American musician Canyon Cody and rapper/producer Gnotes built a recording studio above a flamenco guitar shop in Granada (Spain). Over the next year, the Gnawledge Records duo collaborated with 16 local musicians, recording open-invite jam sessions The result is Granada Doaba (Gnawledge Records), a combination of traditional music and hip-hop. Gnawledge recorded the album as an educational experiment in multicultural collaboration. The entire CD is offered online as open-source material free to be remixed by global MCs and DJs. “There’s a lot of communal loitering in Granada, people just hanging out in the streets together playing music for free,” Cody explains. “And that’s what I tried to capture with the album: I wanted to make local music, not world music.”
Even though numerous local artists appear on the album and native Flamenco is present, Granada Doaba is primarily a rap recording. The album also traces the evolution of the Spanish guitar through five generations of the Habichuela family, Granada’s epic flamenco dynasty, whose youngest star Juan embodies the vibrant future of the tradition (“Flamencología”).
Gnotes and Cody conducted their ethnomusicology research with the guidance of two older musicians—flamenco guitarist Juan Miguel Carmona and Arabic oud (fretless lute) player Uzman Almerabet. But in the end, it was through their collaboration with the young community of immigrant artists that Gnawledge was able to experience first-hand the difficulties and triumphs of border-crossing, genre-bending musical fusion.
Granada today booms with the same multicultural spirit as it did half a millennium ago: North African immigrants coming to Spain to reclaim their lost Moorish heritage; bohemian wanderers in love with the city’s laid-back vibe; Latin Americans looking for first-world jobs from their former colonizers; dedicated Japanese flamenco aficionados searching for duende (Flamenco inspiration). Many of the musicians on the album initially came to Granada only for a brief visit, but ended up staying for years, bewitched by the spirit of southern Spain. And like their predecessors centuries before, they brought their sonic sensibilities with them.
As Cody and Gnotes explored the scene, they realized that it would be nigh impossible to capture Granada’s diversity in a traditional recording. In the end, it was Gnotes’ experience as a sample-based hip-hop producer that allowed the group to actively listen and engage the soundscape around them, “Hip-hop is omnivorous. There are no rules that govern hip-hop like they have in flamenco or Arabic music,” Cody explains. “Older genres have reified into these fairly rigid structures. Hip-hop has fewer rules, or we are still discovering them. You can incorporate so many different elements and still be live inside the walls of hip-hop.”
These elements came from chance meetings, magic moments, and off-the-cuff jam sessions with local celebrities like Richard Dudanski, an English drummer who was in punk bands with both Joe Strummer before The Clash and Johnny Rotten after The Sex Pistols. Dudanksi who now lives in Granada and owns one of the city’s best-loved bars, contributes polyrhythmic percussion to “El Manisero de Potemkin,” a spirited take on Spanish colonialism and a piece of Cody’s personal history, his Cuban heritage.
Japanese flamenco guitarist and long-time Granada resident Hidetomo Nambu painstakingly recorded his accompaniment to the heart-wrenching vocal sample on “No Te Rebeles,” a controversial re-interpretation of an orthodox flamenco song. After hundreds of hours of recording with the Al-Tarab Ensemble, Granada’s premier performers of traditional Arabic music, Cody and Gnotes finally captured a moment of pure old-school funk as the group accompanied a beautiful dancer, Griselda Qamar, while the clacking beads of her dress shimmy audibly in the song’s final mix along with the oud and qanun (zither).
Vinyl is history, as Cody and Gnotes discovered digging through the record bins of Granada’s pawnshops in search of sounds. “If you want to know the history of a city,” Cody chuckles, “check out its pawnshops.” With turntables, samplers, and drum machines, Gnotes built new digital rhythms out of dusty vinyl, producing the skeleton beats that were eventually layered with live instrumentation
For Gnawledge, sampling opens new opportunities for musical participation with pre-recorded sound. This resonates beautifully with Spain’s musical culture, where listeners rarely sit idly by. “In Granada, as soon as you can clap your hands, you’re part of the band.” Cody smiles. “I love the participatory aspect of flamenco, and hip-hop.”
Gnawledge is opening up the project to further possibilities, permutations, and participation by offering each individual track (drums, bass, guitar, etc.) of every song for free download, with an invitation to DJs and rappers to take Granada Doaba in new directions. Already, tracks like “Menudo Jaleo” have sparked vocal versions by a multilingual multitude of international MCs.
“We don’t want just one version of each song, but dozens, based on Jamaican dancehall’s riddim method,” Cody explains. “Every vocalist does their own version, and the court of public opinion decides which is the best and that one becomes the ‘official’ version everyone remembers. Right now, we have remixes in French, Arabic, Spanish, German—from a guy in Argentina, believe it or not—and English.” These reinterpretations and remixes are included in a bonus disc along with limited edition hand-made CD liner notes.
Though the album may be deeply local, the next step for Gnawledge is to take the sound global, which is why an open-source, digital download approach is the perfect fit. “The internet is the only place where global music exists,” Cody believes. This is more than just a distribution method. It’s a metaphor for what lies at the heart of the project, the ideas that took Cody and Gnotes to Granada in the first place: the power of music to build communities from disparate and far-flung cultures.
As the whole project is based on collaboration and collective discovery—right down to the relatives enlisted to craft handmade CD booklets from remixed thrift store atlases—“we want to encourage this to be an ongoing collaborative process,” Cody reflects. “Someone in Helsinki can download it and then upload their contribution. This is an unfinished project. I hope it continues to sprout new life.”