Flamenco: A Brief History

Insight Guide to Spain  London, 7th Edition, 2001, 1,500 words; adapted extracts  

The flamenco community talks about its history one way, and those outside it see it in a quite different way. Joaqun San Juan, the director of Madrid's Amor de Dios flamenco school, wrote this piece and then we worked together on its cultural translation. These are short extracts touching on a few of the basics.

Also see: Sordera & Family

In the 1920s, when intellectuals such as poet Federico Garca Lorca believed flamenco was a dying art form, the myth grew up that only unpaid flamenco was authentic. In fact, its creative innovators have always included professional artists.

That is true even of its earliest development in Renaissance times, when Gypsy singers at cattle-fairs and horse-markets were adding complex rhythms, expressive vocals and, above all, an innate sense of suffering to Castilian romances....

By 1800 travellers were chancing upon flamenco in the popular quarters of Seville, Jerez and Cdiz, and it was making its way into taverns, variety theatres and dance academies....

By 1800 travellers were chancing upon flamenco in the popular quarters of Seville, Jerez and Cdiz, and it was making its way into taverns, variety theatres and dance academies.... Giacomo Casanova was one of the first to note it in his diary, drawn by its erotic power. But it was another fifty years before the performance shape we know today began to find form in cafs cantantes - literally singing cafs, or cafs with small stages....

....

Song remains flamenco's essential form of expression. The singers, called cantaores, may shift from top to bottom notes within a few seconds in search of what singer Manuel Torres once famously called "black sounds".  But for aficianados and flamencos themselves, technique is secondary to the expression of emotion, and it is the courage implicit in that - thrilling, painful - which marks out the great voices of each generation.... In the 1970s Camarn de la Isla took cante jondo, or deep song, flamenco's most tragic family of song-styles, to a far wider Spanish and international audience. His early death in 1992, at the age of 42, still casts a huge shadow over flamenco today.

EVOLUTION: GUITAR & DANCE

In flamenco guitar, too, virtuosity is second to depth of feeling as conveyed through a strong rhythmic baseline, warmth of tone and a vast array of chords that carry a particular human quality.

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