Flamenco - Past, present and future
Flamenco is a fundamental part of the culture of the south of Spain - with it's roots in the gypsy community. It is divided into cante ('the song'), baile ('the dance') and guitarra ('guitar'). The gypsies were nomads, believed to have their origin in northern India and were accustomed to making their own version of local music. Music is, and always has been, an important part of their celebrations and everyday life.
The first document registering the arrival of gypsies in Spain is from 1447. During this time the Moors had been occupying the south of Spain for almost 800 years, during which science, economy and culture flourished in a rich mix. The Moorish influence from this time can be found in flamenco music, as well as the impact of Jewish, Catholic and local music.
At the end of 15th Century the Moors were ousted by the Catholic Kings, and a persecution of all non-Catholics started that was to last for more than two centuries. The suffering and injustice during this time was expressed in the songs, and is still today noticeable in more serious forms of flamenco.
Flamenco began to be used as a synonym for the Andalusian gypsy in the 18th Century.
The first flamenco schools appeared between 1765 and 1860, establishing a firm position in the ballrooms. During its golden age (1869 - 1910), flamenco was developed in the numerous cafés cantantes ('music cafés') into its definitive form. Also the more serious forms expressing deep feelings, cante jondo, dates from this period. Flamenco dance achieved its climax and was the major attraction of the cafés cantantes. Guitar players who accompanied the dancers became tremendously popular with the ever-increasing audience.
||Gradually flamenco developed into an easier kind of music. From 1915, flamenco shows were organized and performed all over the world. This was however not appreciated by all, and in 1922 intellectuals such as the composer Manuel de Falla organized a contest in Granada to promote authentic cante jondo.|
A flamenco renaissance started in 1955. Outstanding dancers and soloists from the small tablaos, successors to the early cafés cantantes, made their way to the great theatres and concert houses. Guitar players acquired great reputations with their sublime, masterful playing.
Flamenco dance can be compared to the dances from the Orient. The elegant gestures of the female dancers resemble those of Oriental dancers, only they are more forcible. The dancer's use of castanets, castañuelas, can be compared to the oriental finger cymbals. However, castanets are not traditional to flamenco as they have only been adopted in the last 100 years.
The flamenco dancer creates complex rhythmic patterns with an intricate footwork technique, characterized by toe-heel clicking steps. To do this, special dancing shoes or boots, zapatos de baile, are required. They have dozens of nails driven in to the soles and heels, and are partially reinforced to add stability.
The upper part of the body expresses grace and posture, appearing undisturbed by the vigorous footwork. The ladies wear long dresses with voluminous skirts, sometimes used to emphasize arm movements.
The dancer's job is to project the mood of the song. Music and dance fall into three categories:
- jondo, or grande ('profound', or 'grand'), intensely sad and dealing with themes of death, anguish, despair, or religion;
- intermedio ('intermediate'), less profound, but also moving, often with an oriental cast to the music; and
- chico ('light'), with subjects of love, the countryside, and gaiety.
Do not try to clap the rhythm during a dance. The dancer is usually accompanied by hand clapping or percussion, as well as song and guitar. A very common rhythmic pattern is contratiempo where the dancer is accentuating exactly between beats, and to accomplish that he/she requires a very steady mark on the beat. Unfortunately, spectators tend to clap completely off beat, thereby disturbing the pattern. Applause, however, is much appreciated, but you do not have to wait until the performance has ended. Feel free to applaud at any point that you find especially exceptional.
The future of flamenco is a great challenge: what will be come of it in the next few years? At present there is already plenty of fusion, crossbreeding, and new instruments which come from genres such as jazz, salsa, boso nova, or from ethnic sounds that have different roots and regions of origin. There is a marked division between the opinions of purists, and those of evolutionists who favour innovation.
Today, the ballor (flamenco dancer) is more of a ballet dancer than was the case in the past; and this as been at the expense of depth. It has been argued that technique has eaten up the artistry. Dancers such as Joaquin Cortes, Israel Galvan and Sara Baras have introduced elements of innovation and research into their dancing, and they have triumphed on stages at both a national and international level. There is also a generation that keeps up the high quality, orthodox style of dancing e.g. Javier Baron, Eva La Yerbabuena and Farruquito.
Ole' is the highest compliment in famenco, given by everyone who is participating in flamenco.
Ole' is an exclamation used to express enthusiasm at a flamenco performance and underline the important role the audience plays when flamenco is performed. Ole' isn't just a cheer of encouragement; it's a deep expression of complicity among the artists themselves.