Music can provoke different responses because of the way its message communicates and gives meaning to peoples' lives. Ned Rorem stated, ‘music is the sole art which evokes nostalgia for the future' (Shuman 1997: 140). The music scene is testimony to the way in which old musical genres have either provoked a sentimental nostalgic response in wanting to maintain and preserve a traditional sound, or a pragmatic artistic response which chooses to use the memory of an old musical message and sound to inspire new, creative innovations.
Flamenco is no exception. Throughout its history there are those who have sought to encase it, referring to it with notions of romanticism and sentimentality, and those who have embraced its evolving nature. The first is true of intellectualists Falla and Lorca, who sought to preserve cante jondo -the ‘deep song' of the outcasts by hosting festivals strictly for traditional artists to display its ‘purity'. It is also evident in the attraction of the rising middle classes in Andalusian cities toward the tragic song of flamenco. Flamenco provided a romantic perspective of the past, a ‘folklore-like' history to provide a distinctive identity for Andalusians, also allowing them to express their sympathy for the downtrodden. The poor, for their part, embraced the ‘romantic' song style of flamenco because it expressed their anguish, and also allowed them in hindsight to have a rosier slant on their miserable pasts ‘holding out a hope, however faint, that the sincerity of their song would qualify them as bonifide cultural heroes in the future' (Washabaugh 1996: 55). Since flamenco evokes ancestral history, the art form can encase and preserve these memories, only to re-live them through melancholic sentimentality. Conversely, Vélez suggests that ‘the pleasures of the past are not lost to the present, but are transformed into radically different aesthetics by the manifold forces that operate through time' (Vélez 1976: 25). This approach recognises the contributions of the past that keep giving to the present, allowing the process of musical evolution to keep an art form alive and developing. In this way, ‘each generation builds new pleasures on top of old, and adds fresh memories to existing recollections' (Featherstone 1991: 32). This is true of modern flamenco artists, who seek to recognise their ‘roots', while introducing their own interpretations and often experiment with other musical sounds. Globalisation has meant that the product of this approach is seen in a fusion of elements with very diverse musical styles. Modern flamenco fusion band Ojos de Brujo share this approach:
Flamenco is in many places and it can evolve in many ways… we draw from the same source and we have the same love and the same respect for this music
(Flamenco World 2002).
This dissertation will examine the main perceptions of flamenco; an older, traditional perspective that views flamenco as ´dead´ and another younger perspective that argues flamenco is still a vibrant and living art form. It will account for aspects within the raging debate over flamenco's historical purity, studying how it has remained a constant, changing and evolving art form.
Chapter Two will examine the ´purity´ of the history of flamenco, considering the four main perspectives through which it has been viewed. Chapter Three studies the significance of the message and emotion characterising flamenco, and the way in which the song forms serve as a window into the lives of the flamenco community. It also accounts for the fact that though traditionalists contend for one ‘pure' song form, there are in fact many branches within the genre. Chapter Four describes the journey in the modernisation of flamenco, considering how traditionalists blame this era for the ‘degeneration' of flamenco, whilst modernists praise it for its progress. Chapter Five analyses the two groups that have emerged in the flamenco scene, the purists who insist that ‘true' flamenco resides in the past, and the modernistswho look embrace the evolution of the art form.
The History of Flamenco
Flamenco holds many threads of history. Depending on who is narrating its past, the ´proper´ and ´true´ history of flamenco can be found in various long-lived and widespread claims. Washabaugh identifies four main ideologies held by flamencologists; ‘Andalusian', ‘Gitano', ‘Populist' and ‘Sociological' (Washabaugh 2006: 32). This chapter will consider the debate over the purity of the history of flamenco and examine the four main varying perspectives through which its origin has been viewed.
The line of ideology emphasisng the Andalusian character of flamenco music conveys its deeply-rooted and cultural musical characteristics only formed by Andalusia´s unique history and demographic make-up that created the conditions which birthed a very distinct art form.
Unlike the constructions of Spanish nationalism, especially in the Basque and Catalan regions, Andalusian identity was not predicated on the notions of racial purity, Andalusia´s unique identity was often defined by the very multiplicity of cultural and racial layers from which it had evolved
(Brown 2007: 230).
