A Conversation for Flamenco


Post 1


Congratulations on your entry about Flamenco, it is very good.
Would you like help extending it a bit? talk about some "palos" (kinds of Flamenco dance) and cante?
Let me know, I would love to help smiley - smileysmiley - biggrin


Post 2

Titania (gone for lunch)

This is the first entry I ever wrote (with the intention of getting it into the Edited Guide, anyway) and I originally titled it 'Flamenco Dance' because that's what I intended the entry to be about. It's a bit short, but I meant it primarily as an introduction, for people who don't know the first thing about Flamenco dance.

However, at the time there was no edited entry on Flamenco at all, which is why I felt I had to write a little about the general background of Flamenco - I guess that's why the editor removed the word 'dance' from the entry...

There was a researcher that I had some discussions with, about the other parts of Flamenco. He wrote the entry 'Flamenco Guitar' A974450 but then disappeared, and I haven't heard from him again.

I have so many ideas for entries whirling around in my head that I need to do something about (one of the projects is huge and I'm not sure I'll ever finish it, although I've put in hours and hours of research so far) that I'm not really willing to add yet another project to my list, for the time being.

But if you want to write something - please do!smiley - smiley

I've been thinking that the 'dance' entry and the 'guitar' entry should be replaced by (using parts of these two entries):
1. A general entry on Flamenco
2. An entry on just the dance
3. An entry on just the guitar
4. An entry on just the singing
5. An entry on the different rhythms and styles

Flamenco - The Journey

Post 3

Little Richardjohn

Flamenco as Popular Music
Trying to define where and when a particular form of music began has always been a dangerous game. New evidence is always emerging which makes muesli of finely tuned theories. And at the end of the day, where do you stop? Ultimately, doesn’t all music derive from the hairy discovery that the noise of a bone rapped on a log in time with the human heart makes the body move of its own accord? Or was it from the joy of being able to still a noisy baby by singing to it?

Predicting the future of an art form is even more precarious. The list of extinct cultural species would make an interesting encyclopaedia if only any evidence still remained of their existence. Nevertheless, some things are true, and some things are predictable - if only by comparison with established precedent.

The evolution of Rock music is a case study which is almost too well documented to bother repeating. What it shows us is that while there may not be much similarity between, say, the music of the African Slaves and Bjõrk, there is an inevitability in the development of one from the other. With hindsight, it is quite possible to see how The Blues gave birth to Bjõrk. Socially, the lineage is fairly clear.

Step One. Take millions of Africans away from their homes.

Step Two. Persecute them for generations, only allowing them status as entertainers, and grant them liberty only to interpret the forms of art they see before them in their own style.

Step Three. When those interpretations become more popular and universal than the original forms, disseminate them as widely as possible on the new systems of mass communication (the radio and hi-fi) to influence people all over the world.

And before you can say

Step 4, some bunch of scruffy white youths will fall in love with the product and try to imitate it in their own way. If those kids happen to be called John, Paul, George and Ringo, so much the better. If not, don’t worry, the virus is released and will surely spread and breed and mutate given the right conditions.

It is therefore theoretically possible to at least see the potential for development in a particular style of music from generation to generation. All that is required is the ability to turn hindsight into foresight. What could be simpler? So before know it, a crazy Icelandic genius becomes infected by a descendent of that Liverpudlian strain, and the Bjõrk phenomenon is upon us.

Flamenco is undergoing the same process, and at the moment is roughly at Step Three. The music of the Gypsies was not always called flamenco, and has not always been recognisable as the flamenco we know today. In fact, the Gypsies came from India. Why they had to leave, and why they developed the culture they did is a serious matter for discussion elsewhere, but the fact is that for hundreds of years they were squeezed ever Westward like a bar of soap by the suspicious native populations they encountered along the way.

