Spotlight On: A Flamenco Tribute to Viva Florida 500

by Tim Storhoff

As part of the Viva Florida 500 celebrations, native Floridian Clarita Filgueiras has produced a short film entitled “Honoring the Past: a Flamenca’s Journey.”

This 17 minute film presents two Flamenco dances choreographed and performed by award-winning choreographer/dancer, Clarita Filgueiras accompanied by singer Vicente Griego and guitarist Rodrigo Valdez. Clarita descends from a long line of Flamenco artists. Born in Florida, Clarita began her studies in Spanish dance at the age of eight with Jose Molina and Luisita Sevilla. In the late 1980s, Clarita lived in Madrid with her family and studied traditional Spanish dance styles including flamenco with some of Spain’s best artists. Clarita has been a member of the Division of Cultural Affairs State Touring Roster and was a recipient of a 2012 Folk Heritage Award from the Florida Folklife Program

The short film goes through the process that created the choreography and performance commemorating Ponce de León’s arrival in Florida through the eyes of Clarita Filgueiras. In many ways, flamenco is a great representation of Viva Florida 500. This year through events all across the state, Viva Florida has highlighted the 500 years of historic people, places and events in present-day Florida since Juan Ponce de León named this land La Florida. While Spain’s claim in 1513 marked the beginning of a new era, Florida’s Native American heritage dates back more than 12,000 years, and Florida’s cultural affluence results from the diversity and interaction of cultures in our state.

Like Florida’s rich culture, flamenco is also the result of cultural interactions in a country’s southernmost region. While the music and dance tradition has transformed dramatically throughout history, flamenco originated as a vocal tradition that arrived in Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain where Europe is closest to North Africa, in the fifteenth century. It was brought by the gitano people who were believed to have originated somewhere on the Indian subcontinent before traveling for centuries through parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. When they arrived in Andalusia in the early 1400s, they found a truly cosmopolitan place where people from diverse cultural backgrounds and religions coexisted fairly peacefully. The music the gitanos brought with them already reflected the diverse regions they traveled through. Over time, the music gained more acceptance and popularity in Spain when gitanos performed in cafes where intellectuals gathered. In the nineteenth century, Spanish guitar became a primary feature of the music and dancers became the focal point of staged performances. Flamenco continues to be one of Spain’s defining traditions, and it came to Florida through interaction with Spain. Today, performers like Clarita Filgueiras and her dance company Flamenco Puro continue to further the flamenco tradition in our great state.

For more information about flamenco, the video, or to hire Flamenco Puro, contact Clarita Filgueiras or visit To learn more about Viva Florida 500 events, visit

Spotlight On: The Musical Legacy of George Soffos

by Tim Storhoff

George Soffos. Image courtesy of the Florida Folklife Program.

George Soffos. Image courtesy of the Florida Folklife Program.

Florida’s Greek and musical communities lost an important member and resource last month when master bouzouki player George Soffos passed away. Soffos was widely considered to be the best bouzouki performer in the United States, and he actively shared his musical talents as a performer and instructor across the state.

George Soffos was born on November 6, 1953. The youngest of five children, he grew up in Warren, Ohio. His Greek ancestry could be traced through his father, who was from Asklipio, Rhodes, and his maternal grandparents from Katavia, Rhodes. All three of his older brothers pursued careers in the music industry. When he was fifteen, his parents sent him to study with John Tatasopoulos, the most highly regarded bouzouki player of his day, in Washington DC. Soffos spent two years studying and playing with Tatasopoulos in clubs in the DC area, and at seventeen he began his career as an independent headliner in bouzoukia (Greek night clubs) in cities across the United States. He also toured internationally, performing in Montreal, Toronto, and numerous Greek cities, as well as in countless festivals and other special events throughout the U.S. Mr. Soffos’s career included performances on several recordings for Greek and Greek American artists, including Nikos Kritikos, George Evagoras, Hrach Yacoubian, and Grigoris Maroulis. He frequently provided instrumental backing for Greek singing stars, such as Marinella and Rita Sakelariou, when they toured in the U.S.

After relocating to the Tarpon Springs area in the late 1990s to be near family, Mr. Soffos became the most sought-after performer at local Greek bouzoukia and festivals—and thus a valued community member in an area with a strong Greek cultural presence. Tarpon Springs has a higher percentage of Greek Americans than any other city in the country. The first Greek immigrants began arriving in the 1880s to work in the local sponge harvesting industry, and the city has maintained a strong Greek tradition ever since. Multiple Greek cultural events and festivals are held there each year including the Epiphany celebration, which draws thousands of visitors every January. Soffos was an active part of this Greek community. He became a mentor to many younger musicians by teaching bouzouki classes through the City of Tarpon Springs, which encourages the preservation of Greek community arts.

Soffos continued the tradition of the bouzouki player as custodian and guardian of traditional Greek musical culture. The bouzouki is a Greek stringed instrument in the lute family that produces a sound reminiscent of a low-pitched mandolin. The instrument came to Greece through Turkey in the early twentieth century, but it had multiple precursors such as the Greek tambouras. The bouzouki is the central instrument in rebetiko, or Greek folk music, that underwent a popular revival starting in the 1950s. It has since been used to accompany a wide range of traditional and popular Greek genres, and an Irish variant recently became an important part of Irish traditional music. When Greek immigrants came to the United States in large numbers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they brought their musical traditions with them, and following the revival of rebetiko songs in the fifties, a number of the top Greek bouzouki players came to the U.S., including Soffos’s teacher John Tatasopoulos. George Soffos continued this rich tradition and helped to see it flourish in Florida.