Contributing to this melting pot, the 800 year reign of the Moors tolerantly allowed other diverse culture groups to cohabit within their society; Arabs, Jews and Catholics all contributing to the rich mix found in multicultural southern Spain. However, the Christian Reconquista in 1492 brought a new era of hostility to the region, driving out all Jews and Muslims who refused to convert to Christianity, alongside gitanos who refused to conform to sedentary occupations. This expulsion united the persecuted cultures against the Inquisition who now shared a muliticultural common life. An intense blend of Muslim, Jewish, Indian and Christian cultures characterised these underground communities, producing a fusion of distinct musical sounds which formed what we now call flamenco, here, in the midst of the minorities. ‘And there it stayed, performed in the privacy of their houses or caves unknown to the world until the end of the eighteenth century when it began to be heard in the taverns and other public places' (Totton 2003: 15).
There is a vivid debate between the gitanos and payos over the origin of flamenco, both people groups insisting on their contribution due to their cultural bonds. ´The majority of non-gitanos do not deny the role of the gitanos in the enriching and developing process of the flamenco art, but they are very absolute when it comes to the origin, Andalusia (Papapavlou 2003).
Many composers and philosophers such as Manuel de Falla were keen to preserve a musicological perspective that contributed to a Spanish identity based on the romanticism of Andalusia's origins as a primitive artefact. Writers and philosophers´ diverse assertions of a distinct Andalusian identity give varying emphasis to oriental music through Indian (the gitanos place of origin) and Arab roots, Sephardic Jewish music, as well as influences as far back as the early Greek, Roman, Visigoth and Byzantine rulers. These concepts are all based on the diverse musical influences that can be traced in the flamenco cante, baile and toque; its very un-Western chant like melodies and long melismatic wails, its strong twelve-count compás which provides a driving underlying rhythmical structure with syncopated accented golpes, as well as the exaggerated upper body movements and stamping zapateado created by the bailaor. Altogether these speculative transferring influences are said to play a part in the evolution of flamenco. These claims also contain cultural connotations that provoke issues of race and identity, which seek to shape Spanish cultural consciousness and identity. In this way, ´the anthropomorphised Andalusia - passionate, musical, changing, and anarchical- had become the true source of flamenco´ (Deutsch 2004: 220).
‘Though Lorca contends that flamenco has to do with a purely Andalusian canto which existed in embryonic form before the gypsies arrived, others think that flamenco is the ethnic music of the gitanos' (Steingress 2003: 154 quoting Lorca 1984). The active participation of the gitano community created a phenomenon by virtue of their extraordinary facility for adaptation which brought the diverse cultures of Andalusia finally into harmony (Leblon 1994: 72). Cante gitano refers to the songs that expressed the pain of the gitanos under persecution. They were kept alive ‘underground' and performed in the gitanos notorious family gatherings and fiestas where the atmosphere was conducive to spontaneous song and dance. These performances were so intimate that the distinguishing lines between audience and performer were blurred. Their strong oral traditions and ´gritty´ songs of old provided a strong identity amongst the Andalusian gitanos, the reason why writers such as Álvarez Caballero believe they were nothing short of the prime movers of flamenco (Caballero 1988: 70 Washabaugh p.34). To many, therefore, the word flamenco has become a synonym for the gitano. This is helped by the fact that thiscommunity is still a very visible sector of society. Although historically by the nineteenth century the gitanos were now an integrated part of Spain, they represent a people group with a uniquely separate racial status, while still forming an integral part of Andalusian culture (Brown 2007:230).
The gitano perspective is not without criticism, however, and there are debates about attributing the entire creation of flamenco to the gitanos, some flamencologists even questioning the very nature and instinct of the gitano to be able to create an art form. Ruiz, amongst others, believes that the gitano by nature does not create, but assimilates and integrates, contributing, rather, his influence in this way (Ruiz 2007). Similarly, Totton believes that the gitanos did not bring their music to any country they settled in. Instead, they adopted the music of that country, adapting it to their own particular style of musicality, their strong rhythmic sense, and their tendency to dramatise. In this way he believes that ´the gitanos have been the catalysts, but flamenco developed in the melting pot of Andalusia´ (Totton 2003: 14).
Others believe that the origins of flamenco matter not, and that flamenco is not just the music of southern Spain but forms a way of life that influences the daily activities of many southern Spaniards. Moreover, one does not have to be a performer of flamenco to be a flamenco. ´A flamenco is anyone who is emotionally and actively involved in this unique philosophy…an outward expression of the flamenco way of life´ (Pohren 2005: 9). This ideology is also held by the populist point of view which sees flamenco as a voice of resistance. Instead of emphasising its ethnic origins, flamenco primarily is seen to have been used as a means by which to express an outcry from the conditions of oppression in which marginalised people found themselves. This account merits these oppressed artists as the creators of flamenco, their cante jondo marked by a deep and moving performance brought to life by duende. ‘For Lorca, the supernatural force of the duende enters human beings and possesses them as they create inspired, deeply moving work' (Hayes 2009: 40). A performance which lacks the essence of duende would be considered as shallow and ‘unpure'; a common accusation of the flamenco purists of modern, more commercial, performances. This populist account suggests that the flamenco style persisted in Andalucía for nearly 500 years. However, ‘during the nineteenth century that resistant song of the lower classes began to lose its bite with the commercial developments of the art form' (Washabaugh 1996: 36). Still others argue that the spirit of duende continues.
