time spent living on a mountain.

After a wait of a decade, during which Webster devoted his time to writing fiction and to other activities, in 2020 we finally got his latest non-fiction work “Violencia”, in which he demonstrates that the country’s history has been dominated by violence and brutality.



“Duende: A journey in search of Flamenco” (2003), which recounts Webster's move to Spain after university and his quest to learn flamenco guitar and the path to the elusive yet passionate feeling of duende, an untranslatable term referring to the feeling that is the essence of flamenco.

Having pursued a conventional enough path through school and university, Webster was all set to enter the world of academe. But when his girlfriend of some years dumped him unceremoniously, he found himself at a crossroads.

Abandoning the world of libraries and the future he had always imagined for himself, he headed off instead for Spain in search of duende, the intense emotional state - part ecstasy, part desperation - so intrinsic to flamenco.

“Duende” is an account of his years spent in Spain feeding his obsessive interest in flamenco: the tyranny of his guitar teacher; his passionate affair with Lola, a flamenco dancer; in Madrid, living with gypsies in their dislocated, cocaine-fuelled world, stealing cars by night and sleeping away the days in tawdry rooms.

Finding himself spiralling self-destructively downwards he goes to Granada bruised and battered, after two years of total immersion in the flamenco lifestyle.

In the tradition of Laurie Lee's classic “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning”, “Duende” charts a young man's emotional coming of age and offers real insight into the passionate essence of flamenco.

Miranda France, writing in the Guardian, admitted that her first thought on picking up “Duende” was that Jason Webster's stated passion for flamenco sounded a bit dubious.

“My second thought … was that it looked a bit boring. I was wrong on both counts. “Duende” is a fascinating book, the most gripping I have read for years. I can't remember ever before having stuck my fingers in my ears to block out the wails of my children in order to finish a chapter!”

“I don't believe that everything in “Duende” is true. It doesn't matter - Jason Webster is an exceptional writer, and this is a great book.”



“Andalus: Unlocking the secrets of Moorish Spain” (2004) examines the deep impact left on Spain, and by extension the rest of Europe, by the Moorish presence during nearly 800 years.

As Islam and the West were preparing to clash once again, Jason Webster embarked on a quest to discover Spain's hidden Moorish legacy and lift the lid on a country once forged by both Muslims and Christians. He meets Zine, a young illegal immigrant from Morocco, a twenty-first century Moor, lured over with the promise of a job but exploited as a slave labourer on a fruit farm. Jason's life is threatened as he investigates the agricultural gulag, Zine rescues him, and the unlikely pair of writer and desperado take off on a rollercoaster ride through Andalucía.

While Webster unveils the neglected Arab ancestry of modern Spain - apparent in its food, language, people and culture - Zine sets out on his own parallel quest, a one-man peace mission to resolve Muslim-Christian tensions by proving irresistible to Spanish señoritas.



“¡Guerra!: Living in the shadows of the Spanish Civil War” (2006) studied the wounds left by the Civil War on contemporary Spain through a combination of history and travel.

After twelve years in Spain, Jason Webster had developed a deep love for his adopted homeland; his life there seemed complete. But when he and his Spanish wife moved into an idyllic old farmhouse in the mountains north of Valencia, by chance he found an unmarked mass grave from the Spanish Civil War on his doorstep. Spurred to investigate the history of this conflict, a topic many of his Spanish friends still seemed to treat as taboo, he began to uncover a darker side to the country.

Witness to a brutal fist-fight sponsored by remnants of Franco's Falangists, arrested and threatened by the police in the former HQ of the Spanish Foreign Legion, sheltered by a beautiful transvestite, shunned by locals, haunted by ghosts and finally robbed of his identity, Webster encountered a legacy of cruelty and violence that seems to linger on seventy years after the bloody events of that war.

As in his previous books, “Duende” and “Andalus”, “¡Guerra!” reveals the essence of modern Spain, which few outsiders ever manage to see. Fascinating true stories from the Civil War, vividly retold as he travels around the country.

Yet the more Webster unveils of the passions that set one countryman against another, the more he is led to wonder: could the dark, primitive currents that ripped the country apart in the 1930s still be stirring under the sophisticated, worldly surface of today's Spain?


“Sacred Sierra”

“Sacred Sierra: A year on a Spanish mountain” (2009) describes a year that Webster and his Spanish wife Salud spent living on their mountain farm in eastern Spain, on the slopes of the sacred peak of Penyagolosa, working on the land and planting trees with the help of a 12th-century Moorish gardening manual.

Jason Webster had lived in Spain for 15 years when he and his wife Salud Botella, a flamenco dancer, tired of their city life and decided to buy a crumbling farmhouse clinging to the side of a steep valley in the eastern province of Castellón. He knew nothing about farming - he didn't even know what an almond tree looked like, or that he owned over 100 of them - but with help from local farmers and a twelfth-century book on gardening he set about recreating his dream.

“Sacred Sierra” tells the story of their first year on the mountain, and how they cleared the land, planted and harvested olives, nurtured precious, expensive truffles, all while surviving gale force winds and scorching summer fires.

