Spanish flamenco: origins and history
Strictly come dancing! And hopefully, dancing Spanish flamenco, a feat in which you could take absolute pride if you get to dance in a graceful manner.
Flamenco is a Spanish dance that could be translated as Flamingo dance. However, it is universally known and acclaimed as flamenco.
FLAMENCO ORIGINS: WHERE AND WHEN
Spanish flamenco has had an evolution that makes us think of what happened to jazz in the US. As you may remember well, jazz started out as a music and dance genre enjoyed by those who were still segregated. The most fundamental representatives of those emerging forms of jazz were not academic musicians, but people who had to learn the ropes of their instruments the hard way.
We will later see that jazz and flamenco even intersect at certain moments.
Flamenco is a whole form of art of which the most recognized and spread expressions are its music and the accompanying, unique dance.
You may as well say its origins are rather humble. In fact, it develops within the gypsy/gitano subculture that flourished in Southern Spain, and more exactly in Andalusia, Extremadura, and Murcia.
Flamenco is nearly uniquely associated with ethnically Romani gitanos, whose origins trace them back to the Indian subcontinent.
An Indo-Aryan ethnic group, the Romani came from many places in Europe, including Anatolia (comprising almost the whole territory of modern Turkey), and they have spread literally around the world, including the Americas.
Among the Romani’s culturally most important historic figures (or at least of Romani descent), we can name guitarist Django Reinhardt, actress Margarita Cansino (better known as Rita Hayworth), actors Yul Brynner, Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine, etc.
Specifically, the area where this artistic expression had its strongest drive can be located in Cadiz and, still more accurately, Jerez de la Frontera. In José Cadalso’s book 1774 book Las Cartas Marruecas, you may find the oldest evidence of flamenco’s existence.
Despite its Romani origins, flamenco representatives come from both the Spanish gitano and non-gitano sides.
HOW FLAMENCO SPREAD
In 1783, King Carlos III enacted legislation allowing the regulation of the Spanish gitano population, leading to an improvement in their legal status.
Fed by a feeling of cultural pride opposing the trend to be “gallified” or pro-French -upon the Enlightenment-, Spanish flamenco, along with bullfighting (also originated from the gitano subculture), became “part of the Spanish cultural expression” from the end of the 19th – the start of the 20th century, the time when the “costumbrismo andaluz” or “Andalusian Mannerism” was at its peak.
Naturally, it had its detractors. Generation of 98 intellectuals, spearheaded by Madrid writer Eugenio Noel, who in his youth was a militant casticista (this is, a defender of a supposed Spanish purity).
The only members from this historic group of authors and thinkers who did not fight flamenco and bullfighting were the Machado brothers since, being Sevillians, had a wider idea of what flamenco was about.
TOWARD THE ACADEMIC LEGITIMATION
As time went by, flamencología came in during the 1950s. Flamencología (translatable as “flamencology) was the result of applying modern musicology’s methods and techniques to flamenco, making this art still more culturally legitimate.
Thus, there was the National Contest of Cante Jondo de Córdoba in 1956, while in 1958 the first flamencology chair was established in Jerez de la Frontera. This is the oldest academic institution that studies, researches, divulgates, and defends flamenco.
Since 2018, a master’s degree in flamenco research analysis is taught at several universities.
By the end of the 60s and over the course of the 70s, important artists such as guitar player Paco de Lucía and cantaor (singer) Camarón de la Isla (born José Monje Cruz) make nine groundbreaking flamenco recordings that received critical and commercial acclaim. An extremely gifted player, Paco de Lucía would go on to favor the fusion between jazz and flamenco.
However, it would be singer Rocío Jurado who, during the 70s, would make flamenco known to popular audiences in Spain and Latin America. Among her heiresses, we need to mention Rosalía, a young representative of the new flamenco.
Or just find your favorite flamenco rock band. Yes, that is a thing, too.
TRADITIONAL SPANISH DANCE DRESS
The traje de flamenca (flamenco outfit) or traje de gitana (gitana outfit) is so well known that some foreigners could get to the extent of assuming that such is the Spanish national outfit. However, regardless of the fact that flamenco is of Roma or Romani origin, some consider the outfit to be typically Andalusian.
The traje is trimmed with layers of ruffles on both the typical skirt, which allows for enhanced freedom of movement, and the sleeves.
It is topped with a shawl (mantón de Manila) that is put on over the shoulders. The outfit can be polka dotted (traje de lunares). The bailaora (dancer) will have her hair arranged in a flowered bun, at times with a decorative comb.
WHAT FLAMENCO IS NOT: SEVILLANAS
It is worth noting that sevillanas, derived from the Seguidilla, were influenced by flamenco in the 19th century but are by no means to be considered flamenco, but a style of folk music and dance from Sevilla.
Additionally, sevillanas are musically not as complex or do not have the grandeur of flamenco, but have plenty of lyrics based on simple topics, namely love themes, pilgrimage, country life, etc.
If you want to hear sevillanas, go to the Seville Fair (Feria de abril de Sevilla). Groups of the likes of Los Romeros de la Puebla, Los Amigos de Gines, Las Corraleras de Lebrija, Cantores de Hispalis, and Los del Río, are notable for performing sevillanas.
And if you are looking for a sevillana with a religious motif, there are the Sevillanas Rocieras, focused on the Virgin of the Rocío.
SOME REPRESENTATIVES OF FLAMENCO
- Camarón de la Isla – an all-time flamenco legend
- Paco de Lucia – a Spanish virtuoso of the flamenco guitar, also a composer, and producer
- David Peña Dorantes – an ethnic Roma pianist and composer from Andalusia, specialized in flamenco
- Niño Josele – a guitarist, is a representative of New Flamenco
- Rocío Jurado – nicknamed La más grande (the greatest)
- Cristina Hoyos – she was the highlight of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics
- María Pagés – spearheading flamenco in our times