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Flamenco dance is considered by many to be the world's 2nd most difficult dance form, 2nd only to Indian classical dance. Its history can be traced back to the time when the Gypsies left their homeland in India, traveled through Egypt, Europe and arrived in Spain around 1492, right around the time the Arabic peoples from Morocco who had occupied Spain for almost 800 years left.
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(by Ricardo de Cristóbal)
"Spain Frets Over Flamenco"
Flamenco has never been important to the general population of Spain. Flamenco has always been the concern of the Andalúz and the Gitano. The Spanish attitude is best conveyed by the Madrileño I met in a California restaurant 20 years ago: I proudly told him I was a serious aficionado of Flamenco and loved Andalucía. He replied disdainfully “If one must see Flamenco, one must endure Andalucía and the Andalúz”. This is not a new attitude, but an attitude with centuries behind it. Paco de Lucía (creator of modern Flamenco and the economic boom that accompanied it) stated 22 years ago “…Each day I hear phrases indicating that people are ashamed to have Flamenco representing our country”. (Hoy 11/25/86)
One must understand there is not just one Flamenco, any more than there is one Rock and Roll. There is the popular music of rumberos like the Gypsy Kings, there are the fusions of Flamenco with other musics, there are the stage presentations of theatrical dancers (dating from the late 19th century and still very popular, considered to be the essence of Flamenco by the uninitiated), there are the flashy solo guitar players; none of these are really Flamenco. These hybrids, based on Flamenco, are more entertainment than the art that Flamenco is.
Although Flamenco’s roots are thousands of years old, what we call Flamenco started as a Andalucian family affair some 300 years ago. Commercialization started around 1840 and was in full swing by 1860. By 1910 the commercialization of the Spanish dance (called Flamenco) of La Argentina, La Argentinita, Vicente Escudero, Pilar Lopez, et al, had become distasteful to Flamencos, and Flamenco retreated into the family again.
In the early 1950’s Flamenco came into the public area once again. Artists like Antonio Mairena, Melchor Marchena, and Aurelio Sellé began to get the respect they deserved. Some very commercial artists like Manolo Caracol began to perform genuine Flamenco again. In the 1970’s Camaron de la Isla and Paco de Lucía created what we call modern Flamenco. By the 1980’s artists like Juan Peña and Enrique Morente were making a good living. Around the turn of the 21st century this bubble of commercial activity began its inevitable decline. One must understand this was an unusual era (1970-2000) of commercial success for Flamenco.
"Spaniards Don't buy Flamenco Guitars"
Arcangel Fernandez has built some great guitars, but the average Flamenco guitarist, Spanish or foreign, wouldn’t think of paying $13K for a guitar. Tocaores who want a Madrid-made instrument generally prefer Conde Hermanos, most of which are factory made and far cheaper. Tocaores who want a hand-made instrument often prefer guitars made in Andalucía, the home of Flamenco: in Granada Antonio Marin Montero, Jose Lopez Bellido, or Manuel Lopez Bellido; in Sevilla Alberto Pantoja or Francisco Ibarra; all of whose instruments, and many others, can be bought at Guitarras-Zavaletas in AZ for half or less what Arcangel Fernandez charges.
"Flamenco is More Popular Among Foreigners"
The opinion that Flamenco is being kept alive by foreigners because the Spanish no longer care about it has been expressed since the late 1950’s, and probably longer. While it’s true that foreign audiences are very appreciative of Flamenco, and they provide work for artists, only the Andaluz and the Gitano, and a very few others, actually live Flamenco, and thereby keep it alive. The rest of us live in their shadow. Flamenco is not a technique that just can be learned with basic talent and a lot of hard work, like ballet, or French horn; it requires an opening of the heart, soul, and emotions that is difficult or impossible for most people, Spaniard or anyone else.
Flamenco has never been universally popular in Spain. Since 1860, when the Café Cantante period hit full stride, professional Flamenco artists have been complaining that many Spaniards are embarrassed that foreigners think Flamenco is the Spanish national music.
Inmaculada Ortega is correct when she states foreigners don’t have the social prejudice against Gypsies which Spaniards have, but she neglects to mention that the prejudice started in the 16th century and still lives on; it is not an attitude the Spaniards recently adopted. Read “Gypsies and Flamenco”, Bernard Leblon.
"Flamenco Clubs in Madrid are Declining"
Madrid has never been the center of any Flamenco other than the most commercial sort. When the Cafes Cantantes started booming around 1860 in Andalucía Madrid had very little Flamenco, and even in the days of Antonio Chacon and Ramon Montoya it was only a commercial center, never a real home to Flamenco. Madrid does attract some of the best Flamenco artists because there is paying work in their art, in clubs and in the recording industry. Others refuse to work there on the grounds that it destroys the artistic soul to sing or play in the Tablaos. Antonio Sanchez, a Toacaor who raised his son Francisco, better known as Paco de Lucía, to be the best Flamenco guitarist, would not allow young Paco to play in the Tablaos of Madrid, despite offers of considerable payment. Several years later Paco made his home in Madrid when he became very busy in the recording industry.
Those artists who do reside in Madrid sometimes gather for juergas but whenever they are discovered by tourists they change the location. Flamenco is a living, breathing cultural art in the Pueblos of Lebrija, Utrera, and Morón de la Frontera, as well as the cities and environs of Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Sevilla, and Córdoba. The Northerners have always found it excessively emotional and slightly embarrassing.
