(by Ricardo de Cristóbal)
From our archives, we thought it was time to post our response from several years ago to AP Entertainment News article “Spain Frets Over Future Of Flamenco, Which Has Failed To Reach Out To New Audiences”
by Mar Roman10-27-2007
Mar Roman has published and perpetuated myth, cultural prejudice, and historically and culturally inaccurate information. This demands a response. Below is reprinted the original article, followed by the response of Ricardo de Cristóbal, an American Tocaor y Flamencólogo.
"Spain Frets Over Flamenco"
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"
"Flamenco is More Popular Among Foreigners"
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"
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"
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"
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"
"The History of Flamenco is Unclear"
"Franco Embraced Flamenco"
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.