Home Madrid university “I had to do everything very well just to prove that I know what I’m doing” – Canadian Lara Wong stands out in the world of flamenco

“I had to do everything very well just to prove that I know what I’m doing” – Canadian Lara Wong stands out in the world of flamenco


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Two decades ago, Lara Wong heard the music that would change her life.

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She was 11 years old and growing up in Vancouver when her piano teacher assigned her Danza Española No. 5 by Enrique Granados. Despite its simplicity and brevity, the Spanish composer’s dramatic and robustly paced piece is brimming with emotions ranging from melancholy to elation.

“I fell in love with it and kept playing that track on repeat. I asked for more of that music,” Wong recalled.

Now 32, Wong is resolutely pursuing an artistic path inspired by this piece, although her instrument of choice is now the flute rather than the piano.

For more than half of his life, Wong immersed himself deeply in Spanish music and in particular flamenco, the pulsating folk sound of southern Spain. As a teenager, Wong learned to speak Spanish and took lessons in singing, dancing, and even flamenco clapping. A few years ago she moved to Madrid to immerse herself in the modern Spanish flamenco scene.

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Last year, Wong’s dedication paid off when she became the first woman and the first non-Spanish to win the prestigious instrumental flamenco competition at the Festival Cante de las Minas in the event’s 60-year history. .

“What I really love about flamenco is the rhythm, the raw emotions and the power…the fact that you can express anything and you have to let go and give it your all,” says Wong, who will bring his trio to Queen St. Fare Wednesday as part of her Canadian tour.

Wong began his musical studies at McGill University, studying classical repertoire for the flute. But she says she had a complicated relationship with what was canonical for her instrument. Playing Mozart on the flute and “bird stuff in an orchestra” just didn’t do it for her.

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Wong says that when she was playing classical repertoire, her teachers would tell her, “No, that’s too much. You have to control the emotions.

“For flamenco, it’s never too much,” she says.

Preferring “darker and more serious” music, she opted for jazz studies at McGill because it was closer to flamenco and world music, which made her heart sing.

The music Wong plays calls for her to produce “a much dirtier sound, a windier tone,” on the flute, she says. “I use the lower range a lot more and a lot more percussive licks. It’s just more rhythmic.

While flamenco is historically music for guitarists, singers and dancers, it has expanded to involve other instrumentalists. Wong says Spanish flautist and saxophonist Jorge Pardo, who for decades has played modern flamenco and jazz with everyone from guitar legend Paco De Lucia to keyboard great Chick Corea, is “a huge reference.”

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After graduating from college, Wong spent a few years as a nomad, dividing his time between Canada, Spain and Mexico, combining music work with employment in restaurants and hotels. But to take it to the next level professionally, Wong moved a few years ago to Madrid.

“I decided to be in one place to develop my career properly,” says Wong. Madrid, she says, is not only the capital of Spain but also “the capital of flamenco jazz…. I met all the musicians I dreamed of playing with, flamenco jazz musicians I had listened to all my life.

It also helps that Madrid is a very multicultural city, where “the musicians are very open, and it’s not just Spaniards who play flamenco,” says Wong.

As a non-Spanish and of Asian descent, and also a woman, Wong stands out on the flamenco scene.

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“Flamenco is like a lot of traditional music. People are very protective about it,” Wong says. “In Spain, in (the southernmost region of) Andalucia, they think people from Madrid can’t play flamenco because they’re not from there. There are a lot of prejudices in general.

“As a foreign musician and someone who doesn’t often play traditional flamenco, it was hard for people to take me seriously. As an Asian artist, you really stand out. It made me feel like I had to do everything really well just to prove that I know what I’m doing. Most of the time people encouraged me to play, but I felt like a circus monkey.

When Wong and his trio competed at the Cante de las Minas festival last year, the other finalist chosen from five semi-finalists was a 14-year-old pianist of Roma ancestry. Wong expected to lose.

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“I used to do a lot of competitions when I was a kid and there was always a five-year-old kid who would come and beat everyone,” she says. “I had in mind that this kid was going to win because kids always win.”

But Wong prevailed, winning €6,000 and a trophy.

Her victory prompted her to complete her first recording, Rosa de los Vientos, which she released in February of this year.

While touring Canada, Wong found that even flamenco newcomers warmed to his music.

“They really like it. They say they’ve never heard anything like it,” she says. “It’s a very unique combination of music, just a very unique sounding project.”

Threesome by Lara Wong
When: July 13, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Where: Queen St. Fare, 170 Queen St.
Tickets: $15 plus fees at eventbrite.ca

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