"Flamenco Schools Have More Foreigners than Spaniards"
This is another opinion with a long history, and for good reason; Flamenco schools have always been for foreigners or those with no Flamenco in their family. Foreigners, especially Japanese and American, have been more than half of the academic students for decades. Tokyo has over 200 Flamenco dance academies, and all of their students dream of studying in Spain.
Gypsies learn Flamenco in their homes, Andaluces frequent Peñas (private Flamenco clubs). You will never see a bailaora Gitana like Manuela Carrasco coming from a dancing school. The schools produce dancers who dance choreographies in theatrical shows, a venue which is inimical to the art of Flamenco. Ask a Gypsy from Jerez “What do you think of the great dancer Antonio Gades?” and the reply will be a question “Are we talking about a bailaor or a bailarin, a flamenco dancer or a ballet dancer?”
"Flamenco is Distancing Itself from Youth"
Look at the faces in products for sale on flamenco-world.com and deflamenco.com: you will see more young faces than old, more modern music than traditional. It’s true that young Spaniards, and young Andaluces, have a thirst for world culture and world music. It’s also true that they will exit a club at 3 AM after dancing disco for hours, and proceed to dance Bulerías in the street to the palmas and jaléo of their peers. Check out the Romería in Huelva, you will see plenty of young faces.
Another aspect of the Flamenco-youth-new audience equation is that Flamenco is concerned with the tragedies of life, and adults, especially middle-aged and older, are better equipped to express these dark emotions. Antonio Mairena was considered to be in his prime in his 50’s and 60’s. Since Camaron only lived to 40 (and Manzanita into his 40’s as well) it’s hard to tell how he would have matured. Paco de Lucía’s interests and ability to develop them certainly seems to continue growing. Observation of the careers of longer lived Flamencos; Jose Menese, Los Hermanos Habicheula, Manolo SanLúcar, Jose Mercé, Enrique Morente, would seem to indicate that life experience creates depth.
"Flamenco Artists Can't Make a Living in Spain"
Flamenco artists have always had difficulty supporting themselves through their art; and have always toured outside Spain, if possible, to increase their revenue; starting early in the 20th century with Vicente Escudero, La Argentina, La Argentinita, and continuing with Carmen Amaya, Sabicas, Carlos Montoya and many others. Pedro Peña is a school teacher, Miguel Funí is a butcher, Manolo Sanlúcar worked in the family bakery before his fame, Paco Peña became famous in London long before recognition in his home town of Córdoba. The wealth of Manolo Caracol, Camaron de la Isla, and Paco de Lucía is the exception. Few Flamencos make more than a working man’s living. Flamenco as an art is more a way of living than a trade or a profession in which to get rich.
"The History of Flamenco is Unclear"
Where has Mar Roman been? Didn’t Mar do any research for this article? See “Mundo y Formas del Cante Flamenco”, Antonio Mairena y Ricardo Molina; “Gypsies and Flamenco”, Bernard Leblon; “Flamenco”, Claus Schreiner; “Song of the Outcast”, Robin Totten; “What is Flamenco?”, Fernando Quiñones; “The Art of Flamenco”, “A Way of Life”, and “Lives and Legends of Flamenco”, Donn Pohren. Perhaps Mar Roman should watch “Latcho Drom” by Tony Gatlif.
"Franco Embraced Flamenco"
Franco hated Gypsies and anything to do with them. During the Spanish Civil War most Gypsies were Republicans, and Franco’s forces killed many, including the assassination of the great Gypsy poet Federico García Lorca. The theatrical dance companies like that of Pilar Lopez thrived under Franco, but they featured classical dance, even using ballet slippers in some numbers, and what Flamenco they danced was very diluted with pretentious choreographies, theatrical costuming, and castanets in every dance. The cante and baile Flamenco of the family gathering, the back room in the tavern, the village celebration, were severely suppressed. Only when Franco’s economic policies continued to drive the nation to ruin in the 1950’s were resorts built on the Costa del Sol, and Flamenco entertainment hired to entertain tourists. This Flamenco was usually of a shallow nature; business, not art, was the motivation. However, the foreign cliché of the Spain with castanets and tambourines was not created in the 1950’s; it dates from the 19th century. See the drawings of Gustave Doré, and Washington Irving’s “Tales of the Alhambra”.
The extraordinary popularity of Camaron de la Isla and Paco de Lucía from 1970 into the ‘90s created a decent living or better for many flamenco artists. The days of the Gypsy singer Manzanita’s popularity in Madrid, Ketama in Spain, rumba/pop band The Gypsy Kings worldwide, pseudo Flamenco artists like Ottmar Liebert, Benise, Jesse Cook, or Estéban in the US, created a great economic boom for the Flamenco world. This was an exceptional period for Flamencos, and not the historic norm; there is now an adjustment settling in, a balancing.
The explosion of fusions with other world musics, which started with Manolo Sanlúcar’s symphonic Flamenco, Raimundo Amador’s rock/blues Flamenco, and Paco de Lucía’s jazz Flamenco, as well as the massive expansion of guitar techniques and inclusion of pianos, flutes and saxophones is possibly leading Flamenco into a period of theatrically decadent decline somewhat like the Ópera Flamenco period of 1910-1950. However the only people who care, or even notice, are the purists, and that does not include the average Spaniard, who, like the average American, is more concerned with football than the arts.
Ricardo de Cristobal is a Master Flamenco Guitarist and Flamenco Historian with over 50 years experience in the art form.