It’s Groovy: Granada’s Music Scene

It’s Thursday night at 12:30 a.m. and the crowd is just starting to build. Seated on stools, dancing and playing foosball is a large audience, all here for the weekly reggae jam session. It’s a mix of hippies, university students, foreigners and middle-aged people. There’s just no person that I could describe who is the average attendee. However, there is one thing everyone has in common, they move to the music, with a swaying body, clapping hand or tapping foot. The audience basks in the glow of the powerful horns, the funky bass and the singer who makes sure to wring every drop of emotion out of each note. All this happens at Boogaclub, an eccentric music club tucked away in the side streets of Granada.

Although a smaller city, Granada has amazing music with multiple concert venues. I had the opportunity to play twice a week at the Boogaclub jam sessions. It was a blast to hop up on stage, chat with the musicians and then play a few songs. Luckily, even when I couldn’t understand the music vocabulary in Spanish, I could follow the form and melody. Music genre also shifted by night and what was a jazz club the night before became an electronic music dance floor the next.

Jamming at Boogaclub during Reggae Night

Jamming at Boogaclub during Reggae Night

Granada’s busiest streets are also lined with musicians playing flamenco, funk, jazz and folk. As you move down Paseo de Los Tristes, a street mainly for foot-traffic that connects the downtown area to some of the smaller neighborhoods, the music reverberates off the walls and doors. Just as the echoes of a guitar fade away along the walk, a new sound of a violinist begins.  This is all interrupted by the honking of an occasional impatient taxi driver who is trying to maneuver through the throngs of people.

Spain is also home to Flamenco music. Granada has an especially strong Flamenco tradition that grew in the caves of Sacromonte, one of Granada’s oldest and historically Romani (Gitano) neighborhoods. Gitano artists would host concerts in the caves and this concentrated hub of artists built Granada’s Flamenco scene that has continued to modern day. I was fortunate to see and hear a lot of Flamenco as many major celebrations in the city featured Flamenco performances. In addition, my Gitano friends at FSG, the organization where I interned, were full of recommendations of Flamenco artists that I needed to check out.

Flamenco reminds me what I love most about music. First off, there’s power and emotion in the music that conveys not just the story of the song but also the pure passion that the artists have for the music and dance. Secondly, there is an incredible level of musicianship that the dancers and musicians humbly demonstrate as they shift between time signatures, keys and complex rhythms. In addition, the dancers clap out rhythms as they listen to the music so that they are always connected and in the music, even if they aren’t dancing at that moment. Lastly, there is a deep connection between each artist performing as they lock into each other’s sounds and movements. For me, Flamenco was an eye opening new type of music that allowed me to examine the same things that I love about other genres of music in a new form.

Open mic my program hosted

Open mic my program hosted

When I first arrived in Granada, I was concerned that there might not be much music. However, I quickly found Granada’s music gems and also a space to keep practicing saxophone, allowing me to continue doing something that I really enjoy doing. Music is an integral part of Granada culture and I feel incredibly grateful that I chose this city to study in.

Studying while Studying Abroad

Study abroad is a unique time to wander the streets of a city, try all the foods unique to the region and meet new people.   Ultimately though, it is study abroad and I was in Granada to study. My classes were one of the best parts about my abroad experience and it would be a shame not to tell you about them. Plus, if any of my professors ever doubt that I did indeed study, I can show them this post.

I took five different classes while in Spain: Spain and the EU, The Arab World and the West, an upper-level Spanish class, Islamic Art and Architecture and finally, an Internship Seminar. The first thing that was great about my classes is that they were all specific to studying in Spain and living in Granada. I got to study the EU while Spain is still in the mire of the 2008 economic crisis and while the Euro is hurting in its value. I also began to understand that while members of the EU do have some sovereignty, much of their regulation, economic production and a host of other policies are controlled by the EU.

