There are questions not only about the origins of flamenco, but also about the origins of the word itself. George Borrow claims the word flemenc [sic] is synonymous with “gypsy”. Blas Infante, in his book Orígenes de los Flamencos y Secreto del Cante Jondo, argued that flamenco comes from the Arabic word fellahmengu, meaning “expelled peasant” after the end of the Moorish reign.chicarada means dance of the young ones.
Other hypotheses include connections with Flanders (flamenco also means Flemish in Spanish), believed by Spanish people to be the origin of the Gypsies, or the flamante (ardent) execution by the performers, or the flamingos.
Moorish influence in the Iberian Peninsula goes back thousands of years, but it was the Islamic invasion in 711 that brought the main musical influences. The conquerors brought their music, and were in turn influenced by native Spanish forms.
The Emirate, and later Caliphate of Córdoba became a major center of influence in both the Muslim and Christian worlds, attracting musicians from all Islamic countries. One such was Zyriab, who revolutionized the shape and techniques of the oud, adding a fifth string, and set the foundations for Andalusian nuba.
Centuries later, aspects of this “Moorish guitar” combined with the European lute and guitar latina to create the vihuela, which in turn influenced the baroque guitar, the precursor to the classical guitar – the basis of the flamenco guitar, and all other guitars in popular usage today.
The Jews were an important group in al-Andalus, able to maintain their own traditions, rites, and music under a culture of religious tolerance fostered by the Moorish rulers. Certain flamenco palos like the Peteneras and saetas have been attributed a direct Jewish origin .
Some claim the middle-eastern influences on southern Spain’s music as clear. To what extent this eastern flavour is owed to the Moors, the Jews, the Catholic Mozarabic rite, and the Gypsies is impossible to determine.
Long before the Moorish invasion, Visigothic Spain had its own liturgic music, the Visigothic rite (also known as the Mozarabic rite), which was strongly influenced by Byzantium. Cut off in Moorish ruled Al-Andalus from the rest of western Christian Europe, it survived the Gregorian reforms of the western Catholic liturgy and the Moorish invasion, persisting until at least the 12th century. Manuel de Falla’s theory links the melismatic forms and the Phrygian mode in flamenco to this Catholic rite. Unfortunately, due to the musical notation used to record them, it is not known what the chants sounded like, so the theory remains unproven.
The influence of the New World
It is believed that when Spain colonized the New World, they brought back the influence of Latin American dance steps and music. It would appear the fandango picked up dance steps deemed too inappropriate for European tastes. Thus, the dance for fandango, for chacon, and for zarabanda, were all banned in Europe at one time or another. References to Gypsy dancers can be found in the lyrics david sara of some of these forms, e.g., the chacon. Indeed, Gypsy dancers are often mentioned in Spanish literary and musical works from the 1500s on. However, the zarabandas and jácaras are the oldest written musical forms in Spain to use the 12-beat metre, a combination of terciary and binary rhythms. The basic rhythm of the zarabanda and the jácara is 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12. The soleá and the Seguidilla, are variations on this; they just start the metre in a different beat.
The rise of Flamenco
Early flamencologists were amateurs and relied for historical data on a limited number of sources (mainly the work of 19th century folklorist Demófilo, and notes by foreign travellers. This started to change in the 1980s, when flamenco began to be studied in conservatoriums, and musicologists and historians such as Rios Ruiz and Álvarez Caballero began to carry out more rigorous research. (Ríos Ruiz, 1997:14).
The first mention of flamenco in literature is in 1774 in the book Cartas Marruecas by José Cadalso. Traditional flamencologists, like Molina and Mairena, called the period 1780-1850 “The Hermetic Period” when flamenco was secretly danced in Gypsy homes in the Seville and Cádiz area. Álvarez Caballero (1998) went further, stating that if there is no record of flamenco before the late 1780’s, it is because flamenco simply did not exist.
José Blas Vega has denied the absence of evidence for this period:
Nowadays, we know that there are hundreds and hundreds of data which allow us to know in detail what flamenco was from 1760 until 1860. . .the theatre movement of sainetes (one-act plays) and tonadillas, the popular songbooks and song sheets, the narrations and descriptions from travelers describing customs, the technical studies of dances and toques, the musical scores, the newspapers, the graphic documents in paintings and engravings; and all of this with no interruptions, in continuous evolution together with the rhythm, the poetic stanzas, and the ambience.
