Webster, Jason 1970-
WEBSTER, Jason 1970-
Home—Valencia, Spain. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Doubleday Broadway, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Author, Arabic scholar, and flamenco guitarist.
Duende: A Journey into the Heart of Flamenco, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Andalus: Unlocking the Secret of Moorish Spain, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals such as Independent Sunday (London, England).
Educated in Arabic at Oxford, accustomed to international living after years in England, Egypt, and Germany, and recently dumped by his longtime girlfriend, Jason Webster did what many would not have the nerve to do: he turned away from an assured but sedate life as a scholar to pursue, almost on a whim, the growing passion he felt within himself for flamenco guitar and the flamenco lifestyle. Webster writes about his resolute pursuit of duende, the emotional experience triggered by flamenco, in his book, Duende: A Journey into the Heart of Flamenco. The duende of the title is difficult to define, even for those who have experienced its ecstatic effects. Michael Emery, writing in Birmingham Post (England), described it as "the transcendental moment when singer, dancer, and guitarist become as one, and transmit their conjoined emotion to the audience."
Starting out with his guitar and few playing skills, Webster lands in Alicante, Spain, where he polishes his playing with lessons from Juan. To make a living, he teaches English in a local college headed by Vincente and his wife, Lola. Though Lola is the boss's wife and is old enough to have children who are Webster's age, she is also an accomplished flamenco dancer. She and Webster are soon involved in a deeply passionate affair.
When Webster discovers that Vincente deserves his nickname of "El Killer," he seeks safer lodging in Madrid. There, he works to gain the acceptance of a gypsy flamenco troupe. Eventually, he is accepted into the group, but as little more than a curiosity—"El [Niño] Rubio," the blond boy—and at the very bottom of their social pecking order. Soon, he realizes that the flamenco lifestyle he traveled so far to find, that he worked so hard to immerse himself into, is little more than continual drinking, drug-taking, fighting, and stealing. He develops a cocaine habit and goes along on car-stealing trips. When his friend Jesus is killed during a car theft, Webster begins to realize that the lengths he has gone to in pursuit of flamenco and duende may not be worth the risk. "By the end of the book, Webster has found love with a woman called Salud," observed Miranda France in the Manchester Guardian. "The name means 'health.'"
"I don't believe that everything in Duende is true," France remarked. "It doesn't matter—Jason Webster is an exceptional writer, and this is a great book." Duende "sweeps along from one harmonious chord to the next and builds into a crescendo that is as rich in atmosphere and emotion as the world it seeks to portray," wrote Anthony Sattin in the London Sunday Times. "Duende is a fascinating book, the most gripping I have read for years," France stated. "Although the story occasionally hits a flat note, Webster makes up for it by fluidly interlacing his foreigner's perspective with edgy and often perilous cravings to live the life of a genuine flamenco guitarist," commented a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Elsa Gaztambide, writing in Booklist, called Duende a "daring account of the lengths one man will go to in order to be accepted in a world that revolves around tormented passions."
Webster delves deeper into the history of his newly adopted Spanish homeland in Andalus: Unlocking theSecrets of Moorish Spain. After saving illegal Moroccan immigrant Zine from a murderous band of farmers, Webster travels through Spain with Zine, seeking evidence of Moorish culture and influence on Spanish life and history. While Zine sneaks away for romantic liaisons with local women, Webster finds Moorish influences in architecture, language, and culture. "Webster imparts, with much verve, a lot of tumultuous Andalusian history" in the book, commented Tom Rosenthal in London's Daily Mail, who added that Webster illuminates "the richness of Moorish culture from cuisine to philosophy, from music to language, from medicine to architecture and how, without these vital ingredients, Spanish culture would be seriously impoverished."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Albuquerque Journal, April 25, 2004, David Steinberg, "Spanish Strings," p. F8.
Birmingham Post (Birmingham, England), February 1, 2003, Michael Emery, "Flourish of Flamenco in Real Spain," p. 49.