The sense of Andalusian oppression has been a central theme in flamenco, and the present political freedom and crisis of mass emigration have, if anything, intensified the use of flamenco as a vehicle of social commentary - both through text content and, less overtly, through stylistic innovations
(Tong 1998: 176).
The sociological perspective is that flamenco is a phenomenon that brings classes together, and disagrees with many populists' assessment of the ´degrading´ transition flamenco went through in its commercialism. Flamenco remained a voice of the lower classes though it became popular and began to be heard by the upper classes in the ´golden age´ of the cafes cantantes. It was on this stage that performers were able to vent their tragic past to their audience of wealthy oppressors. Washabaugh explains that ´the song, on this account, performs a double catharsis, exposing and relieving both the pain of the poor and the guilt of the wealthy´ (Washabaugh 1996: 36). In this way, flamenco is a means of connecting both sectors of society as both poor and wealthy can walk away from the performance psychologically unburdened by the awareness of their different social standings. Focussing on the sociological history of flamenco, this perspective coincides with what is described as the ‘second wave' of the genre, a time when flamenco embarked on a process of what Biddle and Knights term as ´re-Andalusianisation´, finding its identity in both a local and global dynamic (Biddle and Knights 2007: 14). Though this point in flamenco's development is seriously criticised by flamenco purists, for sociologists it was here that flamenco truly came into being, reaching the popular scene, and finding its ´Golden Era´. In this way, some authors believe ‘there is no point in searching in the distant past for origins or a genre that really did not come into being until the middle of the last century' (Leblon 1994:77).
Upon reflection, the tradition of flamenco has not enjoyed the same faithful written record as other classical forms (Hayes 2009: 53).
The origins of flamenco seem likely to remain shrouded in mystery for some time to come, due to the circumstances surrounding its birth and musicologists´ unwillingness to tackle the question. As long as the only efforts made in this field have as their sole aim the ruthless elimination of a given community from the competition, there is no chance of our knowledge progressing
To conclude, this chapter has exposed the variation in the historic accounts of flamenco, and the ideologies that have emerged from four different perspectives. It is therefore evident that flamenco has not followed a ´pure´ linear history, but has encountered many different components equally indispensable to the process of its creation.
The Voice of Flamenco in Society
Flamenco has been described as ‘a way of life, a way of perceiving and interpreting daily existence' (Martinez 2003: 5). Its central position in its communities distinguishes the art form from many other musical genres, and only in understanding its voice in society can one appreciate the passion that flamencos feel for their music. This chapter therefore sets out to discover the significance of flamenco and its legacy by studying the messages that its song forms carry, which serve as a window into the lives of the flamenco community. It will also examine the importance of personal expression channelled through the three musical elements of flamenco: cante, baile and toque. Furthermore the chapter accounts for the different subdivisions of the genre, also suggestive of the fact that there is not one ‘pure' form of flamenco but many branches that serve as a reflection of different flamenco communities.
Though there is much discussion concerning the exact origins of flamenco, it is evident that, at first, it was an art form in the hands of the minorities. There are many song forms within flamenco that serve as a window into the lives of these communities. Flamenco was a reflection of social life, engaging not only with universal themes such as love or death, but also referring to religious and political issues affecting personal life. Many have examined the way in which the community expressed their ways of life through flamenco; life's pressures, work conditions and the inequality of hierarchy in labour, social structure, and social divisions.
En este aspecto, la desigualdad es el eje vertebrador del cante a través de diversas temáticas que, aun referidas a lo universal, al amor, a lo panhumano de la muerte o el dolor, están siempre socializadas traspasadas por una experiencia cultural no abstracta ni confundible con otras: la andaluza
(Roldán : 112).