There is disagreement as to whether primitive flamenco was accompanied by instruments. The traditional view is that flamenco was originally unaccompanied singing (cante). Later, the songs were accompanied by flamenco guitar (toque), rhythmic hand clapping (palmas), rhythmic feet stomping (zapateado) and dance (baile). Other scholars maintain that while some cante forms are unaccompanied (a palo seco), it is likely other forms were accompanied if and when instruments were available. 19th century writer Estébanez Calderón described a flamenco fiesta in which the singing was accompanied not only by guitars, but also bandurria and tambourine.
The Golden Age
During the Golden Age of Flamenco, between 1869–1910, flamenco developed rapidly in cafés cantantes, a new type of venue offering ticketed public performances. Dancers became a public attraction. Guitar players supporting the dancers increasingly gained a reputation, and so flamenco guitar as an art form was born. A most important artist in this development was Silverio Franconetti, a non-Gypsy seaman of Italian descent. He is said to be the first “encyclopedic” singer, that is, the first able to sing well in all palos, instead of specializing as was usual at the time. He opened his own café cantante, where he sang and invited other artists to perform, and many other venues of this kind were created in Andalusia and Spain.
Traditional flamenco commentators such as Demófilo see this period as the start of the commercial debasement of flamenco. The traditional flamenco fiesta is small (fewer than 20 people) and organic – there is no telling when it will begin or end, if the artists invited will even turn up, or at what hour they will perform. By contrast, the café cantante offered set performances at set hours and top artists were contracted to perform. For some, this was crass commercialism, while for others it stimulated creativity and technical competence.
In fact, most flamenco forms now considered “traditional” were created or developed during this time or have been attributed to singers of this period like El Loco Mateo, El Nitri, Rojo el Alpargatero,Enrique el Mellizo, Paquirri El Guanté, or La Serneta.
In the 19th century, the perceived “romance” of flamenco and the Gypsies became popular throughout Europe. Composers wrote music and operas on what they thought were Gypsy-flamenco themes. A flamenco show became an essential part of any trip to Spain, even outside Andalusia.
In 1922, one of Spain’s greatest writers, Federico García Lorca, and renowned composer Manuel de Falla, organised the Concurso de Cante Jondo, a festival dedicated to cante jondo (“deep song”), to stimulate interest in “uncommercial” styles of flamenco, which were falling into disuse. The initiative made little difference.
The “Theatrical” period
The period after the Concurso de Cante Jondo in 1922 is known as Etapa teatral (Theatrical period) or Ópera flamenca period, so-called because the impresario Vedrines called his shows opera, to take advantage of lower taxes offered to opera performances. The cafés cantante were gradually replaced by larger venues like theatres or bullrings. Flamenco became immensely popular but, in the view of purists, hopelessly over-commercialised. In the new shows, flamenco was mixed with other genres and theatre interludes portraying picturesque scenes by Gitanos and Andalusians.
The dominant palos of this era were the personal fandango, the cantes de ida y vuelta (songs of Latin American origin) and songs in bulería style. Personal fandangos were based on Huelva traditional styles with a free rhythm (cante libre) and with an emphasis on virtuoso variations. The (Canción por bulerías) adapted popular songs to the bulería rhythm. This period also saw the birth of a new genre, sometimes called copla andaluza (Andalusian couplet) or canción española (Spanish song), a ballad style mixing zarzuela, Andalusian folk songs and flamenco, usually with orchestral accompaniment.
The leading artist at the time was Pepe Marchena, who sang in a sweet falsetto voice, using spectacular vocal runs reminiscent of bel canto coloratura. A generation of singers was influenced by him and some, like Pepe Pinto, or Juan Valderrama also reached immense celebrity. Many singers from the café cantante fell into obscurity. Others, like Tomás Pavón or Aurelio Sellé, found refuge in private parties. The rest adapted to the new tastes, taking part in the shows, while still preserving some of the old styles, e.g. La Niña de los Peines, Manolo Caracol, Manuel Vallejo, El Carbonerillo.
Traditionalists maintain that the opera flamenca became a “dictatorship” (Álvarez Caballero 1998), which non-authentic dances almost caused traditional flamenco to disappear. Other critics disagree(See Ríos Ruiz 1997:40-43): great figures of traditional cante like La Niña de los Peines or Manolo Caracol enjoyed great success, and palos like siguiriyas or soleá were never completely abandoned, not even by the most representative singers of the ópera flamenca style like Marchena or Valderrama.
Singers of the period like Marchena, Valderrama, Pepe Pinto or El Pena, have also been reappraised. Singers like Luis de Córdoba, Enrique Morente or Mayte Martín started to rescue their repertoire, recording the songs they had created or developed. A new generations of singers claim their influence. Critics like Antonio Ortega or Ortiz Nuevo have also vindicated the artists of the ópera flamenca period.
