Flamenco is a song, music and dance style which is strongly influenced by the Gitanos, but which has its deeper roots in Moorish musical traditions. Flamenco culture originated in Andalusia (Spain), but has since become one of the icons of Spanish music and even Spanish culture in general.
The word Flamenco in Spanish originally meant Flamish.
It is supposed that during the Flamish kingdom of Karel V (Carlos I in Spain) some kind of popular confusion between flamish and gipsy culture lead the people to use that
word for the gypsy music. "Nuevo Flamenco", or New
Flamenco, is a recent variant of Flamenco which has been influenced by modern musical genres, like rumba, s
alsa, pop, rock and jazz.
Originally, flamenco consisted of unaccompanied singing (cante). Later the songs were accompanied by flamenco guitar (toque), rhythmic hand clapping (palmas), rhythmic feet stamping and dance (baile).
The toque and baile are also often found without the cante, although the song remains at the heart of the flamenco tradition. More recently other instruments like the cajn (a wooden box used as a percussion instrument) and castanets (castauelas) have been introduced.
Many of the details of the development of flamenco are lost in Spanish history. There are several reasons for this lack of historical evidence:
* The turbulent times of the people involved in flamenco culture. The Moors, the Gitanos and the Jews were all persecuted and expelled by the Spanish Inquisition at various points in time as part of the Reconquista.
* The Gitanos mainly had an oral culture. Their folk songs were passed on to new generations by repeated performances in their social community.
* Flamenco was for a long time not really considered an art form worth writing about according to Spaniards. Flamenco music has also slipped in and out of fashion several times during its existence.
Granada, the last Muslim stronghold, fell in 1492 when the armies of the catholic king Ferdinand II of Aragon and queen Isabella of Castile reconquered this city after about 800 years of mainly Moorish rule.
The Treaty of Granada was created to have a formal base for upholding religious tolerance, and this paved the way for the Moors to surrender peacefully.
For a few years there was a tense calm in and around Granada, however the inquisition did not like the religious tolerance towards Muslims and Jews.
Therefore the inquisition used religious arguments to convince Ferdinand and Isabella to break the treaty and force the Moors and Jews to become Christians or leave Spain for good. In 1499, about 50,000 Moors were coerced into taking part in a mass baptism.
During the uprising that followed, people who refused the choices of baptism or deportation to Africa, were systematically eliminated. What followed was a mass exodus of Moors, Jews and Gitanos from Granada city and the villages to the mountain regions (and their hills) and the rural country. It was in this socially and economically difficult situation that the musical cultures of the Moors, Jews and Gitanos started to form the basics of flamenco music: a Moorish singing style expressing their hard life in Andalusia, the different compas (rhythm styles), rhythmic hand clapping and basic dance movements.
Many of the songs in flamenco still reflect the spirit of desperation, struggle, hope, pride, and late-night partying of the people during this time. Much later other local traditional Spanish musical traditions would also influence, and be influenced by, the traditional flamenco styles.
The first time flamenco is mentioned in literature is in 1774 in the book Cartas Marruecas by Jos Cadalso. The origin of the name flamenco however, is a much-debated topic. Some people believe it is a word of Spanish origin and originally meant Flemish (Flamende).
However, there are several other theories. One theory suggest an Arabic origin taken from the words felag mengu (meaning: 'peasant in flight' or 'fugitive peasant').
During the so-called golden age of flamenco, between 1869-1910, music developed rapidly in music cafs called cafs cantantes.
Dancers also became one of the major attractions for the public of those cafs. Similarly, guitar players supporting the dancers increasingly gained a reputation, and so flamenco guitar as an art form by itself was born. Julin Arcas was one of the first composers to write flamenco music especially for the guitar.
The flamenco guitar (and the very similar classical guitar) is a descendent from the lute. The first guitars are thought to have originated in Spain in the 15th century.
The traditional flamenco guitar is made of Spanish cypress and spruce, and is lighter in weight and a bit smaller than a classical guitar, to give the output a 'sharper' sound.
In 1922, one of Spain's greatest writers, Federico Garca Lorca and renowned composer Manuel de Falla organised the Fiesta del Cante Jondo, a folk music festival dedicated to cante jondo ("deep song"). They did this to stimulate interest in this, by that time unfashionable, flamenco music style. Two of Lorca's most important poetic works, Poema del Cante Jondo and Romancero Gitano, show Lorca's fascination with flamenco.
Flamenco occurs in two types of settings.
The first, the Juerga is an informal gathering where people are free to join in creating music.
This can include dancing, singing, violin, Palmas (hand clapping), or simply pounding in rhythm on an old orange crate.
Flamenco, in this context, is very dynamic; It adapts to the local talent, instrumentation, and mood of the audience.
One tradition remains firmly in place: Singers are the most important part. The professional concert is more formal and organized.
The most common performance usually has only one or more instruments (guitar is almost always at the center). Dancers are the next addition, followed by singers. It is rare to find an artist who has mastered performing in both settings at the same level. An overview of the various flamenco artists can be found in the following categories: