Originally published by AFAR

Playing by Heart

Meet the Revolutionary Women Strumming their Way into the World of Flamenco Guitar

Lavinia Spalding

I’ve been in Spain only two days, and already my fingers hurt. It’s a prickly, high-pitched sting, like when a fallen-asleep limb returns to life. The sensation delights me. It means I’m doing something right.

Yesterday, after arriving in Madrid, I took the metro to the Delicias neighborhood, home to Picasso’s Guernica (in the Reina Sofia Museum) and the magnificent iron-and-glass Atocha railway station. I didn’t visit those places. Instead, I walked to a nondescript apartment building and knocked on a stranger’s door. A thin, soft-spoken woman with sleepy eyes and floppy bangs invited me in. We chatted a bit, and then she handed me a $3,000 guitar. “Can you play something?” she asked.

This was the reason I’d come to Spain. Because I once believed I was destined to be a tocaora.

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(photos by Laura El-Tantawy)


To know another language is to have a second soul.” –Charlemagne, King of the Franks