HISTORY OF FLAMENCO
(Pictured here, Roger and Valerie Scannura of RITMO Flamenco)
Flamenco music, dancing, and guitar style is from Spain. From the 8th to the 15th Century, Spain as we know it today was under the influence of the Arabs. The country was originally spread across 5 different Kingdoms, very regional, divided by Mountain Ranges. This meant that each Region developed its own culture, music, dance, food, and instruments.
In the 15th Century, Jews, Christians and Muslims all lived in this Region, getting along just fine, however, the Arab influence took hold in Andalusia, in particular with respect to the development of music and instruments, making the music of the area unique from the rest of Spain.
Andalusia is now an autonomous part of Spain. The origins of the name are somewhat under debate:
“The name "Andalusia" is derived from the Arabic word Al-Andalus (الأندلس). The toponym al-Andalus is first attested by inscriptions on coins minted in 716 by the new Muslim government of Iberia. These coins, called dinars, were inscribed in both Latin and Arabic. The etymology of the name "al-Andalus" has traditionally been derived from the name of the Vandals; however, a number of proposals since the 1980s have challenged this contention. Halm in 1989 derived the name from a Gothic term, *landahlauts, and in 2002, Bossong suggested its derivation from a pre-Roman substrate.” (Wikipedia)
Gypsies were not really welcome there. The “Gitanos” were nomadic and known as robbers.. now, the word Gypsy is considered to be an unwelcome slur, however, the gypsy way of life and their nomadic culture has long been a romantic interest. Perhaps one of the most famous operas of all captured the gypsy spirit and fiery passion of the men and women ~ the persona of Carmen will live forever in our memories as a beautiful, spirited, and desirable gypsy woman.
Even with the influence of other cultures surrounding them, the Gypsies developed their own style of music and dance, incorporating everything they heard from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths and communities, as they traveled around.
The word Flamenco is derived from the term for “one of those”, in Arabic “fellah menkum”, or “farmer from your group”, again, not very complimentary. However, in 1959, these Andalusians became protected by the Nobility of the Region. It was then that their music and dance began to flourish and become known worldwide, for its spectacular dance movements, bright and flamboyant costumes, and incredible rhythms.
The Andalusians were superstitious and based their music on 12 beats because there were 12 moons in the year... as a result, there are over 60 Rhythms (or ”Palos” as they are known) in Flamenco. All of the rhythms are complex and quite difficult to follow, for a beginner!
As an example, the rhythm to the song Solea is 12 beats with the heavily accented beats shown in bold:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Contra Tiempo is another technique introduced by the Flamenco artists, which is the art of clapping against or between the beat. This in itself is extremely difficult, when we consider that a large group of people clapping to different rhythms would be inclined to ultimately end up clapping together after long enough!
FLAMENCO GUITAR & FAMOUS TRAILBLAZERS
It is remarkable that the guitar only entered this genre about 100 years ago, and even then it was primarily for accompanying the dancers. It wasn’t until about 1955 that Flamenco guitar became a solo aspect of the Flamenco tradition.
A true Flamenco instrument is different than a Classical guitar, in its neck shape, as well as overall timbre. The inner structure is supported differently, and there is usually a tap plate, to facilitate the tapping sounds that are inherently part of the music. A Flamenco guitarist holds the instrument differently than a Classical guitarist would.
Paco de Lucia is an extremely well-known Flamenco guitarist. He renamed himself from Francesco Sanchez, to the Stage Name of Paco de Lucia, in part so that his name was more familiar (there were many other Pacos) and so that he would honour his mother: The “de Lucia” part means “of Lucia”. His father was also a Flamenco guitarist.
He became famous at the age of 14, touring with a dance company, and obtained his own record deal at age 21. He wrote his own music but was also a master ‘improvisadora’, at one point he was invited to record a piece and he entered the studio and proceeded to improvise the entire piece.
Lucia’s album, Entre dos Aguas (Between Two Waters) was released in 1976. [He had wanted to call his album Spain but someone had already used this name for their album.]
De Lucia was known for his exceptional ability in both the fast fingerstyle (picados) and strumming (rasgueados). A true pioneer in the art form, he was also the first artist to use percussion or bass with Flamenco, and also was able to fuse in some chords and Jazz sounds with the traditional Flamenco sounds, making him unique as an artist at that time, and perhaps a little more popular than Flamenco artists who remained within the original traditions of the music.
Paco was then discovered by Al di Meolo and worked on the Mediterranean Sundance album - which became the top seven guitar solo albums ever. He went on to produce many more groundbreaking albums.
Both Paco and Al collaborated with guitarist John McLaughlin. McLaughlin earned his guitar stripes as a youth in post-war Yorkshire, England, but soon began to travel the world, becoming a follower of the Hindi faith and Shikta belief system, which influenced his music greatly as well. However, he had always had an affinity for Flamenco, and after a lengthy career in Jazz, and creating fusion between Jazz and Indian music, he returned to his first passion and was able to collaborate with Paco and Al, two of the most influential Flamenco guitartists in the world. It was during this collaboration that Paco himself stated that “he was not necessarily the one that the others were learning from ~ in fact it was the other way around.” Paco felt that he could not match the complexity and harmonies that John was able to bring.
Another famed artist, Manitas de Plata was truly born a gypsy, in the South of France in 1921. The nickname “Por el camino de Ronda” was given to him, which means “little hands of silver” ~ describing his agility and artistic ability. His idol was another guitarist named Jean “Django” Reinhardt. De Plata did not play in public until Reinhardt had passed away, as he felt that Django was truly the king of the gypsy guitarists. When he finally did play in public, and the artist Pablo Picasso heard him, Picasso signed his guitar, out of great admiration.
The band The Gypsy Kings are all Manitas’ nephews - de Reas was their last name. Their song “Bamboleo” became a huge hit, but is not considered to be true Flamenco.
BLENDED ART FORMS
We cannot forget that Flamenco consists of six blended art forms:
- Cante. Singing.
- Toque. Guitar playing.
- Baile. Dance.
- Jaleo. Singing and choruses.
- Palmas. Hand clapping.
- Pitos. Finger snapping.
The most captivating aspect to me is the dance, in terms of the posture, movement, and proud & fiery elegance that the dancers convey and command our attention with.
Women first danced barefoot, but of course now they wear shoes and have added nails to the soles for the click/rhythm enhancement.
Clapping and the use of castanets is extremely important in Flamenco dance, as they capture the complexity of the rhythms with their heels, toes, and stamps, clicks and claps in combination.
As a beginner guitarist, Flamenco playing is somewhat of a stellar, and unreachable thought, as is the complexity of the dancing. Best that I leave both to the experts. :)