Traditional flamenco artists never received any formal training: they learned by listening and watching relatives, friends and neighbours. Some artists are still self-taught, but these days, it is more common for dancers and guitarists (and sometimes even singers) to be professionally trained. Some guitarists can even read music and study others styles like classical guitar or jazz, and many dancers take courses in contemporary dance or Classical Spanish ballet as well as flamenco.
Flamenco occurs in three settings. The first and most traditional is the juerga an informal, spontaneous gypsy gathering (rather like a jazz “jam session”). This can include dancing, singing, palmas (hand clapping), or simply pounding in rhythm on an old orange crate or a table. Flamenco, in this context, is organic and dynamic: it adapts to the local talent, instrumentation, and mood of the audience. One tradition remains firmly in place: the cantaores(singers) are the heart and soul of the performance. A Peña Flamenca is a meeting place or grouping of Flamenco musicians or artists.
The professional concert is more formal. A traditional singing performance has only a singer and one guitar, while a dance concert usually includes two or three guitars, one or more singers (singing in turns, as in traditional flamenco singers always sing solo), and one or more dancers. One of the singers may play the cajon, and all performers will play palmas when not required for other duties. Alternatively, there may be a dedicated cajon player and one or more palmeras. The so-called Nuevo Flamenco New flamenco may include flutes or saxophones, piano or other keyboards, or even the bass guitar and the electric guitar. Camarón de la Isla was one artist who popularized this style.
Finally there is the theatrical presentation of flamenco, which uses flamenco technique and music but is closer in presentation to a ballet performance, with musicians in the orchestra pit, scenery, lighting etc.
Performers in Seville
Flamenco music styles are called palos. Songs are classified into palos based on criteria such as basic rhythmic pattern, mode, chord progression, form of the stanza, and geographic origin. There are over 50 different palos flamenco, although some are rarely performed. For a complete explanation, see the main Wikipedia entry on Palo (flamenco).
Some of the forms are sung unaccompanied, while others usually have guitar or other accompaniment. Some forms are danced while others traditionally are not. Some are traditionally the reserve of men and others of women, while some may be performed by either. Many of these distinctions are breaking down; for example, the Farruca is now commonly performed by women too.
Palos are traditionally classified into three groups. The most serious forms are known as cante jondo (or cante grande), while lighter, frivolous forms are called cante chico. Other considerations factor into classification, such as whether the palo is considered to be of gypsy origin or not. Forms which do not fit either category are classified as cante intermedio.
Whereas, in Western music, it is usually only the major and minor modes which are explicitly named by composers, flamenco has also preserved the Dorian or Phrygian mode. Flamencologists like Hipólito Rossy (Rossy 1998: 19–36) and Manolo Sanlúcar view the flamenco mode as a direct survival of the Greek Dorian mode. That term is preferred because in ancient Greek music, melodies were descending (instead of ascending as in Western music), and this is also seen in flamenco. The rest of the article, however, will use the term “Phrygian”, as this is the more familiar terminology.
The Phrygian mode is most common in the traditional palos, e.g. soleá, most bulerías, siguiriyas, tangos and tientos (Rossy 1998:82). The flamenco version of this mode contains two frequent alterations in the 7th and more often, the 3rd degree of the scale: if the scale is played in E Phrygian for example, G and D can be sharp. Such augmentation results in the Phrygian Dominant mode of that key.
Descending E Phrygian scale in flamenco music, with common alterations in parentheses
G sharp is compulsory for the tonic chord. Based on the Phrygian scale, a typical cadence is formed, usually called “Andalusian cadence”. The chords in E Phrygian are Am–G–F–E. According to Manolo Sanlúcar, in this mode, E is the tonic, F would take the harmonic function of dominant, while Am and G assume the functions of subdominant and mediant respectively.
When playing using the Phrygian mode, guitarists traditionally use only two basic positions for the tonic chord (music): E and A. However, they often transpose these basic tones by using a capo. Modern guitarists such as Ramón Montoya, have also introduced other positions. Montoya himself started to use other chords for the tonic in the doric sections of several palos: F sharp for tarantas, B for granaína, A flat for the minera, and he also created a new palo as solo piece for the guitar, the rondeña, in C sharp with scordatura. Later guitarists have further extended the repertoire of tonalities, chord positions and scordatura.
There are also palos in major mode, e.g. most cantiñas and alegrías, guajiras, some bulerías and tonás, and the cabales (a major type of siguiriyas). The minor mode is restricted to the Farruca, the milongas (among cantes de ida y vuelta), and some styles of tangos, bulerías, etc. In general, traditional palos in major and minor mode are limited harmonically to the typical two-chord (tonic–dominant) or three-chord structure (tonic–subdominant–dominant) (Rossy 1998:92). However, modern guitarists have increased the traditional harmony by introducing chord substitution, transition chords, and even modulation.