Mr. Soffos recently began to experience the recognition his playing deserved.  He received a Florida Folk Heritage Award in 2011, and was designated a master artist in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program in 2011-12. George Soffos was most recently selected as a recipient for the 2013 Individual Artist Fellowship in the Folk and Traditional Arts discipline, but he passed away after suffering a heart attack on January 8, 2013 at the age of 59.

His career spanned diverse contexts for music making in the Greek American community. He was a regular fixture in festivals and cultural events in Florida and across the country, and he shared his musical talents by teaching young musicians and establishing professional relationships with other performers. It could be said that George Soffos’s life represents the history of Greek music in America over the last four decades, and his contributions to Greek music in Florida will continue to be heard for many years.

Spotlight on Folklife: Batá Drummer Ezequiel Torres

by Tim Storhoff

This week, master Afro-Cuban drummer and drum builder Ezequiel Torres will travel from Miami to Tallahassee with his ensemble in order to highlight the relationships between batá drumming, dance, and the Orisha religion. His two-day residency in Tallahassee is sponsored by the Florida Folklife Program and the Center for Music of the Americas at Florida State University.

Ezequiel Torres. Image courtesy/used by permission of HistoryMiami.

Torres was born in Havana, Cuba in 1955 to a musical family, and in his teens he began working as an apprentice to some of the city’s master drum makers and players. Soon he was performing batá in ceremonies and started experimenting with creating the drums himself. By the late 1970s, Torres was teaching percussion at Havana’s Escuela Nacional de Arte and was the musical director for dance classes at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte.

The batá is an hourglass-shaped, two-headed drum based on an African prototype. Batá drums are always played in sets of three during religious ceremonies. These ceremonies are part of the Orisha religion, also known in Cuba as Santería, Regla de Ochá, or Lucumí. Dating back to the arrival of African slaves in Cuba, it is a syncretic religion based on West African Yoruba traditions that added associations with Catholic saints to its numerous deities. In religious ceremonies, each of these deities or orishas has their own rhythm played on the batá drums as well as sung vocalizations and specific dance movements. Torres and his ensemble will be demonstrating these at their performances and workshops in Tallahassee.

Since arriving in Miami in 1980, Torres has been an important part of Florida’s traditional music scene. He is recognized as one of the top batá drummers, drum-builders, and beaders in the country. In addition to performing regularly in Florida, he has performed in Houston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Torres has worked with the Florida Folklife Program in various ways after he arrived in the United States. In addition to teaching, performing, and receiving various honors, he was interviewed for the Music from the Sunshine State radio program. You can download or listen to his interview and performance for folklorist Bob Stone on that program here. He has also been a featured artist at the Florida Folk Festival, and you can view his ensemble performing part of a song for the orisha Eleguá at the 2012 festival in the video below.

Blaine Waide, State Folklorist and head of the Florida Folklife Program, described Torres’s history with the program and part of the purpose of this trip, which includes his first performance in the state capital:

The Florida Folklife Program has been working with Ezequiel Torres for several decades.  He has participated in our Apprenticeship Program as a Master Artist six times, passing his expert knowledge of the Afro-Cuban batá drumming tradition to seven apprentices.  In 2008, we recognized him with a Florida Folk Heritage Award, and he is the most recent Floridian to win a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, which he received in 2010. Given his many notable contributions to maintaining a living Florida tradition in his South Florida Cuban community, we are excited to introduce him to new audiences in North Florida, and the state capital, where he will be able to share his knowledge and exceptional artistry with a public audience, along with local school children and graduate students at Florida State University.

The Florida State University College of Music’s Center for Music of the Americas is co-sponsoring Mr. Torres’s visit as well as coordinating his workshop at FSU. The director of the Center, Dr. Denise Von Glahn, said about this first collaboration with the Florida Folklife Program:

The Center for Music of the Americas at Florida State University is excited to be partnering with the Florida Folklife Program and Mission San Luis in bringing master Afro-Cuban batá drummer and drum-maker, Eqezuiel Torres, to Tallahassee for a two-day artist residency.  Mr. Torres’s visit exemplifies the goals of the Center, which include encouraging scholarship, performance, and the dissemination of musics found throughout the American Hemisphere, by reaching out across the university and our larger North Florida community.

On Thursday, September 6, Mr. Torres and his ensemble will give a free public performance and presentation in the Mission Room at Mission San Luis from 7-8:30 PM. On the morning of Friday, September 7 there will be a performance and student workshop at Ruediger Elementary School, and that afternoon from 2:30-4:30, he will give a student drumming workshop in Lindsay Recital Hall in FSU’s Kuersteiner Music Building, which is free and open to the public. For more information on this event and others, follow the Florida Folklife Program on Facebook at For an additional interview with Ezequiel Torres as well as a video, check out the National Endowment for the Art’s profile of him as a 2010 National Heritage Fellow.