Flamenco palos, or song forms, convey these themes, many categorically giving emphasis to one theme in particular. For example, amongst many, Carceleras are prison songs, alboreás are gypsy wedding songs, and mineras are miners' songs. Other song forms emphasising a more general theme accentuate a specific musical element of flamenco: the cante, toque or baile. Flamenco in its original form was only cante, a primitive cry or chant accompanied only by the rhythm which would be beaten out on the floor by a wooden staff or cane. These styles are known as Palos Secos and they are the oldest forms of cante known today. These including the tonás, and the saetas, religious songs thought to be of Jewish decent used during processions, improvised without any accompaniment. Other palos are above all rhythmic which have also given rise to leading dance forms, such as the soleá, and bulería.
In the revelation of these mostly tragic song themes, it is important to convey the difference between flamenco and western music, primarily in the way in which, in the west, one hears the tune first, and then only then, perhaps, the harmony, rhythm and words. To the flamenco, the tune is little or nothing, and the harmony less, being aware, above all, of the words and their rhythmic and forceful expression
(Totton 2003: 84).
Félix Grande has defined flamenco as ‘a tragedy in the first person' and ‘a protest without hope or destination' (Grande 2007). The siguiriya is an example of this concept, the heart of cante jondo. ‘It expresses anguish, lament, and despair, and has been described as an outcry against fate and quintessence of tragic song' (Totton 1995: 90). It is an example of how the transmission of song serves as a window into the lives of the flamencos. The following copla from a traditional siguiriya is an example of how the history of these Andalusian communities is communicated through the art form:
Señor Alcalde mayor Lord high mayor
Y demás señores And other fine lords
Estas penitas a este cuerpo míoThe pain in this body of mine
No le corresponden Is not deserved
(Kirkland 2001 :9)
Felix Grande would respond to such an example by saying :
Listen closely to a toná, truly hear a seguiriya; let some tientos slide through the hairs of your arm. Perhaps you will sense something resembling the hand of Philip V signing a paper in 1745- surely without trembling- to authorize those pursuing a Gypsy to enter a church and take him from its protection
(Kirkland 2001: 9).
The striking imagery and emotional purity of cante lyrics is also evident in the following coplas:
El tiempo y la marea
todo me viene en contra;
los golpecitos de este mar furioso
salen por la popa
( : 94).
Hasta las piedras saben
la desgracia mía
que yo las vendo -mis desgracias-
de noche y de día
On one level, the coplas serve as a descriptive reflection of the lives of the flamencos, and on another, serve as a representation of complaints, hopes and vindication.
El flamenco sirve para descubrir la realidad, para exponer las formas de vida y hasta cuadras de costumbres, pero también para reflexionar sobre ellas y denunciar las desigualdades. Pasa de lo descriptivo a lo analítico sin saberlo, y a veces a lo crítico
(Roldán : 112).
It is therefore evident that the role of flamenco in society is not merely aesthetic, or for ephemeral enjoyment, but that it has become a living testimony of the flamencos themselves, and an outlet for emotional unburdenment.
No canten, pues, con el único objetivo de hacerlo mejor que la vez anterior o mejor que otros cantaores: cantan porque es sus propias carnes o en las carnes de su propio grupo social o clase han padecido marginaciones y atropellos que a su vez se convierten en exponentes y portavoces de sus propios grupos, familias o entornos.
(Gelardo y Belade :21)
This is also suggestive of the reason why purists seek to protect the purity of this expression. Clemente believes that dealing with cantes, palos, compás, and melody is like dealing with living beings, ‘they deserve the respect involved in keeping them alive' (Clemente n.d). This reveals an intrinsic link between the lyrics and expressive aspects of the music. Early developments of flamenco show that the socio-political dimension of the art form is manifested in both these facets. Pohen (1995) believes that it can not be overemphasised that flamenco, above all the jondo flamenco, is in essence an emotional art. Moreover, the artist needs only enough technique to enable him to convey his emotions to himself and to his public:
The improving of technique to the point of virtuosity is not usually synonymous with the improvement of the artist´s ability to communicate. Conversely, the opposite is more often true. The virtuoso often becomes a cold machine, too concerned with his technique, too complicated, too entangled in his own virtuosity, too conscious of the fact that the majority of the public is awaiting this virtuosity more than any duende he may impart
(Pohen 1995: 58).
This emotion is woven through the cante, baile, and toque, each embodying the rhythm and expressive force necessary to bring the words of the coplas to life.The cante is said to have been developed in isolation by Andalusians, and especially gitano Andalusians, ‘and which redeems humans from the prison of language and the darkening isolation of social life' (Washabaugh 1996: 90). The flamenco cantaor recreates and embroiders the song form in a personal way, expressing to the audience what the words mean to him (Totton 2003: 84). The quejío, melisma,the manipulation of the compás, and the quality of voice itself are ways to enforce the power of the cante. The cantaor also adds emotion by spontaneously weaving his voice around the words, envoking duende. The intensity of the cante means that many cantaores prefer to sing al golpe,accompanied only by knuckles on the table and the cries of encouragement from the jaleo.