Fandangos and the palos derived from it (e.g. malagueñas, tarantas, cartageneras) are bimodal. Guitar introductions are in Phrygian mode, while the singing develops in major mode, modulating to Phrygian mode at the end of the stanza. (Rossy 1998:92)
Traditionally, flamenco guitarists did not receive any formal training, relying on their ear to find the chords, disregarding the rules of Western classical music. This led them to interesting harmonic findings, with unusual unresolved dissonances (Rossy 1998:88). Examples of this are the use of minor 9th chords for the tonic, the tonic chord of tarantas, or the use of the 1st ‘unstopped’ string as a kind of pedal tone.
Dionisio Preciado, quoted by Sabas de Hoces established the following characteristics for the melodies of flamenco singing:
1. Microtonality: presence of intervals smaller than the semitone.
2. Portamento: frequently, the change from one note to another is done in a smooth transition, rather than using discrete intervals.
3. Short tessitura or range: Most traditional flamenco songs are limited to a range of a sixth (four tones and a half). The impression of vocal effort is the result of using different timbres, and variety is accomplished by the use of microtones.
4. Use of enharmonic scale. While in equal temperament scales, enharmonics are notes with identical name but different spellings (e.g. A flat and G sharp), in flamenco, as in unequal temperament scales, there is a microtonal intervalic difference between enharmonic notes.
5. Insistence on a note and its contiguous chromatic notes (also frequent in the guitar), producing a sense of urgency.
6. Baroque ornamentation, with an expressive, rather than merely aesthetic function.
7. Greek Dorian mode (modern Phrygian mode) in the most traditional songs.
8. Apparent lack of regular rhythm, especially in the siguiriyas: the melodic rhythm of the sung line is different from the metric rhythm of the accompaniment.
9. Most styles express sad and bitter feelings.
10. Melodic improvisation. Although flamenco singing is not, strictly speaking, improvised, but based on a relatively small number of traditional songs, singers add variations on the spur of the moment.
Musicologist Hipólito Rossy adds the following characteristics (Rossy 1998: 94):
* Flamenco melodies are characterized by a descending tendency, as opposed to, for example, a typical opera aria, they usually go from the higher pitches to the lower ones, and from forte to piano, as was usual in ancient Greek scales.
* In many styles, such as soléa or siguiriya, the melody tends to proceed in contiguous degrees of the scale. Skips of a third or a fourth are rarer. However, in fandangos and fandango-derived styles, fourths and sixths can often be found, especially at the beginning of each line of verse. According to Rossy, this would be a proof of the more recent creation of this type of songs, which would be influenced by the Castilian jota.
Compás is the Spanish word for metre and time signature in classical music theory. It also refers to the rhythmic cycle, or layout, of a palo.
The compás is fundamental to flamenco. Without it, there is no flamenco. Compás is more than the division of beats and accentuations it is the backbone of this musical form. If there is no guitarist available, the compás is rendered through hand clapping (palmas) or by hitting a table with the knuckles. This is also sometimes done in recordings especially for bulerías. The guitar also has an important function, using techniques like strumming (rasgueado) or tapping the soundboard. Changes of chords also emphasize the most important downbeats.
Flamenco uses three basic counts or measures: Binary, Ternary and the (unique to flamenco) twelve-beat cycle. There are also free-form styles including, among others, the tonás, saetas, malagueñas, tarantos, and some types of fandangos.
* Rhythms in 2/4 or 4/4. These metres are used in forms like tangos, tientos, gypsy rumba, zambra and tanguillos.
* Rhythms in 3/4. These are typical of fandangos and sevillanas, thereby illustrating their origin as non-Gypsy styles, since the 3/4 and 4/4 measures are common throughout the Western world but not within the ethnic Gypsy, nor Hindi musics.
* 12-beat rhythms usually rendered in amalgams of 6/8 + 3/4 and sometimes 12/8. The 12 beat cycle is the most common in flamenco, differentiated by the accentuation of the beats in different palos. The accents do not correspond to the classic concept of the downbeat. The alternating of groups of 2 and 3 beats is also common in Spanish folk dances of the 16th Century such as the zarabanda, jácara and canarios.
There are three types of 12-beat rhythms, which vary in their layouts, or use of accentuations: soleá, seguiriya and bulería.
