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Meet Newcastle’s own flamenco guitarist Damian Wright

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Newcastle musician Damian Wright has been playing guitar since he was seven-years-old, but it wasn’t until flamenco entered his life that the stringed instrument became “alive”, he says.

Despite being raised in a musical family, surrounded by the sounds of an eclectic collection of world music, the ARIA-nominated guitarist didn’t discover his love for the genre until his late teens.

Since then the father-of-two has relished every moment spent honing his craft.

Next week he will be performing two shows with his ensemble Bandaluzia Flamenco in the heart of Newcastle West.

Formed in 2011, Bandaluzia is being celebrated across the country for its “powerful performances, unique sound and explosive displays of dazzling musicianship and virtuosity’” 

“I don’t know what it is but there’s something about flamenco that, when I play it, the sound resonates with me really deeply,” Wright says.

“Even after all these years, I’m still so moved and inspired by it, which surprises me.”

Although his father played a variety of music in their Rankin Park home during his youth, the 42-year-old says he’d never experienced flamenco until he attended a concert at the Sydney Opera House in his teens.

“I was born at the Mater Hospital and lived in Newcastle most of my life. I have no connection to Spain but somehow flamenco found me,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“It was a concert celebrating gypsy music from all over the world,” Wright recalls.

“It was the first time I’d heard flamenco guitar and I knew straight away that that was exactly what I wanted to do. 

“I don’t think I even knew the name of it, but that style, that sound, was what I think I must have been searching for.”

It was Wright’s sister that encouraged him to take the next step with his music.

“We were a musical family at the time, my dad played piano and my sisters were musicians. 

“I remember having a conversation with my sister and she said ‘you know you should go to Spain and study the guitar’.”

Having recently completed Year 12 at Broadmeadow High School, Wright gave up his university place to travel to Spain in 1999.

He told his parents he’d be back in three months.

Four years later he returned with a music case full of experience and learning, having studied with maestros in Madrid and Jerez.

“That’s the heart of flamenco,” he explains of the southern Spanish city.

“Jerez is like the Mississippi for a blues musician, it’s where flamenco is still part of the folklore and the culture of the people.

“Even as a genre it’s shrouded in mystery because so much of its history was progressed by people who were marginalised and illiterate.”

And yet the sound has always captivated him.

“I learned that from a purely guitar perspective flamenco encompasses so much. Flamenco is one of the more demanding and technical styles of guitar, it has a unique strum that produces a percussive sound, but it also has the intricacy of classical guitar, and then on top of that what’s universally loved about flamenco is that it has a raw depth to it. 

“It is a celebration. It is a way of expressing some really dark scenarios of life, but done in a very poetic way – that’s the fire and passion of flamenco.”

When he returned from Spain, Wright began playing in ensembles in Sydney.

He performed in the city’s Spanish quarter, on Liverpool Street, seven nights a week. 

A decade later, in 2011, he formed the ensemble Bandaluzia.

The group includes flamenco dancers Jessica Statham and Rosalie Cocchiaro, percussionist James Hauptmann, and violinist Yuhki Mayne.

“One of the most important things for a flamenco artist is the relationship between the guitar, the dance and the singing,” Wright says.

“The dancer is often the person the musicians will follow. While they’re dancing they’re giving us cues and signals that form the flamenco language. 

“Through one movement of her arms or one tap of her foot, she signals a change of mood.

“That’s why it’s so exciting, it’s a style that is so alive.

Bandaluzia will perform two shows on Sunday 24 April at 3pm and 6pm.

Tickets to the performance that will be held at The Base, 3 Tudor Street Newcastle West, are available at www.trybooking.com/events

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