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Article: Flamenco from Andalusia - An introduction

By Simon Zolan
  Flamenco is an individualistic, yet structured folk art from Andalucía, which is often improvised and spontaneous. The song, dance and guitar are blended together by the passionate rhythms of southern Spain which is flamenco's geographical birthplace.

Gypsies say “ it’s in the blood”, but Spain’s famous poet and writer Fredrico Garcia Lorca, called flamenco one of the most gigantic inventions of the Spanish people. The tragic lyrics and tones of flamenco clearly reflect the sufferings of the gypsy people.

It is thought that the gypsies who ended up in Andalucía travelled from India and Pakistan acquiring the name "gitano" from Egiptano, the old Spanish word for Egyptian.

Apart from the Indian and Jewish influences, the Arabs made an immense contribution to the moulding of the form and content of the flamenco song of today, which is not surprising since they ruled Spain for seven centuries. Yet flamenco in its present form is only some two hundred years old.

The source of flamenco lies in its singing tradition, so the singer's role is very important. The flamenco guitar was used originally as an instrument of accompaniment. Today solo flamenco guitar has developed as a separate art. Whilst some purists disapprove of the fashionable attempts to blend flamenco with jazz, blues, rock and pop music, it is no wonder that so many young people embrace it wholeheartedly.

Apart from songs delivered from different regions such as fandangos from Huelva, Alegrias from Cadiz, there are broadly speaking two main styles in Flamenco: the "jondo" - profound and serious, the cry of people oppressed for many centuries; and the "chico" - happy, light and often humorous. The song "el cante" is most important as it is considered to be the source which gives inspiration to the guitar playing "el toque" and the dance "el baile".

Flamenco dance is by nature oriental, so differs fundamentally from other well established European dance forms. Complex rhythmic patterns are created by a sophisticated footwork technique, so the flamenco dancer wears special shoes or boots with dozens of nails driven to the soles and heels.

The ladies wear long costumes often with many frills and practice for hours their elegant arm and hand movements. The upper body must emphasis grace and posture.

In much of the more serious flamenco, there is a release of pent up hatred of persecution and often an evocation of death ( particularly in "Seguiriyas"). The dancers job will be to project the mood of the song within the strict time signature, but not interpret the meaning of the song with specific gestures, as would the Indian Katak dancer.

Perhaps the best way to become familiar with the complexities of flamenco singing and sentiment, is by going to a "tablao" (flamenco show), a flamenco club (peña) or to one of the countless festivals that are organised every summer. The Sacromonte gypsy caves at Granada, though very tourist-orientated, provide an unforgettable experience and there are many flamenco meetings and associations (peñas) throughout the region.

Together with Corpus Christi, Granada is said to hold the oldest flamenco festival in Andalucía. In summer for example, there are singing contests in many towns, such as in Estepona, Fuengirola and Rincón de la Victoria, or Carchelejo, Vilches and Linares, and the "Gazpacho Andaluz" at Morón and the "Muestra de Cante" at La Línea. Some of the most important festival events are held in September, such as those of Adra, Villanueva del Arzobispo and the Velá de la Fuensanta in Córdoba; at the time of the famous Goyesca bullfights, Ronda holds a "Festival de Cante Grande" for real connoisseurs. The "Fiesta de la Buleria" at Jerez (Bulería is a type of dance and song), the "Potaje" of Utrera and "La Caracolá" at Lebrija are some of the important occasions of gypsy "cante". Cádiz hosts "Los Jueves Flamencos" (flamenco Thursdays) overlooking the bay throughout each summer. And every other year, the most famous figures of flamenco are heard in Sevilla at the "Bienal del Arte Flamenco". Córdoba also hosts a prestigious national flamenco competition.

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