1. peteneras and guajiras: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Both palos start with the strong accent on 12. Hence the meter is 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11…
2. The seguiriya, liviana, serrana, toná liviana, cabales: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 The seguiriya is the same as the soleá but starting on the 8th beat
3. soleá, within the cantiñas group of palos which includes the alegrías, cantiñas, mirabras, romera, caracoles and soleá por bulería (also “ bulería por soleá”): 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. For practical reasons, when transferring flamenco guitar music to sheet music, this rhythm is written as a regular 3/4. The Bulerías is the emblematic palo of flamenco: today its 12 beat cycle is most often played with accents on the 1, 4, 8, and 9th beats. The accompanying palmas are played in groups of 6 beats, giving rise to a multitude of counter rhythms and percussive voices within the 12 beat compás
Forms of flamenco expression
Main article: Flamenco guitar
The flamenco guitar (and the very similar classical guitar) is a descendent from the lute. The first guitars are thought to have originated in Spain in the 15th century. The traditional flamenco guitar is made of Spanish cypress and spruce, and is lighter in weight and a bit smaller than a classical guitar, to give the output a ‘sharper’ sound. The flamenco guitar, in contrast to the classical, is also equipped with a protective shield, called a golpeador. This is often plastic, similar to a pick guard, and protects the body of the guitar from the rhythmic finger taps,(golpes). The classical guitar sometimes mimics and utilises the strumming patterns of flamenco, the flamenco players often use a capo, whereas the use of a capo in the classical guitar repertory is generally limited to the playing of baroque music or some contemporary compositions.
Main article: Cante flamenco
Flamenco performance by the La Primavera group
Foreigners often think flamenco is primarily a dance form. However, the origin, and heart, of flamenco is the song (cante). Although to the uninitiated, flamenco seems totally extemporaneous, these cantes (songs) and bailes (dances) follow strict musical and poetic rules. The verses (coplas) are often beautiful and concise poems, and the style of the flamenco copla was often imitated by Andalusian poets. Garcia Lorca is perhaps the best known of these poets. In the 1920s he, along with the composer Manuel de Falla and other intellectuals, crusaded to raise the status of flamenco as an art form and preserve its purity.
Cante flamenco can be categorized in a number of ways. First, a cante may be categorized according to whether it follows a strict rhythmic pattern (“compas”) or follows a free rhythm (“libre”).
The cantes with compas fit one of four compas patterns. These compas-types are generally known by the name of the most important cante of the group – solea, seguidilla, tango, fandango.
The solea group includes the cantes: solea; romances, solea por bulerias, alegrias (cantinas); La Cana; El Polo
El baile flamenco is a dance form known for its emotional intensity, proud carriage, expressive use of the arms and rhythmic stomping of the feet. As with any dance form, many different styles of flamenco have developed.
In its most authentic form, flamenco can be seen danced informally at gitano (Gypsy) weddings and celebrations in Spain. There is less virtuoso technique in gitano flamenco, but the music and steps are fundamentally the same. The arms are noticeably different to classical flamenco, curving around the head and body rather than extending, often with a bent elbow.
“Flamenco puro” is considered the form of performance flamenco closest to its gitano origins. In this style, the dance is always performed solo, and is improvised rather than choreographed. Some purists frown on castanets (even though they can be seen in many early 20th century photos of flamenco dancers).
The type of dance most Europeans would call “flamenco” is a commercialized style, developed as a spectacle for tourists. To add variety, group dances are included, and even solos are more likely to be choreographed. The frilly, voluminous spotted dresses are derived from a style of dress worn for the annual Feria in Seville (the original is actually too tight to dance in!).
“Classical flamenco” is the style used in modern Spanish flamenco dance companies. It is characterized by a proud, upright carriage – for the women, the back is often held in a marked back bend. Unlike gitano flamenco, there is little movement of the hips, the body is tightly held and the arms are long, like a ballet dancer. In fact many of the dancers in these companies have trained in contemporary dance or ballet as well as flamenco.
Modern flamenco is a highly technical dance style requiring years of study. The emphasis for both male and female performers is on lightning-fast footwork performed with absolute precision. In addition, the dancer may have to dance while using props such as castanets, shawls and fans.
“Flamenco nuevo” is the new wave in flamenco, characterized by pared-down costumes (the men often dance bare-chested, and the women in plain jersey dresses). Props such as castanets, fans and shawls are rarely, if ever, used. Dances are choreographed and include influences from other dance styles.
In traditional flamenco, young people are not considered to have the emotional maturity to adequately convey the “duende” (soul) of the genre. Therefore unlike other dance forms, where dancers turn professional early to take advantage of youth and strength, many flamenco dancers do not hit their peak in their thirties and will continue to perform into their fifties and beyond.