The baile also takes on the character of the coplas by concentrating on forceful rhythms. This contrasts from the graceful movements given importance by modern music academies, a feature of modern flamenco also criticised by purists.
Prejudices run deep on the subject, and the Spanish language marks the difference: the classically trained dancer (whether or not also dancing flamenco) is a bailarín; the flamenco dancer is a bailaor or bailaora
(Totton 2003: 51).
‘Pure' flamenco baile is expected to be individual, forceful, downward, and introvert. A similar prejudice has been established between classical guitarists and a true, flamenco tocaor. The difference can be seen in the very way the guitar is held to the emotional way the tocaor marks out the rhythm and compás through plucking, strumming, tremolo and banging the wood, and also the ability to improvise, adding his own falsetas.
Toca de oído, por intuición, improvisando continuamente, y aporta, como productos de cosecha propia, las falsetas
(Ruiz 2007: 90).
Though the toque element was introduced later on in the evolution of flamenco song forms, it is still seen to be an important element.
La gran originalidad de la música flamenco de guitarra se resume en el hecho que los elementos melódicos, armónicos y rítmicos que la componen tienden a inferirse en provecho de un elemento expresivo superior que engloba y enriquece a los demás y que podría calificarse de dinamismo
(Hilaire - Ruiz 2007: 91)
Uniting all elements of flamenco, lyrical, musical and emotional, is the strong sense of tradition and heritage manifested in the art form itself. In this manner, flamenco receives and keeps giving back its communities, allowing the flamenco legacy to live on. It is important to note that until recently, music and lyrics were never written down but transmitted orally. Compositions from the past have been handed down through the generations, and the extensive categorisation of palos reveal that there are many branches of flamenco, originating from numerous communities from different parts of Andalusia and further afield, all adding their musical flavour and history. These branches can be as contrasting as the discussed traditional tragic siguiriya and cante jondo to the cantes de ida y vuelta which were exported from Spain to the New World where they acquired new influences, later to be re-imported again to Andalusia by returning emigrants. These contribute to the rich diversity of song forms which have evolved from the original palo seco to varying rhythmic song forms which incorporate baile and toque, two main elements of flamenco that were integrated later on in the evolution of flamenco. Throughout the evolution of flamenco song forms, purists insist that the ablility to evoke duende distinguishes the ‘true' flamencos from modern, experimental musicians, due to their ability to identify with the anguished themes of the cantes, re-living these emotional experiences.
This chapter has discussed the role of flamenco in society through analysing the dual function of the art form. Firstly, it is evident that the genre transmits the history of a marginalised people through the coplas. Secondly, and entwined with the first, is the expressive, mainly painful, release of emotion associated with life experiences through the three channels of flamenco; cante, baile and toque. In this process, the evoking of duende is what sets flamenco apart from other musical forms, and is suggestive of the purists insistence of protecting a ‘traditional' and ‘pure' music. However, the many branches of musical style within flamenco also alerts one again to the fact that, though flamenco demands a purity of emotion, there is not one ‘pure' song form and single history within the genre, but many stories with diverse themes and musical influences, inevitable in an art form of oral tradition.
A New Era of Flamenco
When evaluating the different phases of flamenco, flamencologists have tried to define the time line into conveniently identifiable eras. ‘The stages flamenco has passed through until the present day are identified by the venues where it was staged, as well as the artists who were most popular at any given moment' (Martínez 2003 :66). Biddle and Knights (2007) refer to these historical stages as ‘waves', while Steingress (2003) refers to them as ´steps of hybridisation´, both studies highlighting exhaustive influential causes of change undergone by flamenco. The phases which have contributed to the modern evolution of flamenco are important to highlight because of the way they have changed the face of flamenco, both musically and culturally, not only adapting its sound but its audience also, taking it from the primitive privacy of the juerga to the very public showcasing platform. This chapter will examine the stages marked by three main venues that changed the image of flamenco: the cafés cantantes (1860-1920), the theatre which hosted ópera flamenca (1920-1950), and the tablaos and peñas (1950-1975). Through describing their effect on flamenco, the chapter will also study the way in which these periods have provoked a debate which accuses this period of evolution of either the ‘degeneration' or ‘making' of the art form. The study will account for the perspective that, whilst many look to the past to define flamenco, the genre has encountered many different components equally indispensable to the process of its creation.
