Friday, September 24

The mythical nights of the Malasaña of the 80s and 90s at Café Manuela: gatherings, music, poetry, joints and alcohol

Photographer Jesús Sebastián spent 18 years of his life -from 1982 to 2000- patrolling the nights of Malasaña with his camera. The 6,500 uninterrupted days that he was offering his services to the customers of the bars and restaurants that he visited every day left behind an immense and little-known archive that, after remaining half-forgotten for two decades in the basement of a famous place in La Movida – El Penta, the first cocktail bar in Spain- has been rescued and digitized by the author himself.

Jesús Sebastián, the photographer of the Movida anónima: 6,570 nights of Malasaña in 85,000 negatives

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This enormous work begins to bear fruit in the form of exhibitions and next Sunday, at 1:00 p.m., one composed of 72 unpublished snapshots plus a looped projection of another 2,600 images that have not been printed will be inaugurated. All are photographs taken at the Café Manuela (San Vicente Ferrer, 29) during the 80s and 90s and can be enjoyed in that same space until October 3.

This is a small sample of the more than 65,000 negatives that Sebastián treasures and that document part of the mythical nightlife that Malasaña had at that time.

Opened in 1979 by the recently deceased Juan Mantrana, the Manuela became one of the nerve centers of the cultural awakening of Madrid after the dictatorship, being a meeting point for intellectuals and creators of the so-called generation of El Rollo (García Calvo, Moncho Alpuente , Carmen Martín Gaite, Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio …), of protagonists of the more literary Madrid Movida and, in general, of a wide range of anonymous characters who were friends of conversations that ended in the wee hours of the morning between smoke, alcohol and proposals of all kinds that took place in this nineteenth-century-looking cafe.

“At the Café Manuela there were gatherings, concerts, painting exhibitions, fashion shows, poetry recitals, theater performances … But it is that throughout Malasaña, until the year 89, there were golden years in the social and cultural And in any venue, no matter how small, there was live music of all kinds, not just pop and rock, as is remembered by the fact that the fame of what was La Movida musical has come to overshadow everything else, but there was also a lot of jazz and blues and even classical music in depending on the venues. Each venue gradually established its audience and diversity was what predominated “, recalls a Jesús Sebastián who knows all kinds of environments in his capacity as an itinerant photographer. .

The bulk of the production of photographs of Jesús Sebastián is starred by people – anonymous and famous – who posed for him and who paid him for his portraits (in black and white and 13 by 15 format). Results are the product of a single shot. His work, merely nutritional, in principle, has acquired great documentary value over time.

In the exhibition that is presented at the Manuela, you can find recognizable faces such as those of Pedro Almodóvar, Moncho Alpuente, Greater Wyoming, Carmen Martín Gaite, Sánchez Ferlosio and Manuel Piña -to name a few- along with thousands of other strangers. “Actually, whoever passed through Manuela between 1982 and 1999 is likely to be part of this exhibition and to be recognized in a photograph,” says Sebastián, who has also included performances by musicians such as George Moustaki, Javier Krahe, Paco Ortega and Isabel Montero or Academic Palanca, and who claims to have encountered more than one surprise during the selection of the images, such as the appearance of an anonymous Manuela Carmena.

Jesús Guerrero, current owner of Manuela, who has known Sebastián since he started working at the café in 1992, has been the promoter of this exhibition, which has a modest but well-managed production. He vindicates the main role of cultural agitators that coffee shops like his had in the times of La Movida and makes a curious distinction between the night owls that populated Malasaña in the years that the neighborhood acquired fame and identity: “Some were going to smoke joints and chat and others to smoke joints and dance. According to their preferences, they chose one place or another. Manuela’s clients belonged to the first group. There was a great social and cultural life every day that could end at four or five in the morning. No it was necessary to meet with no one. People would go out and meet in bars and cafes. I want to clarify that the use of marijuana, then, was in an illegal situation, it was not criminally persecuted or socially frowned upon. ”

The historian Juan Carlos González, from Carpetania Madrid, makes a somewhat deeper distinction than that of Guerrero about the different nocturnal public of those nights in Malasaña, made up of “two generations, separated by a decade, who could coincide in very specific environments such as It could be the traditional bars and also some cafes. ”

“The oldest were more politicized, since their early youth coincided with the last years of the dictatorship. There were conscientious objectors, liberals, hippies, poets, intellectuals of working-class origin mostly … The youngest, those of La A move that really became famous later, they came from a middle or wealthy class, they didn’t want to know anything about politics, they bet more on aesthetics, music bars and they also had a greater presence of women among their ranks. ”

In any case, both one type of Malaysian nocturnal fauna and the other posed for Jesús Sebastián during the 20 years that he remained in this profession of an itinerant portraitist-Stakhanovist. His archive, mostly unpublished and now finally well classified by months, years, bar names and themes, is a huge magician’s hat from which new and interesting material could emerge at any time.


The golden years that reflect the exposition of Jesús Sebastián were lived during the 80s and lasted with more struggle in the 90s. The repressive measures in force during the dictatorship gave way to a permissiveness that was eagerly received by the citizens. It was not until 1989, the year in which Ángel Matanzo arrived at the Madrid Center district council, that administrative and sanctioning doors began to be put into a field that until then seemed to be all oregano.

“The cafes and bars that had been promoters and agglutinators of a cultural explosion never seen before suddenly became suspicious places and little less than full of criminals in the eyes of municipal officials. Many of us suffered closures or attempts to close, and as of 1992 Concerts that took place almost anywhere were banned. We kept them as best we could until about 2000, but nothing was the same anymore. I remember that one of the last we hosted was one by singer-songwriter Ismael Serrano. Also, under pressure from the regulations was joined by a change in the tastes of the public. If years before in the Manuela we had poetry recitals with the premises full in which not a fly could be heard at the turn of the century that was unthinkable. It is as if a cultural break and people were saturated with stimuli. At that time we were lucky that Pablo Milanés wanted to perform one night in the cafe for fun; well, in exchange for a bottle of Johnny Walker black label and a potato omelette, two of his weaknesses … Can you believe that there were people who could not endure the entire performance or who spoke in the middle of the songs? ”

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