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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.

The list of fine flamenco guitarists is long, among them the Montoya family (some of whom are better known by sobriquet of los Habichuela), especially Juan (1933-) and Pepe (1949-). Other artists to watch for include El Tomatito (1947-), Manolo Sanclucar (1943-) and Moraito Chico (1956-).

Paco de Lucia’s friend El Camaron de la isla (1950-92) was, until his death, the leading light of contemporary cante hondo; plenty of flamenco singers today try to emulate him. Another who has reached cult status is Enrique Morente (1942-), referred to by a Madrid paper as ‘the last Bohemian’. Among other leading vocalists figures such ass Carmen Linares (1951-), from the province of Jaen, and the Sevilliano jose Menese (1941-). Other top-notch singers include Remedios Amaya and Aurora Vargas (1956-), Juan Peña Fernandez (El Lebrijano; 1941), Calixto Sanchez (1946-), Chano Lobato (1927-), and Vincent Soto (Sodera; 1927-). El Camaron´s younger successors include Antonio Vargas (known as El Polito), Juan Cortes Duquende, Miguel Poveda (1973-). One of the rising female vocalists is Aurora (1972-).

Of Spain’s flamenco dancers and choreographers, the greatest this century with little doubt Antonio Ruiz Soler (1921-96). Known many simply as Antonio, he danced and choreographed an infinite variety of classical and inventive style of flamenco. He often combined classical, folkloric and flamenco dance and from 1981, as a director of The National Ballet de España, he took his creative genius around the world.

One of the all-time great bailaores was the fiery Barcelona-born Carmen Amaya (1913-63). Leading contemporary figures include Joaquin Cortes (1969-) and Antonio Canales (1962-), who is more of a flamenco purist. Traditionalists dislike fashionable attempts to mix flamenco with ballet and other forms. One of the great traditional bailaores , Farruco (1936-97) was a wild gitano soul who argued that performers such as Cortes don’t really dance flamenco. The only ‘puro masculino’ bailor these days, Faruco used to say, was his teenage granson Farquito (1983-). And indeed ‘little Farruco’ is today on the verge of becoming a major star of flamenco dance.

Manuela Vargas (1941-), Antonio Gades (1936-), Cristina Hoyas (1946-), Miguel Peña Vargus (El Funi; 1939-) and Sara Baras (1971-) are other well-known dancers, some with their own successful companies.

If you want to give yourself a general introduction to the best of flamenco, try to see Carlos Sauru’s 1995 flick, Flamenco, A double- CD set of the music is also available.

Tourist- orientated flamenco music shows, called tablaos, lack the genuine emotion of real flamenco, although a few are worth seeing if you have no alternative. The show-cum-vaudiville atmosphere will not be to ever one’s taste.

Possibly the most exciting developments in flamenco have taken it on to other musical shores. Two of the best-known groups that have experimented with flamenco-rock fusion since the 1980s are Ketama and Pata Negra, whose music is labeled by some as Gypsy rock. One of Ketamas best albums is Canciones Hondas, while Pata Negra’s seventh, Como Una Vara Verde, is a good choice. A former member of Pata Negra, Raimund Amador (1960-), has gone his own way and in 1996 made a CD with an American blues master BB King.

In the early 1960s, Raidio Tarifa emerged with a mesmerising mix of flamenco, North African and medieval sounds. Its CD, Rumba Argelina, was a great hit. A more traditional flamenco performer, El Lebrijano (see earlier) has done some equally appealing combinations with classical Maroccon music. His Cd Encuentros, recorded with Andalusian Orchestra of Tangier, is a good sample.

The Cadiz-born Niña Pastori (1978-), who fronts an electric jazz-rock band, has taken flamenco away from the taverns with a fresh young sound. Her latest album is called Cañilla. ‘Flamenco-billy’ is the speciality of Martires de Compas, a sextet whose rocky flamenco doesn’t go down well with purists. The group performs with almost too much gusto – the title of their latest CD alone, Mordiende de Duende (Biting the Duende) is enough to clue you in.

Perhaps most astonishing was Enrique Morente’s 1966 collaboration with the Granada technopunks Lagartija Nick on Omega, as interpretation Of Loca’s poetry collection, Poete en Nueva York (Poet in New York), along with songs by the Lorca-influenced Leonard Cohen.

Source: Lonely Planet

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History at a Glance
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