The cafés cantantes laid the groundwork for what has been termed the ‘Golden Age' of flamenco. ‘Having only existed as a way of life, little by little flamenco gained popularity, and by the middle of the last century, sharp businessmen realised that flamenco could be exploited profitably in commercial exercises' (Pohren 1995: 146). Flamenco was introduced as a public attraction and customers flocked to witness the novel presentations of the flamencos who complied to life as a paid artist and higher standard of living.
One of the things that the café cantantes achieved for flamenco was to broaden the range of non-gitano performers who were willing to make crowd-pleasing innovations and modulations, as neither the payos nor their audiences had quite the same distaste for broad popular appeal
(Drummond 2006: 168).
Those who performed in the cafés naturally followed the tastes and whims of the customers and it is argued that thistrivialised flamenco, ‘since patrons requests favoured ‘festive' rather than ‘deep' flamenco performances' (Hernández 2008: 15). Furthermore it is contested that this enforced a staged professionalisation inspiring competition amongst performers, not a feature of flamenco's emotive purity and unconcern for virtuosity. ‘The guitar, in particular gained eminence in café performances and, from being an instrument to accompany song and dance, it became a show in itself, and solo guitar performances soon became popular favourites' (Hernández 2008: 15). In addition, ‘artists from the different provinces of Andalusia contributed to an enhancement of flamenco by elaborating their regionally distinctive substyles' (Washabaugh 1996: 33). An important artist to emerge from this era was Silverio Franconetti, a non-gitano who opened his own successful café cantante, and is amongst a group of flamenco ´legends´ to emerge from this era. His legendary fame for contribution to the flamenco scene, even recognised amongst gitanos themselves, however, is ironically criticised. This accounts for the parody of the ´Golden Age´. On one hand, condescension for the beginnings of crass commercialism, and on the other, an excitement for the new wave of creative and technical competence. Nevertheless, in the light of the modernisation that was to come, many ´pure´ artists were still able to enjoy the profit of this time, being able to make a decent living from what they loved most. Desperate to preserve tradition in the threat of modern change, Spanish Intellectuals Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca attempted to revitalise the ´true´ and ´pure´ spirit of Andalusian flamenco by promoting the Concurso de Cante Jondo in 1922. They rejected the name ´flamenco´, embracing the term ´cante jondo´ in order to stimulate interest in uncommercial styles of flamenco which were in decline. However, the initiative could not prevent the second wave of modernisation which replaced the cafés cantantes with larger venues like theatres or bullrings; the stage of the opera flamenca.
In the nineteenth century, the perceived ‘romance' of flamenco and the gitanos became popular throughout Europe. Composers wrote music and operas presenting picturesque gitano and andalusianflamenco themes. ‘This sweeping romantic movement imagined the downtrodden lower-class andalusian as exotic material for public display' (Washabaugh 1998: 56).
The big stage and spectacle put the ´Golden Age´ of the smaller café cantante out of business, and the paid juerga was hard to come by. Any trace of true flamenco crept, bruised and beaten, back to their villages as not even the greatest of pure artists could gain a living from pure flamenco
(Pohren 1995: 280).
Álvarez Caballero laments how cantaores such as Pepe Marchena ‘frivolised' and softened opera flamenca, adding orchestra, falsettos, personal creativity, and most importantly, the explicit seduction of a mass audience , ‘all of which degraded the ‘seriousness' of deep song into a ´pretty song´ instead of ‘true song'' (Caballero 1994: 224). Of similar opinion, Anselmo González Climent (1955) in his book ´flamencología´ produces a long list of negatives of opera flamenca, among which he criticises the overrating of the dance which displaced the cante and toque, the resurrection of the tambourine, and the distortion of the traditional coplas because of a fashion for flamenco light operetta and canción andaluza, amongst other over professionalised non-flamenco styles. Others believe that this was a time of general consolidation of the art form, necessary to respond to the natural requirements of the time. They warn that one can run the risk of the terrible contradiction of criticising this period, while nevertheless applauding and extolling the large group of artists known as the ‘greatest figures of all time' that emerged from this scene; La ‘Niña de los Peines', Tomás Pavón, Manuel Torre, el Gloria, Bernardo el de los Lobitos, Escacena, Juanito Mojama, Manuel Vallejo, el Sevillano, Manuel Centeno, Pepe Marchena, Pepe Pinto, Manolo Caracol and many others (Martínez n.d).
The following stage in the modernization of flamenco was identified by the tablao.
