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This generic term covers a broad range of music and dance. It is rooted in the cante hondo (deep song) of gitanos of Andalucia and probably influenced by North African rhythms (or, indeed music of Andalus). The poet Garcia Lorca and composer Manuel de Falla helped keep the genre alive with their grand competition in 1922, but by then it had already had a well-established history. The gitanos had settled in Andalucia early in the 15th century, and by the end of the 18th century several centres of cante hondo (also known as cante jondo) had emerged, among the Triana area of Sevilla.

The guitar was invented in Andalucia: its origin lay in Arab lutes and about the 1790s a sixth string was added, probably in Cadiz by a guitar maker called Pages. In the 1870s Antonio de Toress of Almeria gave the instrument its modern shape and sonority.

The melancholy cante hodo is performed by a singer, who may be male (cantador) or female (cantora), to the accompaniment of a blood-rush of guitar from the tocaor. Although in its pure, traditional form this is sometimes a little hard for the uninitiated to deal with, it is difficult not be to moved by the very physical experience. The accompanying dance is performed by one or more bailaores. The sevillana (Andalucian fold dance) closely resembles, but should not be confused with, the bailaores dance. Girls all over the country try to learn the sevillanas at some time during their school careers.

It is impossible in this limited space to delve into the
intricacies of the various orthodox schools of flamenco that have emerged over the past century (schools of Cadiz, Sevilla, Jerez, Cordoba and so on) or of the different kinds of song (palos) and music. They range from the most anguished siguiriyas and soleass to the more lively bulerias, boleros, fandangos, alegrias and farrucas. Suffice to say that there is more to it than meets the eye.

Although flamenco’s home turf is in the south, many artists establish themselves in other major cities, especially Madrid, with its gitano barrios or districts and long-time flamenco bars. Indeed, the 1950’s musicians streamed in from the impoverished south to seek a better life in Madrid. One of the best-known dance studios in the country is the Academia Amor de Dios, south of the Lavapies area.

Some of the greatest figures around the turn of the 19th century, to some the Edad de Oro (Golden Age) of flamenco, include the guitarist Ramon Montoya (1879-1949 and singer Silverio Franconetti (1831-89), Manolo Caracol (1909-73) joined the great singer Lola Flores (1923-95) to introduce theatrical elements and even orchestral accompaniment, which injected new life into the genre but was not welcomed by purists.

Flamenco’s real golden age may well be opening up before us. Never has it been so popular both in Spain and abroad, and never has there been such innovation. Strangely, among the most successful proponents of modern flamenco (or flamenco style) music are the Gipsy kings, who are from southern France not Spain.

Paco de Lucia (1947-) is undoubtedly the best-known flamenco guitarist internationally. He has virtuosity few would dare to claim they can match and is the personification of duende, that indefinable capacity to transmit the power of flamenco. Or of wealth of albums to choose from, the double album Paco del Lucia Antologia is a good introduction to his work from 1967 to 1990. Paco de Lucia spends more time abroad than in Spain, but plenty of other good musicians fill the gap at home.

 

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