In a similar vein, my Islamic Art and Architecture class taught me about the city and country I was living in, from Granada’s founding as a Muslim city to its conquering by the Christians. The cool thing about this history is that it isn’t just in old manuscripts, it’s written into the art and architecture of the city, from the design of the streets to the types of columns that line the patios of Granada’s houses. Once a week we would head to a historical neighborhood or building and discuss its significance, construction and how religion played into its design. This meant getting to explore old bathhouses, palaces and even a mausoleum. This class made walking around the city that much more interesting. An added bonus was that I got to go to the Alhambra three different times for free.


A class visit to the Mosque of Cordoba

Four of my five classes were taught in Spanish, which meant that all the discussions, readings and tests were in Spanish. While teachers were understanding of students’ language levels, it still provided a unique challenge that I hadn’t faced in any of my politics or music classes before. When I talked to my friend who was taking a class on the EU in Copenhagen, I realized I only knew the names of the policies and EU bodies in Spanish. However, I think that learning in Spanish has also helped with my retention of the information I learned because it required that I think about each thing I learned or read in depth in order to understand the concept that was being conveyed in Spanish. I guess the takeaway here is that I should read all my school readings in Spanish so that I can retain more.

The classes I took were certainty one of the things that I will remember most about my study abroad experience. I spent a lot of time in classes so it was great that they ended up being so engaging and interesting. Reading about the Alhambra on Wikipedia just isn’t the same as discussing its history and cultural significance in class and then visiting it and seeing these things appear in the construction of each tower and palace.


The Alhambra

The Alhambra

Culture Shocked

Towards the middle of my program I experienced what some might describe as culture shock. When I arrived in Granada, I was sure that I would assimilate fairly easily into Spanish life. Everything was brand new and exciting, from winding streets to explore to speaking in a different language. I’ve always been a very easy-going person and like to think that I take things in stride. Even my first hour in Spain, when the airline lost my bag on my flight into Malaga, my friends were surprised that I wasn’t too worried about this mishap. Instead I was pumped about the free toiletries and extra large tee shirt the airline gave me. This feeling continued through my program’s orientation and the first few weeks of classes. I couldn’t see a way that I could be dissatisfied with living in Spain.

The truth is that dissatisfied isn’t necessarily the word I would use to describe my culture shock that came a little ways into my program. Instead, I would use “disconnected.” As the weeks moved along, I gradually began to notice the differences between Spain and the U.S.  Firstly, I felt like a lot of my personality was being left out when I spoke Spanish. Humor is a crucial way I express myself and not being able to be funny was frustrating.

I also found myself identifying with American cultural aspects that I have never really connected with in the U.S. For example I had a stint where I really got into country music, something I rarely listen to in the U.S. Even when Spaniards asked me about negative aspects of the U.S., I was proud to say that even though I didn’t like them, at least they were something I was used to. For instance, I loved talking about the divisiveness of American politics because even though I hate it, I at least understood it.

While this disconnect from Spain and a connection to the U.S. did impede my enjoyment of some of my abroad experience, I think it was also really valuable because it did show me that I do enjoy my life in the U.S. and that travel doesn’t mean you’re always happy as people’s pictures on Facebook suggest. The biggest help was from all my friends in Spain, whether it was the Americans in my program or the Spaniards I met. Talking with friends helped me understand what I was missing about the U.S. and how being in Spain was an amazing experience. Another huge help was my Spanish host mom who loved joking around and I felt understood my personality, something I had trouble conveying to other Spaniards in Spanish.

Most importantly though, I learned a lot through accepting and moving past culture shock. I gained a better understanding of Spanish culture as I was confronted with its unique aspects that I had trouble identifying with. It also reinforced my self-confidence to find comfort in a place that was different than what I was used to, something I wouldn’t have been able to do had I spent the semester at Whitman, an environment I am accustomed to.   So all in all, I would give culture shock a Yelp review of 3.5 stars out of five, because although it sucks to experience, there were also some positive moments that came out of it.