Origins Flamenco was born in Andalusia, the "Kingdom of the Guitar." Yet no one knows for certain how it was born. Some say the Gypsies invented it: and the fact is that today Flamenco has become almost a Gypsy monopoly, with Gypsies providing the best dancing and singing.
Others say the Moors invented Flamenco — and this seems closer to the truth. The Flamenco song, which at times becomes a long-drawn-out cry, at the top of the lungs, resembles the Moorish muezzin, the cry-to-prayer from the top of a minaret.
Suffice it to say that, like everything else in Spain, Flamenco is a "melting pot" of influences, and has evolved with the country as a whole.
After the Reconquest, the great Moorish universities of Andalusia, especially Cordoba, were destroyed. Only the common people kept alive the Moorish heritage, and this evolved in the following centuries. At first. Flamenco was merely song; the guitars and the dancing were added centuries later.
Elements of Flamenco These are three: song, dance, and guitar.
Song: This was originally all of Flamenco: simple ballads sung around the fire, in the home, at the tavern. These songs were not "written" by musicians and then sung. They were improvised spontaneously by the singer. They always described highly personal emotions of the singer: joy, sorrow, hope, lost loves, memories, etc. Usually, though, the emotion was sad, and the tone of the song wistful. Flamenco has been called "A publication of the bad news of humanity." It's almost always "serious" things that are described — not light-hearted, carefree moon-in-June sentiments.
Since the Flamenco song is personal, the words are important. Originally, the "song" was nothing but a little spontaneous poetry, half-spoken, half-sung, with no accompaniment. There is nothing "literary" about Flamenco. Flamenco singers won't touch anything concocted by an academic writer. However, the study of Flamenco has become, recently, a literary subject. At the university in Jerez de la Frontera, there is a professorship of Flamencology!
The condition of the singer is important: his best singing is done in a trance-like state, induced partly by Andalusian wine, by tapas, by the intimate surroundings (preferably a small room), and by the women in the audience. The "Oles!" shouted by the onlookers, their clapping, shouts, and laughter contribute to the singer's inspiration. Singer and audience create a mutual-feedback situation; which is why Flamenco could never be sung in a concert hall.
Dance: Some say that the word "flamenco" comes from a Spanish word for "slender," alluding to the figure of the dancers. And certainly today, the dancing is the most conspicuous aspect of the performance. The dances are of various sorts: fandangos, sevillanas (coming from patio-dancing in Seville), tangos, or romeras; and there are many others. The vigor and rapidity of the floor-stamping originated in the attempt to express physically the intensity of feeling in the singer-composer. Foreign visitors tend to look only at the stamping feet. But hands, fingers, and wrist movements, while less spectacular, tell you more of the story being sung.
Guitar: The guitar keeps the melody going amid the floor-pounding of the dancers. In Flamenco, it is not the "leading" element, but only an accompaniment, though occasionally the guitarist will perform a solo number while the singers are resting between stanzas.
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