The great journey took them across the Middle East, divided them north and south around the Mediterranean, until finally, in Spain, they hit the Atlantic and could go no further. By then the Spanish gypsies, that is the ones who had made the full trip, had absorbed influences as various as Persian, Greek, Ottoman, Catholic, Jewish, Egyptian, Moorish, Balkan and Russian. This diversity was invariably reflected in their music and dance, and their reputation as musicians was established very early. In some countries, Greece for example, the word for Gypsy and musician are still the same.

This almost unique combination of cultural origins, combined with a social context of persecution and insecurity is what makes Flamenco the incredibly complex roots art form it is today.

The Blues has a similar story to tell. When it arrived in Britain it provided the musical focus for a creative era which will always be remembered for its championship of the idea of freedom. What could be more fitting than for the music of the gypsies, a nation whose history embodies both the myth of free-roaming liberty and the reality of ruthless persecution, to lead the artistic world into a more idealistic, human, 21st century?

From its origins in northern India, the art of the Spanish Gypsies has come a long way. And could now be the basis for a new popular music. All it needs is for the right people to see the real thing, and for society to be open to change. It should be as inevitable as New Orleans Jazz after the American Civil War, or Duke Ellington after Prohibition, or Elvis after the Second World War.

This process happened in flamenco as each generation absorbed other cultures to express its individuality, and by doing so, changed into something new. It is still happening now, only more so, as Spanish artists are able to exchange ideas freely with the world. The future should be a matter of unanimous anticipation among Flamencos the world

The world of flamenco is currently as divided over its future as it is diverse in its cultural heritage. Leaving aside the traditional family rivalries, which are very entertaining, there are several debates on several issues.

There is the division between those who want flamenco to become more technical and symphonic and classical, and those who believe that its raw, primitive side will enable it to become more accessible and popular.

There are the purists and the fusionists, the preservationists and the adventurers.
Whatever their individual merits, the sheer bulk and intensity of the arguments goes to show how much is at stake, and how many different ways there are now of interpreting the thing we call flamenco. Now that Spain is a democracy, and open to global exchange. Such a volume of debate surrounding a mere art form is surely a sign of immense diversity, depth and sheer creative power. If ever there was a cultural motherlode to be mined, this is it, and already there have been experiments in ‘Jazzmenko’, ‘Bluesmenko’, and even ‘Technomenko’.

These gimcrack labels are causing blood to boil in peñas all over the world. People who care about Flamenco are bound to have strong opinions about the potential exploitation and destruction of their culture, and these views must be respected. But in the world today, trying to shackle an art as adaptable as flamenco is like catching a butterfly with a pickaxe.

We are told that more people are exposed to more cultural influences than ever before. Satellite technology has brought images and information to regions which still do not even have mains electricity or water.

The long term consequences may well be less than palatable. Community identity is a likely first victim of a world in which Rupert Murdoch and Bill Pearly Gates actually own all the information. But in the meantime, for the artist, this is a uniquely interesting time to be alive, at least in terms of the range of influences on offer.

The reactions of flamenco audiences in Britain, plus the still-growing market for ‘World Music’ supports the theory that people are need something more than the bland products of Hollywood and the music business, something less intellectualised than the self-loathing and motion sickness of ‘cutting-edge’ dance and music, and more something more vital and engaging than the museum pieces of the folk preservationists.

So what’s new? People are amazing and have always needed art which exercises the substance between their ears and tingles the bits between their legs. Naturally there will always be those who prefer to be merely comforted. And there will always be those willing to market the more narcotic forms of entertainment, making every day ‘perfect’. There is room for both.

Globalisation is a great help to those who wish to homogenise the cultures of the world into a single easily marketable product. Every advance in communication before and since the railway has threatened the integrity of every culture which happened to be in the way. But the steamroller never quite demolishes everything in its path. The triumph is never complete, and people always emerge from the ruins to insist on telling the world what they think of it. And nothing - not slavery, mechanisation, fascist dictatorships or exile seem to be able to totally quench the flow of human creativity.

The choice facing flamenco is the classic one of stagnation or change. Those who resist change and experiment should be aware that the cultural heritage they seek to preserve is itself the result of a process of continuous change. The only way to arrest that process is to prevent change in society itself, a task to which the dictator Franco dedicated his life.

