What is flamenco ?
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
It's hard to answer this question ! Flamenco is a rich and diverse phenomenon. It springs from oral tradition, and that is why it is so hard to define : depending on who plays it and where, it can be radically different !
Therefore, is it useless to ask the question : "What is flamenco?". Not entirely, as it is possible to highlight some major characteristics. Here's how I define it :
The DNA of flamenco :
Singing, dance and guitar, and the dynamic interaction between these three elements.
A lifestyle, but also a professional world that employs many artists in Spain and around the world.
A set of musical and poetic knowledge, transmitted orally, as well as gestures and metaphors.
A very strong aesthetic, linked to gipsy, andalusian, arabic, latin-american and african cultures.
A set of values, which include joy of life and the affirmation of the self while respecting tradition.
History and geography :
Andalusia is historically a place where many cultures have blended. Its music is a synthesis of many different traditions such as the christian, the muslim, the jewish, the rromani, the african and the latin-american paradigms.
The word "Flamenco" started being used to describe an art in the XIXth century. It was praticed by the working-class and the bohemians of Southern Spain, mainly in gypsy families that survive to this day (such as the Fernandez, the Moneo, the Montoya, the Soto, the Monje...).
Flamenco has always been a source of fascination for strangers, most significantly the romantic travelers that came from France (as is shown in the Gustave Doré engraving above). Flamenco was even presented in the Universal Exposition of 1900 in Paris!
In the 1970s, Flamenco opens up and goes international, mainly thanks to the success of Paco de Lucia. Fusions with pop, rock and jazz start to emerge. The most prominent figures of flamenco remain Spanish but some strangers manage to find their spot in this competitive and exclusive world. There are now thousands of flamenco schools in the world, specially in Japan, Germany and Canada.
Torn between a desire of purity and a strong international attractiveness, Flamenco is constantly reinventing itself while staying exactly the same. Who knows what it will look and sound like in 50 years !