Between 1939 and 1975, the Franco regime ransacked the past in search of symbols upon which to rebuild a new and unified Spanish identity, an identity that might be attractive enough to lure tourists and centralised enough to be tweaked as needed for promoting national interest
(Washabaugh 1996: 13).
Adapting flamenco for the tourists created a clichéd image typified by guitars, castanets and flounced costumes; a misrepresentation that deeply disturbed many Andalusians (Leblon 1994: 77). The onslaught of mass culture enforced, once again, the professionalistion and homogenisation of flamenco, this time on the stage of the tablaos and peñas which flooded Spanish cities.
But Spain's reconsideration of its own traditional cultural values not only stimulated the burgeoning Spanish tourist industry, it also responded to a growing cultural sensibility, especially among the Spanish youth, who considered the gypsy-flamenco as an important point of reference for their own identity during the last years of the Franco-regime, and even as a sub cultural expression of political resistance to it
(Steingress 2003: 184).
Consequently, though the tourist boom exacerbated the stereotypical folklore representation of flamenco, an intense creative renewal of the art form was to follow with the debut of young, new artists such as ‘el Camaron de la Isla', a young gitano who many even look back and revere as a ‘god'. This generation of artists also gave way to nuevo flamenco and ‘flamenco fusion', a fresh style popularising the evolution of musical exchange and synthesis.
They built a bridge between orthodox flamenco and other sub-genres in contemporary music (jazz, rock, pop, salsa), or reopened the door to classical music, as well as paving the way for new encounters with neighbouring cultures (Arabic music, Andalusí music in North-Africa) or with the Orient (Pakistani music, Hindi music etc.)
(Steingres 2003: 183).
Despite criticism of flamenco fusion, Pohren highlights a resurgence of pure artists from the 1960s onwards and unprecedented popularity and affluence, ‘far more so than during the café cantante period, for today they not only have commercial establishments and paid juergas vying for them, but lucrative record contracts, flamenco festivals and foreign lands as well' (Pohren 2005: 281). Therefore, two kinds of flamencos now exist, the veteran artists seeking to maintain flamenco tradition, and the new experimental musician who seeks to interpret flamenco in modern times. ‘Some say that technique and rhythm were much better prior to the 1950´s, and that only the singing of veteran artists is of any worth, while others think that these are the best of times' (Clemente n.d.). Moreover, it also thought that new flamenco is the product of ´pure´ flamenco insofar as it tries to overcome the exclusivity of traditional flamenco (Steingress 2003: 187).
This chapter has examined three stages of history that have contributed to the evolution of flamenco. A persistent group of traditionalists contend for a vulgar commercialisation of flamenco, for whom the café cantantes, the festivals, the theatres and tourist bars equipped with a large stage for professional musicians and dance troupes could never replace the ideal setting of the native juerga. These purists have reacted with an endless list of negative implications to change, and perceive a depletion of flamenco's pure and mystical cante jondo. However, both the artists who have participated in these eras of change, and musicians of recent decades have also benefitted from its inspiration for creative and technical competence, many emerging as great figures of flamenco. These two very different perspectives contribute to an unresolved paradox. Nevertheless, whilst provoking a longing for the past, flamenco has encountered many different components equally indispensable for the creation and vitality of its future. One could question that without undergoing such provocative eras of change, and without the pressure of commercialisation, if flamenco would ever have become the phenomenon it is today, or even rallied a group of intellectuals to protect its jondo form,or, in contrast, a new generation of passionate youth to revitalise the music. Sometimes pressure and discontent can be the very stimulus that keeps something alive.
Flamenco: Pure Art Form or Hybrid Evolution?
The study so far has indicated the diverse perspectives surrounding the history of flamenco. Two main opposing groups have emerged, their stances culminating in the question; is flamenco dead or alive? This chapter will discuss the criticisms and debates concerning the existence of flamenco puro and examine three main themes of conflict. Firstly, the origin of flamenco and whether it justifies the legitimacy of a ‘pure' song form. Secondly, the concept of fusion and the threat of musical evolution, and thirdly, the role of suffering and the ability of the artists´ to invoke duende in performances. These conflicts have elements that relate to and cross over one another, and can be summarised in the debate; pure art form versus hybrid evolution.
