Flamenco is a passionate and seductive art form with strong, rhythmic undertones, often accompanied with a similarly impassioned style of dance that originated in parts of Spain nearly five hundred years ago. Characterised by intricate hand and footwork, the Flamenco is a dance of power and passion, where the dancers dance to the beats of their feet and the sounds of their own clapping and clicking.
A visual spectacle par excellence, Flamenco embodies a complex musical and cultural tradition which has thousands of aficionado’s worldwide today.
Origins of Flamenco
Nobody really knows how Flamenco originated as a dance form. It probably developed as an interplay of native Andalucian, Islamic, Sephardic, and Gypsy cultures that existed in Andalucia, especially Costa Del Sol. Later forms of Flamenco have developed with Latin American and Cuban influences. The one community that has kept Flamenco alive is the Gypsies. With their rich oral tradition, they have nurtured their traditional folk music and flamenco till today, passing it down from generation to generation.
The strongest influences evident in the evolution of Flamenco singing and music can be traced from:
- Punjabi singing of India
- Persian Zyriab song form
- Classical Andalusian Orchestras of the Islamic Empire
- Jewish Synagogue Chants
- Mozarabic forms such as Zarchyas and Zambra
- Arabic Zayal which themselves are the foundation for Fandangos
- Andalusian regional folk forms
- Western African influences via the slaves of the New World Caribbean, Central and South American colonies. These include Rumba, Garotin, Guajiras, Columbianas, etc.
Flamenco in History
The first time Flamenco is reported on in literature is in the "Cartas Marruecas" of Cadalso, in 1774. Its cradle most probably was where, between 1765 and 1860, the first Flamenco-schools were created: Cádiz, Jerez de la Frontera and Triana (Seville). In this epoch Flamenco dance started to have its firm position in the ballrooms. Early Flamenco seems to have been purely vocal, accompanied only by rhythmical clapping of hands, toque de palmas. It was left to dedicated composers, as Julián Arcas, to introduce guitar playing.
During its Golden Age (1869-1910) Flamenco was developed in the epoch's numerous music cafés (cafés cantantes) to its definitive form. Also the more serious forms expressing deep feelings (cante jondo) dates from then.
Flamenco dance arrived to its climax, being the major attraction for the public of those cafés cantantes. Guitar players featuring the dancers increasingly gained a reputation.
The time from 1910 to 1955 Flamenco singing is marked by the ópera flamenca, with an easier kind of music such as fandangos and cantes de ida y vuelta. The latter clearly showed South American influences. From 1915 on Flamenco shows were organized and performed all over the world.
Did You Know?
- Castanets are not part of true flamenco, they are an element that has been added to enhance the finger snapping required to provide the beat to the flamenco dancers.
- It is believed that the first guitars originated in Spain in early 15th Century, and were very similar to the lute.
Forms of Flamenco Expression
Flamenco is expressed through the toque (the playing of the flamenco guitar, the cante (singing), and the baile (dancing).
Toque, the Flamenco guitar, is relatively lighter and hence, sounds sharper than a classical guitar. But more importantly, Flamenco guitars have a protective barrier, golpeador, to protect them from the rhythmic finger taps, called golpes, which provide the beat.
To the unitiated, flamenco is all about dance. However, it's spirit lies in the songs, Cante, beautifully poetic and evocative of the fiery, passionate culture of Spain. Flamenco looks quite spontaneous, but is actually highly stylised. Each song follows strict musical and poetic rules. Many Andalusian poets, notable amongst whom is Garcia Lorca, has used the poetic style of Flamenco Cante in their works.
Baile, the fantastic solo dance of Flamenco, is a visual delight. The dancer dances to the beat of her/his own feet, though occasionally castanets or fingers are clicked for the same effect. Sometimes, folding fans are used for visual effect. What comes across most clearly in the Baile, is the passion of the dancer and the movements as swift as quicksilver. Research into the origins and inspirations of Flamenco Baile has shown that Flamenco bears a very strong resemblance to Indian dance forms like Kathak, Kathakali and Bharatanatyam. Elements such as the deep-seated plie, outturned leg position, sharp angles of the body and arms, splayed fingers, rapid barrel turns and, most certainly, the percussive foot movements are all evident in flamenco dance.
Musical Forms in Flamenco
Flamenco's musical forms broadly split into two families divided by compas (or meter in English terminology) the first group have a 2/4 or 4/4 feel and the second a 3/4 or 6/8 feel. Rhythm is very fluid in many flamenco forms but the double or triple rhythm division generally holds true.
2/4 and 4/4 Flamenco Forms
3/4 and 6/8 Flamenco Forms
- Alegrias por Rosas
- Flamenco World
- About Flamenco
- Flamenco Videos on YouTube
- Introduction to Flamenco: Rhythmic Foundation and Accompaniment, by Chuck Keyser