But Franco and his ideology are long dead. May they both stay that way.

Picasso, Flamenco & 'Duende'

Post 4

Little Richardjohn

When Picasso said 'There is no end to the tricks I learnt from the Gypsies.' He wasn't just talking about learning to smoke a cigarette up his nose, or card tricks. Picasso was exposed to the gypsy concept of Duende (often roughly translated as ‘soul’).at an early age, and it had a lasting effect on his work.

According to his friends, the only music he really cared about was the flamenco cante jondo. The ‘deep’ or profound songs of the flamenco canon such as the ‘Siguiriya’ - the sound that echoes both the dilemma of the bare forked human spirit confronted by a huge impersonal universe and the historic dilemma of the constantly persecuted and exiled gypsy nation. Staring at the stars and wondering ‘Why? and How? Knowing that we are all alone, but realizing that we are able to use that collective loneliness to reinforce the bonds between us. The spirituality of shared solitude.

That is ‘duende’. A dual concept which is a reflection of the futility of humanity in the face of the infinite, but also an affirmation of its unquenchable vitality - a paradox of life and death which was to underpin Picasso’s reason for working.

Picasso’s great friend Lorca formalised this relationship in his theory that duende was an inheritance of the ancient cult of Dionysus, the eternally reborn free spirit of Greek myth. In fact, the gypsies didn’t need the Greeks to invent their philosophy for them, the constant need for them to reinvent and improvise their culture and absorb others gave them their own reasons for seeing the cosmos the way they did.

Nevertheless, Lorca’s interpretation of the essence of duende was one which must have been close to Picasso’s own as the theme of Dionysiac rebirth was one he returned to as artist and man throughout his life. Culminating in what is possibly the greatest cry of ‘Siguiriya’ in history – ‘Guernica’. A cry that is all the greater, and paradoxical, for being in the silent form of a painting.

While his ceramics may not match this achievement, they are water from the same well. It could be argued that the medium of ceramics is a more ‘flamenco’ form than painting. And his synthesis of deeply primal symbols from soil fire and water is surely Picasso insisting that death and life are not as different as we usually think. The affirmation that there is magic in the world, and that we make it. Something the gypsies had known for hundred of years, and which is perhaps the greatest trick they have to teach us all.

Picasso, Flamenco & 'Duende'

Post 5

Titania (gone for lunch)

smiley - book

Bookmarking, will return later to read it through more properly

Picasso, Flamenco & 'Duende'

Post 6

Little Richardjohn

Just out of curiousity, do you have any idea where the 'Peer Review' button is?

I can't find ti.


Post 7

Little Richardjohn


The title of this form derives from the herb Rosemary, or Romero, which gitanos use to purify the stage - especially during the festive picnics - or Romerias - where knowadays there is often as much 'maria' smoked as romero burnt in purification.

Romeras are a bright chico flirtatation with sunlight and air and holidays and food and drink.

Similar in mood to Alegira, but even brighter, and with no silencio to speak of. Romeras are often used as an opener to an evening's flamenco, as a change from the more usual tangos or fandangos or tientos.

Picasso, Flamenco & 'Duende'

Post 8

Titania (gone for lunch)

Little Richardjohn, do you have an h2g2 entry that you want to submit to Peer Review?

I had a quick look at your user page and, judging by the conversation threads, h2g2 wasn't the first BBC site you registered for...

I can only see one h2g2 entry of yours (<./>MA1244517?show=25&type=2</.&gtsmiley - winkeye and as long as the contents of that entry are hidden, you can't submit it to Peer Review.

Picasso, Flamenco & 'Duende'

Post 9

Little Richardjohn

Nope. I don't understand this at all.

Your link takes me to the entry above ('The Journey') and tells me it's hidden for some mysterious reason. Which it obviously isn't.. is it?

I'm not sure I can have any peers if my understanding of this Minoan Labyrinth is as paltry as I suspect.

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