When the seven-person, France-based band Qairo performed in Victoria in 2022 at Victoria Event Centre, it was a dynamic experience.
Balkan rhythms pulsated and flamenco dancing came alive with palpable on-stage chemistry between the musicians and dancers (some, a romantic couple), the crowd on their feet swaying to the eclectic sounds of the Mediterranean diaspora.
The musicians and dancers, most conservatory-trained, hail from a range of countries including Canada (Vancouver), France, Spain, and Turkey, and cover a wide range of instruments and styles: guitar, oud, clarinet, saxophone, drums, electric bass and cante (flamenco song).
But as exceptional and ear-catching as the music is to listen to, this group, which formed in 2020, is on a mission to change how flamenco is experienced live.
“It’s not just a concert; it’s a whole spectacle that we’re trying to create,” Lia Grainger, one of the two lead dancers said. “And we’ve constructed the show as a journey that goes from sit-and-watch dance pieces into a big party by the end where we want people to dance and sing.”
Grainger, an award-winning Canadian flamenco dancer, choreographer and artistic director currently living in Toronto, said she got into flamenco when she saw a performance at Kino Cafe (since closed) in Vancouver.
“I saw a woman dancing there and she seemed so fully alive and vibrant; she was experiencing the full range of human emotions from extreme joy to total devastation and mourning in the span of one performance. I wanted to be alive in that way.
“The rhythms are really complicated and there’s all the percussive footwork. It’s a very difficult, complex dance and musical art form and that is interesting to me. You’re never finished learning it. And I also love how closely connected the music and the dance are.”
Qairo members mostly met in Seville, Spain under common pursuits. Grainger, from Vancouver, was studying flamenco dance and met dancer Dawson, also from Vancouver. The artists worked on projects together but wanted to find a new sound and explore adding pop, house and traditional Indian dance influence to flamenco.
The members individually spent years on the road from the Balkans to the Middle East, living the lives of nomadic spirits in search of growing their art. Alejandro Mendia, lead singer, travelled across Romania and later Spain in search of the true gitano roots of Flamenco Singing. Clarinet and saxophone player Dorian Zavatta, who brought a Turkish sound into the group, lived a life under the famous Zavatta circus family, raised under the big top.
“I’ve been in different projects, and so has everyone in the group but I think everybody feels like this is the one,” said Grainger. “It just feels really strong, so we’re just hoping to get it out in front of people.”
Qairo released their first single, Rama Verde, in 2020, quickly garnering 30,000 listens on Spotify. They have released three singles and plan on recording their first full album in January 2024. Much of the music was written in 2020 right before the pandemic, which split the band up in different parts of the world for years.
Their 2022 tour was their first; now they are on their second tour, bringing their music to conferences in France (where many of the band members are living) and dream of bringing their high-energy party spectacle to Canadian summer folk festivals.
Qairo brings their Mediterranean Flamenco Fiesta to Victoria on Thursday, Sept. 21 at Hermann’s Upstairs, presented by Caravan World Rhythms.
The show runs from 7:30-9 p.m. Tickets are $28 plus fees in advance or $23 for students. More info at caravanbc.com.