When a Space becomes a Place…

According to Oxford online dictionary…

Space: A continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied

Place: An area used for a specified purpose or activity

Sasha Flatau, University of Sussex

The street it was on, as with all the streets in that part of Seville, was narrow. Large doors, like the entrance of a warehouse, led to an open outdoor space with hard dry earth for flooring. Lining the edges of this square shaped space were locales or rather unofficial bars and stores that looked like garages.

One of these locales was owned by a Spanish lady selling flamenco dresses. The rest were rented by Senegalese musicians-come-barmen. My first visit was with a Senegalese friend who wanted to pop into his friend’s local one afternoon. It was small with a little bar by the entrance, Senegalese music playing in the background, the outline of Africa painted on the wall above a tatty sofa, along with photographs of Senegal and splashes of colourful paint to cover the remaining wall space.

Of course describing this space physically does not do it justice. It was at night when it really came alive, when all the ‘garages’ opened up to those who knew where to find the place. Here a mix of people from different nationalities, different backgrounds would socialise over one euro beers and dance to live music. In one local you could watch a group of Senegalese musicians perform, sat in a semi-circle beating out lively rhythms on djembes, while in others a local Spanish group might play flamenco-fusion or rock accompanied by a djembe player.

Music is certainly an important sphere within the Senegalese community, but while a great number of Senegalese people living in Seville are musicians, few can exclusively make their living from this (Moreno Maestro, 2006, p. 137).

1_1705_aqui_y_alli_viviendo_en_los_dos_lados-portada1In Moreno Maestro’s (2006, p. 137) book ‘Aquí y Alli, viviendo en los dos lados (Here and There, living in both places[1]), she refers to the Senegalese community in Seville as transnational, noting that apart from the difficulty of making a living as an artist ‘here’ (in Seville), emigrants have obligations to their family ‘there’ (in Senegal). This usually leads to needing to supplement work, so the combination of petty enterprise and musical performance made this place both a socio-economic space in which migrants could supplement their livelihoods, by holding African drumming and dance workshops during the day; staging live djembe and dance performances at night (accompanied by the clandestine selling of beers and cubatas[2]).Yet these activities were driven by far more than economic reasons. Maestro (2006, p. 149) refers to concerts by Senegalese artists in Seville as contexts of reproduction of identity in which external symbols, such as the Senegalese flag, African clothing and styles of dance acquire great importance. Interestingly, these same symbols were employed in the cluster of locales. However, rather than simply a context of reproduction of identity, I saw it as a space of hybridization, fusion and exchange; a place in which to share and learn about multiple identities. African dance workshops meant that people of all nationalities could jump into the djembe circle to dance. Even the languages in which people socialised varied, switching between Spanish, French, English and Wolof.

Sadly, before my year in Seville was over this informal urban space was officially shut down. Though police had stood in front of the entrance refusing access on several occasions, official closure came as a shock to everyone who regularly spent time there. A space, in which such positive connections were made between people from different places, became a victim of the relentless march of gentrification and enclosure of the city under the control of formal administration and commercialisation.

Works Cited

Moreno Maestro, S. (2006). Aquí y allí, viviendo en los dos lados. Seville: Junta de Andalucía.

Photo Credits: Jaymantri

Sasha Flatau is studying for a Masters in Anthropology of Development and Social Transformation at the University of Sussex.


[1] My own translation

[2] Spirit/mixer

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