Booklist, February 1, 2003, Elsa Gaztambide, review of Duende: A Journey into the Heart of Flamenco, p. 963.
Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2003, June Sawyers, "The Resourceful Traveler," section 8, p. 18.
Daily Mail (London, England), April 30, 2004, Tom Rosenthal, review of Andalus: Unlocking the Secrets of Moorish Spain, p. 57.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), January 24, 2004, Patrick Ness, review of Duende; April 10, 2004, Nicholas Shakespeare, "Peel Back a Layer or Two to See Spain's Arab Past," p. 8.
Express (London, England), January 4, 2003, Jane Warren, "Jason Webster Gets to Grips First with His Guitar, and Then Himself," p. 40.
Guardian (Manchester, England), December 28, 2002, Miranda France, "Let the Spirit Move You: Travel Books Can Be Tedious, Says Miranda France. But a Picaresque Account of Joining a Gypsy Flamenco Community Is So Engrossing She Ignored Her Children's Screams to Finish a Chapter," review of Duende, p. 7; April 24, 2004, Mark Cocker, "Moor the Merrier: Mark Cocker Follows a Cheery Quest for Spain's Arabic Roots," p. 13.
Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), March 1, 2003, Alison Barclay, "Dream Run for Author," p. W30.
Independent (London, England), January 18, 2003, Liz Thomson, "The Gypsy King," p. 26; April 2, 2004, Robert Irwin, review of Andalus, p. 26.
Independent Sunday (London, England), December 28, 2003, Laurence Phelan, review of Duende, p. 14; June 6, 2004, Anthony Barnes, "Acclaimed Travel Book Is Paella in the Sky, Claims Flamenco Tutor," p. 16.
Irish Times (Dublin, Ireland), February 1, 2003, Shane Hegarty, "Searching for the Heart of the Rhythm," p. 60; February 7, 2004, Shane Hegarty, review of Duende, p. 62; May 29, 2004, Paddy Woodworth, "Moor Culture, Less Substance," p. 60.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2003, review of Duende, pp. 134-135.
Library Journal, February 1, 2003, Joan Stahl, review of Duende, p. 94.
New York Times Book Review, June 1, 2003, Michael Pye, review of Duende, pp. 8, 30-31.
Observer (London, England), January 5, 2003, Stephanie Merritt, "A Dance to the Music of Time: Jason Webster Vividly Captures the Spirit of Spain's Most Celebrated Artform," p. 15; April 4, 2004, review of Andalus, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, January 27, 2003, review of Duende, p. 246.
Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland), January 12, 2003, David Archibald, "Duende: Fruitless Search for the Musical Soul of Spain," p. 7.
Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), January 11, 2003, John Burnside, "Mediterranean Mix of Flamenco, Fact, and Fiction," p. 5.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), January 12, 2003, John Preston, "Castanets and Car-Jacking; John Preston Enjoys an Account of the Tribulations Which Faced a Would-be Flamenco Guitarist."
Sunday Times (London, England), January 19, 2003, Anthony Sattin, "The Gypsy Heart of Spain," p. 35; February 9, 2003, Paul Donovan, review of Duende, p. 65.
Times (London, England), December 21, 2002, Margaret Reynolds, "The Flamenco Kid," p. 15.
Times Literary Supplement, February 7, 2003, Robert Carver, "On the Trail of Flamenco," review of Duende, p. 33.
Washington Post Book World, March 30, 2003, Lily Sheehan, "Fiery Spirits," p. 15.
BookPage Web site,http://www.bookpage.com/ (June 30, 2004), Alison Hood, review of Duende.
Books at Transworld Web site,http://www.booksattransworld.co.uk/ (January 4, 2004), interview with Jason Webster.
Culture Court Web site,http://www.culturecourt.com/ (June 30, 2004), Lawrence Russell, review of Duende.
Observer (London, England) Web site,http://www.observer.guardian.co.uk/ (January 11, 2004), Gemma Bowes, review of Andalus.
Rain Taxi Web site,http://www.raintaxi.com/ (July 15, 2004), John Toren, review of Duende.*