HAMDEN — Quinnipiac University’s College of Arts & Sciences will host the world-renowned Val Ramos Flamenco Ensemble for a night of flamenco dance and music on Thursday.
A few years ago, the Val Ramos Flamenco Ensemble performed at the university. Aileen Dever, Quinnipiac professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures, decided to use a grant to bring back the ensemble for a free event open to the community and students.
“It’s important for Quinnipiac to give back to the community as well,” Dever said. “And to be a place where the locals are proud to have Quinnipiac in their community. So this is a really amazing opportunity. We wanted to absolutely make sure it was free to the public. And we would like to bring this kind of culture to all people of all ages … we’d like to open our doors to everyone who would like to come … we want them to come and really enjoy their performance, learn something from it, and feel our gratitude for all members of the community for everything they do to help Quinnipiac and support us.”
Val Ramos, the lead guitarist of the ensemble, said flamenco dance and culture is often mislabeled and misrepresented in the media.
“Most people don’t really know what flamenco is,” Ramos said. “Other people call it ‘flamingo,’ believe it or not. It’s not the bird, and it’s not the flamingo. It’s ‘flamenco.’ And they haven’t seen flamenco because usually the version they see in Hollywood and in the older days, it was this very cheesy kind of stereotypical interpretation of flamenco, with a few exceptions. But then, as time passed, people became more familiar with it, but still, people didn’t know what flamenco was. It is confused with Mexican music.”
Originating in Southern Spain, Ramos explained that flamenco is a blend of cultures, taking influence from not only Spain but India, France, Greece and even Portugal, to name a few. According to Ramos, flamenco is a music culture with a tradition dating back centuries.
“Flamenco is a musical culture,” Ramos said. “It’s not just music. It’s the whole tradition of the food, the whole tradition of family coming together and celebrating life, if you will, celebrating the good things and the bad things in life, mostly the good things, but also remember the beauty of what you leave valuing and appreciating what you have around you. So flamenco is a living organic musical culture because it comes from people and the traditions, histories and cultures of Andalusia, the southern part of Spain.”
Ramos came to the South Bronx, New York, from Puerto Rico with his brother Jose in their teens. The brothers soon joined the South Bronx Community Action Theater, where young people could learn how to play conga, learn theater, learn to play guitar, dance and other artistic disciplines. Joining the program was a way to keep the brothers from joining street gangs, prominent in the Bronx then, according to Val Ramos.
In the program, the brothers participated in a flamenco guitar workshop, developing skills they would later turn into a career. They eventually went on to perform professionally at festivals and on campuses. In 1985, Val Ramos debuted performing as a professional flamenco guitarist for the Disney Channel.
During this time, Val Ramos studied law at the University of Pittsburgh after graduating from Yale University with his brother Jose. After his run on the Disney Channel, Val Ramos moved back to New Haven with his brother because studying law wasn’t the path he wanted to take any further.
In 1994, he created the Val Ramos Flamenco Ensemble, performing for the first time at the historic Lincoln Theatre, also known as Little Theatre. The group has three albums of original flamenco music, performed around the world and sang alongside Grammy singers, including Cuban-singer Celia Cruz and Puerto Rican artist Danny Rivera, as well as some of the finest flamenco artists from Spain and the U.S. including Alfonso Cid, Cominico Caro and Jose De Santos.
Ramos described his time performing “Guantanamera” with Cruz in the early 2000s at a reception in her honor at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford as another moment his career he will “never forget.”
“This woman is a legend,” Val Ramos said. “Here she is with the incredible dress. I mean shining, sparkling, I mean this woman is a legend. She walked right into the stage and took on the one of the mics. And she started singing we were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Celia Cruz. I am playing with Celia Cruz.’ So we did the song, she did about three or four minutes … and then afterward the people were applauding and standing up and she turned to us and kissed each one of us, she gave each one of the musicians a kiss on the cheek and we stood up and gave her a standing ovation. I will never forget that.”
The ensemble performing on Thursday features Val Ramos, Shawn Montanez (Flamenco guitarist), Alfonso Cid (Flamenco singer and flutist), Rebeca Tomas (Flamenco dancer), Tere Luna (Rumba Flamenca singer), Carlos Hernandez Chaves (Bassist) and Nestor Prieto (Percussionist).
Both Dever and Val Ramos encourage everyone to go to the concert on Thursday to learn a new type of dance and music and get the opportunity to immerse themselves in centuries of history and culture.
The performance at the Clarice L. Buckman Center, 275 Mount Carmel Ave. was made possible by a College of Arts and Sciences Intellectual and Cultural Events grant. The concert on Thursday April 13, from 7-8:30 p.m., is free and open to the public.