By Alicia Johnson


Flamenco is a very important and defining aspect of the Spanish culture. It is a type of Spanish music and dance that has been focused in the province, Andalusia, of Southern Spain. It was originally used as a “musical outlet of the poor and oppressed” (1) and was then passed on orally from generation to generation. Flamenco is considered a tripartite art because it included the combination of guitar playing (toque), singing (cante), and dance (baile). It also involves the use of rhythmic punctuations, such as handclaps, that are also thought of as an art form. There are countless different forms of flamenco that are often named after the areas where they are from. For example “Tangos de Malaga” is a variation from Malaga while “Sevillanas” was created in Seville. (6) There are also other individual versions of flamenco with distinct names such as “soleares, alegerís, zapateado” and more. (1) Each form is defined by its own rhythm, melody, harmony and mood. Today, this genre of music and dance is seen all over the world and taught in a large number of countries.


250px-Localización_de_Andalucía.pngElements of flamenco originated during the 16th century with the mix of multiple cultures. These groups of individuals included Gypsies, Arabs who were also known as Moors, Jews and the indigenous people of Andalusia. However, it is argued that there is a lack of historical evidence to prove the true development of flamenco. (3) One reason is because it developed within the lower classes of Andalusia. Therefore, it lacked prestige compared to other art forms seen in the higher social classes. As a result, the use of flamenco music swayed back and forth in popularity. A second reason is due to the difficult times the people involved in this culture had to go through. The Jews, Moors, and Gitanos had been persecuted and most were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition of 1492. (4) Then for the time being, the Gitanos, which refers to the Romani people in Spain, were played a vital role in preserving the flamenco art form. In order to do this, they orally passed on their ideas and traditions so new generations were able to learn songs by watching performances in their community. Lastly, historians and musicologists generally lacked interest. They possessed an insufficient amount of training in these areas and they relied on a small number of sources when doing research. Nationalistic and ethnic bias had also influenced the perception of this form of art. By the late 1970's this finally began to change when an increasing number of musicologists and historians began to complete more in depth research about flamenco.

The Meaning of Flamenco

carmen1.jpgAlong with the dispute of how flamenco originated, there are even questions of what the term actually means. During the 19th century, the word flamenco was used to describe the lifestyle of this music, which mostly included the culture of Gypsies. As a result, a writer said that flamenco is a synonym for “Gypsy”. However, another writer argued that this term comes from the Hispanic-Arabic term "fallahmengu”, which is interpreted as “expelled peasant”. (4) Yet there is also a problem regarding this hypothesis. The meaning, expelled peasant, is connected to "the ethnic Andalusians of Muslim faith" (4), who were associated with the Gypsies in order to escape religious persecution.


clip_image001.jpgEven though several details of flamenco’s development are uncertain, there is evidence that proves it was created in Andalusia when the Arabs ruledthe country of Spain. (3) During this time, the Christian and Jewish people altered its music and instruments. This was changed even further by the gypsies, which soon created a completely separate form of music.

During the years of 1765 and 1860, “the first Flamenco-schools were created in Cadiz, Jerez de la Frontera and Triana (Seville)” (3). This is when flamenco started becoming more popular within the culture of Southern Spain. Earlier in history, flamenco focused more on vocals with rhythmical clapping but at this time, the genre of music was introduced to guitar playing.

From year 1869 to1910, flamenco reached its Golden Age. The music developed swiftly in music cafés, which was also known as the "cafe cantante period". (4) It soon became a major attraction for the public to view and the performers began to receive an excellent reputation. Along with the changes in flamenco dancing, the guitar players who supported the dancers also gained a better reputation and soon became solo performers and a new art form began.
flamenco4.jpgA very significant artist during this development was a non-Gypsy from Italy named Silverio Franconetti. This man was known to be the "first encyclopedic singer" (4), which means he was able to sing well in all elements of flamenco music rather than focusing on a few of them. Later, he opened a café where himself as well as other flamenco artists could perform. Several venues like this also began to open throughout Andalusia and Spain. At this time, flamenco and its association to the Gypsies also became more popular throughout Europe. Artists who created music and operas often wrote what they thought would correlate to the themes of their culture. It had reached a point where it was vital for any travel to see this kind of performance and soon much of the other people who lived in Spain were also connected to the Gypsies and flamenco. (7) This great fascination with the folklore throughout these years allowed flamenco to evolve even further and become more well known.
In between the years 1910 to 1955, the singing involved was pronounced by “as [an] easier kind of music such as fandangos and cantes de ida y Valetta” (3), which presented different influences from places like South America. Then in 1955, a flamenco renaissance began. A widely known performer, Antonio Mairena acted as the figure of this rebirth. It was a time when great dancers and soloists began performing in grand theaters and concert houses. Guitar players achieved great praise for their music and instead of just featuring the dancers, the flamenco guitar became an even more prominent soloist form of music. For example, Paco de Lucia was a magnificent virtuoso who played a large part in this change.

Meanwhile, flamenco had also had a Theatrical Period from 1892 to 1956. It was when performances went from cafés to larger venues such as theaters. As a result, the popularity of flamenco increased dramatically. However, according to traditionalist critics, it became subjected to economic interest and commercialism. Several new variations of flamenco were created and it started being mixed with "other music genres and theatrical interludes". (4) One of the most popular artists during this time was Pepe Marchena, whose sweet voice and remarkable vocal runs, influenced a whole new generation of singers. Many singers who had grown up performing in the cafés became less popular while those who adapted to the new trends grew to be well known.(7) Eventually, mass media spread the ideas of flamenco and made it even more well liked around the world. Through its long history and many changes, flamenco has always been and will forever continue to be an intimate and cultural genre of music.

Works Cited

(1) http://www.classicalguitarmidi.com/history/flamenco.html

(2) http://www.enforex.com/culture/flamenco.html

(3) http://www.red2000.com/spain/flamenco/history.html

(4) http://www.timenet.org/detail.html

(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flamenco

(6) Haas, Ken, and Gwynne Edwards. Flamenco! New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000. Print.

(7) Pohren, D E. The Art of Flamenco. Jerez de la Frontera, Spain: Jerez Industrial, 1962. Print.