Members of B.C.’s arts and music community were devastated in June by the death of Victor Kolstee. The guitarist and cofounder and musical director of Flamenco Rosario was truly one of Vancouver’s pioneers in the Spanish and Roma folkloric music and dance that initially blossomed in Andalusia in the 19th century.
Kolstee was also a founder of the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival, which continues this month for the first time in his absence. But Kolstee’s spirit will pervade a show called Generations, dedicated to his memory, showcasing bailaora Kasandra “La China” along with mentor and Mozaico Flamenco founder, Maestro Oscar Nieto, at the Waterfront Theatre on September 26.
“La China”, whose ancestry is Chinese, told the Straight by phone that there’s a great deal of diversity in Vancouver’s flamenco community. Kolstee was born in the Netherlands, whereas his widow, Rosario Ancer, is from Mexico, and Nieto is of Mexican-American ancestry.
“La China” and Nieto will be joined in the Generations show by Canadian guitarist Peter Mole, Venezuelan-Canadian cantaora Jafelin Helton, and cajon player Davide Sampaolo, who was born into an Italian family.
“There’s something super multicultural about flamenco,” according to “La China”.
That diversity is also reflected in the wide age range of the performers, including the colourful dancers that she performs with known as “Los Mozaicos”. “La China” is thrilled that they can celebrate their crackling hand-clapping, foot-stomping, joyous celebratory music at the same time after a long pandemic.
“Flamenco is a very vibrant, interactive, spontaneous, energetic art form, so to see all of the artists on-stage together is something for us,” she said. “It’s really important to have the applause and the shouts of encouragement…from the audience because they’re a huge part of what we do.”
“La China” and Nieto’s company specialize in cuadro flamenco, which includes the hand-clapping along with the guitar playing, dancing, and singing. She said that it reached its golden era after the 1850s in southern Spanish cafés, where people would enjoy a beer or coffee and discuss political ideas.
“We saw flamenco be exported to the main cities of Europe, and many artists toured in the 1900s to Latin America,” “La China” explained. “And so what we have here is a hybridized form between Latin American and also Cuban pieces.”
Listening to “La China” talk about the intricate history of the art form, it’s easy to conclude that she might have a PhD in flamenco. She laughed at this suggestion before noting that flamencology is actually a hotly debated subject.
That’s because various peoples of the world—including the Spanish and the Roma—have claimed ownership of its origins, even though it also has Islamic, Judaic, and Indian roots.
“We believe that flamenco comes from the people who migrated from northern India through northern Africa to cross the strait and end up in Andalusia,” she said.