flamenco


flamenco
   Flamenco, a type of Spanish music and dance, first crystallized in its present form in the early eighteenth century, in the gypsy communities of southern Andalusia, particularly in the areas of Seville, Jerez and Cadiz. The origin of the word flamenco is uncertain. One theory is that it is derived from the Arabic words felamengu (itinerant peasant) or flahencon (collection of songs). Another theory is that it was the term used in the sixteenth century to refer to the Flemish ("flamenco") retinue that Charles I brought from Flanders to Spain. Nor is there complete consensus among flamencologists as to the meaning of flamenco or gypsy song commonly called cante jondo, though the majority hold that jondo is a variant of the Spanish word hondo (deep), and thus means deep song. Others believe it is derived from the Hebrew jontoh, referring to songs sung on festive or rest days.
   Cante jondo has clear traces of Arabic and Spanish folk melodies, as well as vestiges of Byzantine, Christian and Jewish religious music, the saeta being an example of the latter. The music expresses the sorrows and joys (though the former predominate) of daily life, and the songs often commence with a prolonged, plaintive ¡Ay!, echoing the nocturnal lament of a tribe wandering in unknown lands. There are many sub-species of flamenco song and these different styles are sometimes divided into cante grande (grand song) and cante chico (small song), though some reject this classification, as each of the various styles has its own inherent difficulties. However, examples of cante grande would include the unaccompanied tonás, the fragüeros or martinetes (originating in the blacksmiths" forges, with the beat of the hammer and anvil), siguiriyas, soleares and the prison songs, or carceleras. Examples of the brighter cante chico include bulerías, tangos, alegrías, fandangos, sevillanas and malagueñas, the last two named after their places of origin. The male or female flamenco singer is called cantaor or cantaora respectively. One of the most heralded singers until his death in 1992 was the diminutive Camarón de la Isla (The Shrimp of San Fernando). Over the years payos (non-gypsies) have entered flamenco circles and some, like Silverio, Chacón or Pepe de la Matrona became acclaimed performers. Sometimes a singer is said to possess duende, an indescribable and illusive inspirational spirit that elevates a performance to high art.
   By the mid-1900s much that was being passed off as flamenco was a debased spectacle delivered as cheap tourist entertainment. However, true flamenco is still alive in the intimate gatherings and spontaneous communal juergas (parties) held in family patios, local flamenco peñas (clubs), or the prestigious Andalusian cante jondo festivals.
   Further reading
   - Caba Landa, C. and P. (1988) Andalucía, su comunismo y su cante jondo, Cadiz: University of Cadiz.
   - Pohren, D.E. (1984) The Art of Flamenco, UK: Musical New Services Ltd.
   - Ríos Ruiz, M. (1988) Introducción al Cante Flamenco, Madrid: Ediciones Istmo.
   JUAN SERRANO

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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