Flamenco is both music and dance whose origins go back to Andalusia in the 18th century, which is now part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
The traditional costume of the bailora, the dancer, is composed of shoes with high heels (for the tacaneo) and a coloured dress generally red, white or black, sometimes with polka dots reaching the ankles and adorned with flounces.
The shoulders are often covered with a large fringed silk shawl, as for the hair they are traditionally pulled up a bun even if nowadays some dancers adopt the pelo suelto, the hair relaxed for particular choreographies.
For the bailor, the dancer, the short Andalusian costume is required; it is called campero, (rustic, country). This suit is composed of high waisted black trousers, a large red fabric belt, a white shirt, a black bolero and a cordouan hat.
Flamenco music lexicon
Spanish interjection used to show enthusiasm, admiration and encouragement to the cantaores (singers), tocaores (musicians) and bailores (dancers) of Andalusia.
More a notion than a term, duende defines a state of trance, enchantment, charisma… Originally duende means leprechaun, the one designating domestic demons in popular mythology.
Literally touching, the toque is the way to play the flamenco guitar. The toques are classified into several types according to the musical interpretation: aeroso toque : vivid rhythm, gitano toque or flamenco toque : deep and counter-measure ; pastueño toque : slow and quiet, sobrio toque ; without superfluous and corto toque : short in expressive and technical resources.
Term used to define the traditional varieties of flamenco singing, cante.
Flamenco singing is categorized into three groups, cante rondo, cante intermedio and cante chico (minor) . Of these forms, the deepest are called cante rondo. Many flamenco artists, even among the greatest, have specialized for a unique cante.
Traditionally male dance, but now practiced by women, this dance may or may not be accompanied by flamenco guitarra. Some forms of flamenco are sung without accompaniment, some use a guitar, still others express themselves through dance. Some of these dances or songs were reserved for men and others for women.
Resonance box from Peru with a hole in the inside that can be made of guitar or bass strings, bells or metal objects to increase or vary the sound.
It was in the 1970s that Paco de Lucía was the first flamenco guitarist to introduce it in his compositions and recordings following a tour in Lima, Peru. He will then use with Rubem Dantas different Brazilian percussions like berimbau and cuíca.
Pounding rhythms of the ground with the heels as in the tap dance.
Traditional musical style and dance of Andalusian origin that are common to Spain and Portugal. The fandago is accompanied by castanets and guitars.
Flamenco singing style with a lively rhythm accompanied by palmas (rhythmic clapping of the hands). Festive and joyful, it lends itself well to jaleo.
Jaleo : manifestation of enthusiasm and encouragement of artists, singers, musicians and dancers, during a flamenco show.
A festive style of fundamental flamenco singing accompanied by an equally festive dance.
Popular dance from Seville. It is danced with two or more couples in a circle or in groups. It symbolizes approach, confrontation, love and flight. Festive, graceful and rhythmic, it was invented in Seville around the 16th and 17th centuries.
Despite the many controversies about its origins, flamenco is not only of gypsy origin, as the dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy states.
It would result from the cultural mixing which characterized Andalusia then composed of gypsies, Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Flamenco, at the crossroads of East and West
After being driven from India, the Gypsies fled to Persia, Syria and Arabia before reaching Egypt, then the Maghreb and Spain where they arrived at the beginning of the 15th century during the reign of King Alfonso V of Aragon.
Like their Moriscan and Jewish contemporaries, they were persecuted by the Catholic Kings without being driven out of Spain. Living mainly in Andalusia, they share with their Andalusian and Morisco neighbours their music and songs, their miseries and their customs.
The objective being to erase their cultural identity in order to assimilate them, this tolerance will not last. Wanting them to deny their identity, the Spanish kingdom went so far as to forbid that Gypsies be so called, making their integration into selective and partial Christianity.
Would the gypsies have integrated the Arabic sounds as we still hear them in the Tarab El-Andalousi or, once popular in Spain, would flamenco have influenced the Arab-Muslim music with its intonations?
At that time, Andalusia was strongly influenced by the culture and thoughts of philosophers, thinkers, writers and musicians from North Africa.
However, the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain at the end of the 15th century following the Alhambra decree, encouraged the emergence of a new musical current in the Maghreb: Tarab Al-Andalousi defined under the generic of Arab-Andalusian music which developed particularly in Fez in Morocco.
In the flamenco cante, we feel the Indian influence, the similarity of the dances and songs, the inspiration of the Mozarabic Christian liturgical songs, present since the 9th century in Spain, and the sadness of the Jewish mothers singing the exile.
Flamenco, a subversive art
Propagated widely in Spain by the mobility of gypsy life, it was from the beginning of the 18th century that flamenco began to be recognised and claimed by the excluded and disadvantaged.
The tone, the song alone that served to mask claims, will thus spread in the workplace, among friends or family.
Considered as an act of creation and a spectacle, flamenco did not please the religious authorities who saw it as an incitement to debauchery and a subversive weapon.
In front of the popular infatuation aroused by this new way of expressing itself, the state and the Spanish church tried to channel it by controlling it from the inside by imposing strict standards on its diffusion.
So that it is no longer presented in streets, squares or taverns, specialized places will be created: the cafés cantantes, ancestors of our cafés-concerts.
Sevilla, barrio Triana
From the 19th century onwards, having gradually abandoned nomadic life, bullfighting and flamenco became the cultural landmarks of the gypsy world.
They first settled in the districts of Triana in Seville, Sacromonte in Granada, Santiago and Santa María in Jerez de la Frontera. According to some musicologists and researchers, flamenco was born in the Triana district of Seville.
Silverio Ranconetti, cantaor (singer) of flamenco, opened the first cantantes café in Barrio Triana of Seville in 1881.
Evolutions and mentalities
In the 1920s, flamenco became part of Spanish culture, moving from a regional exoticism to a determining element of Spanish identity.
Intellectuals like Federico García Lorca will highlight this Andalusian popular culture. Cinema will integrate it with the trilogy of Carlos Saura and Antonio Gades: Blood Wedding, Carmen, Sorcerer Love.
From then on, from a local to a national to a global framework, flamenco will enter a production and consumption circuit very different from its original philosophy.
Flamenco these days
There are prestigious flamenco schools or academies. Especially in Jerez de la Frontera, Seville or Granada. They are open places of initiation for children who want to continue to pass on this heritage that blends Gypsy, Jewish and Muslim cultures.
Sophie Galland speaks to us about flamenco: “It also and above all contains the three memories of Andalusia, inextricably mixed: the Muslim, learned and refined; the Jewish, pathetic and tender; and finally the gypsy, rhythmic and popular. ” The Courier No. 66. January 1993.
Since the 1970s, a new generation of artists has created a new current, flamenco nuevo, which under the impulse of musicians like Camarón de la Isla, Paco de Lucía, from the group Ketama happily blends flamenco rhythms with musical currents like jazz, salsa, pop, or rock.
If professionalism and strong commercial demand have trivialized flamenco, the fact remains that this culture which has been transformed with history must nevertheless protect its identity and integrity.
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