While toying with the timeless, he also retells ancient legends and as the year passed, finds himself increasingly in tune with the ancient, mystical life of the sierra, a place that will haunt your imagination and raise your spirits.



Spain has never worked as a democracy. Throughout the country's history only one system of government has ever enjoyed any real success: dictatorship and the use of violence.

Violence, in fact, is what Spain is made of, lying at the heart of its culture and identity, far more so than any other western European nation. For well over a thousand years, the country has only ever been forged and then been held together through the use of aggression - brutal, merciless terror and warfare directed against its own people. Without it the country breaks apart and Spain ceases to exist - a fact that recent events in Barcelona confirm. Authoritarianism is the Spanish default setting.

Yet Spain has produced many of the most important artists and thinkers in the Western world, from Cervantes, author of the first modern novel, to Goya, the first modern painter.  

Much of Western artistic expression, in fact, from the Picaresque to Cubism, would be unthinkable without the Spanish contribution. This unique national genius, however, does not exist despite Spain's violent backdrop; it is, in fact, born out of it. Indeed Spain's genius and violent nature go hand in hand, locked together in a macabre, elaborate dance. This is the country's tragedy.

“Violencia” unveils this truth for the first time, exposing the bloody heart of Spain - from its origins in the ancient past to the Civil War and the current crisis in Catalonia. “Violencia” will be in the tradition of those books which come to define our understanding of a country.


Whilst these descriptions may sound a bit dry and dusty, the opposite is the case. Jason Webster’s style makes his books easy and enjoyable to read. That’s why he’s number two on my list of the Top 5 Writers on Spain.


See also:

My Top 5 Writers About Spain

Laurie Lee: poet, womanizer and hispanophile




The Guardian


Jason Webster’s own website

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Live music and theatre is back!
Sunday, November 28, 2021

This time of year has traditionally been a period when there is an abundance of concerts, live theatre and music gigs. In 2020 Covid-19 put paid to all that, but this year live events have re-emerged.

The Culture Vulture and his wife recently enjoyed a week or so of live music and theatre in the Serranía de Ronda. He explains.

This summer we experienced and enjoyed the following musical events:

Marcus Myers – Private party at Cortijo Perla Blanca

Marcus, from Cortes de la Frontera, provided the musical background to the launch party of this delightful boutique hotel, La Perla Blanca, in the grounds of the bodega Badman Wines. Hosted by Julian and Jody Marshall.

CABARET! Live at Teatro Espinel, Ronda

A lively and entertaining version of the Hollywood musical set in Berlin in the years leading up to the Second World War. The theatre was fully booked for the two nights it was on. Presented by the theatre group Entre Bambolinas.

Marcus Myers again!

This time at Restaurante La Cascada at Hotel Molino del Puente in Fuente de la Higuera, Ronda. On this occasion Marcus came up with a different, more subdued set, more appropriate to a fine dining experience.

Ronda International Guitar Festival, El Convento, Ronda

There were two concerts on this evening. First a presentation of baroque music played by Fernando Espi followed immediately by the Yardem Trio (Francisca López voz, Paco Seco guitarra y percusión y David Ruiz percusiones) performing Sephardic (Jewish) music. This was an absolute treat.

Followed by a delicious meal at Restaurante Las Maravillas, this was a really lovely evening.

Ronda International Guitar Festival, El Convento, Ronda

Back to El Convento for two more concerts. First up was Simone Omnis from Italy, playing guitarra clásica. Beautiful!

Then there was a change of pace and style with a presentation of guitarra flamenca by Manuel De La Luz on guitar. He was joined at the end by the singer Olivia Molina, whose voice made a powerful contrast to the guitar.

It was my wife’s 70th birthday on this day. I think she quite enjoyed it!

GREASE! Live at Teatro Espinel, Ronda

The theatre group Entre Bambolinas again. After CABARET last week Entre Bambalinas once again revolutionised the cultural panorama in Ronda. It has shown that in Ronda there is amateur theatre of the highest quality which will delight the people of Ronda for many years to come.

What a great show!

Bar Allioli, Jimera de Líbar

Another of Paul Darwent’s famous live Sunday afternoon gigs. The group was Iris Oboe Duo from Málaga City. The clue is in the name. Iris, daughter, oboeist and singer, together with father Tomás, guitarist.

As Paul Darwent would say and did, they are la puta madre. I agree totally. This is the best live act I’ve seen at Bar Allioli in ages, and all the others have been great too!

The combination of the oboe with Iris’s huge vocal range and the guitar backing of dad Tomás meant that they were able to play amazing covers of classics by Police, Queen, Amy Winehouse, the Beatles and many more, in a style heading towards blues.

What a great afternoon of live music, superb beers (try Hobson’s from England, on draught and in bottle) and wholesome food.


So, a relentless period of live music comes to an end. What a thrill! We’re so lucky down here that, despite Covid-19, we can go to live theatre and live music gigs again.

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