Purists look to the past as reference to their flamenco way of life, and their oral tradition contributes to a strong heritage and sense of identity that is passed down to the next generation as a means of cultural conservation. The preservation of cante jondo is of main concern, and many new modern flamenco song forms that ‘lack' this depth demean the ancestral memory of persecution and life as a minority. Therefore, cante jondo in its most traditional sense is revered as ‘true' flamenco. It is a creation that took place before the café cantantes era, before the introduction of the guitar and professional training, where cantaores sang spontaneously al golpe. This palo reflects the true order of flamenco which favours words and emotion before melody and virtuosity.
The first area of conflict the chapter will highlight is the debate concerning the legitimacy of calling cante jondo ‘pure' in the light of the origin of the art form. The phrase puro flamenco is supported by a dedicated subculture of aficionados who are against the evolution of flamenco. This is evident in the condescension for palos that show a departure from ‘tradition'. The selection of cantes acknowledged today shows the modern direction flamenco has been taking over the last century. Tangos, bulerías, rumbas, and cantes de ida y vuelta are examples of later influences, with their strong Latin American rhythmic slants. Also, a trend for amalgamating two song forms like the soleá por bulería illustrate a ‘distancing' from the past. This has also been reflected in flamenco terminology, where a distinction has been made between the classifications of palos. The more serious forms known as cante jondo, and the ‘lighter' more ‘frivolous' forms termed cante chico.This accounts for the perspective that the first is ‘pure' and the latter ‘counterfeit'. Purists often accuse innovators of endangering the essence of flamenco which is only truly reflected in cante jondo, and fear the art will be watered down, losing its fundamental power of expression, and losing its identity because of the confusion with styles from outside traditional flamenco boundaries (Martínez 2003: 108).
In this manner, artists look back upon a flamenco that ‘was', giving the impression that through history, flamenco has become a neatly formed, well defined, established art form which, unless replicated in place, music and feeling, falls short of being ‘pure' and ‘true'. Currently, many contemporary authors are recognising that history itself demonstrates a continual search for mixing and fusion (Roldán 2008:26).
Modernists dispute the term puro flamenco itself by stating that flamenco never had a ‘pure' start, and that ‘it can not remain stagnant because its eclectic origin is an undeniable fact' (Clement n.d). This stance seeks to prove the contradiction of the purists' attitude towards the preservation of the ‘pure' cante jondo, as even those deep song forms are riddled with hybridism. Lorca (1987) presents the four main songs that comprise cante jondo: The Gypsy siguiriya, a ‘genuine, perfect prototype' that has most preserved its ancient oriental origins, the solea, originating in Andalusia, the saeta, which is known for its Jewish sound, and the petenera, also thought to originate in the songs of Sephardic Jews (Lorca 1987: iii). Jorge Prado explains:
There are flamenco melodies that which are really Sephardic. They have Castillian rhythms, twists and turns, and an Arabic vocal style, very Oriental, mixed with the unique Gypsy interpretation (…) And now they speak about ‘flamenco puro'. Rubbish. It does not exist
(Martínez 2003: 108).
(La Discoteca ideal d Flamenco, A. A. Caballero. Ed. Planeta 1995)
Likewise, Steingress, insists in the impossibility of defining flamenco in terms of ‘authenticity' and ‘purity' because of how, from origin, it has been the fruit of hybridism (Steingress 2007). Anthropologist Roldán, also responds by asking the question:
That being so, who puts the limit on an art form that, from its beginning, is in fact a product of intercrossing?
(Roldán 2008: 24).
The second subject of conflict, which is related to the first, is the highly provocative concept of fusion. Flamenco traditionalists are very leery of fusion, as it often cuts away at the core of the very tradition they love and admire. Many, however, embrace fusion as their modern day reality, identifying more with current global musical styles and sounds than with traditional flamenco, reflecting it directly in their art. Recognising that fusion has always existed in every art, many appreciate that it has often served to keep the art alive and fresh.
Fusion in the days of yore was picked up at turtle's pace and gave time for reflection regarding its merits; if it did not live up to snuff, it was rejected. He goes on to illustrate that with today's high speed communications and transportation, time for reflection no longer exists: a dancer picks up a jazz step in NYC one day, performs it in Madrid the next and calls it flamenco, likewise, with a guitarist who hears something he likes from the other side of the world one day, works it into his new recording the next, and calls it flamenco
(Pohren 1995: 116).
Within Spain, the fusion forms of nuevo flamenco are far more commercially viable.
Nuevo flamenco is a diverse hybrid genre that ranges far and wide, from fusions of traditional flamenco with salsa, rock jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and rap music, to fusions or mezclas of Arabic and Indian music with flamenco.
(Cooper & Dawe 2005: 133).
This interpretation of flamenco has flooded the popular music scene with bands such as flamenco rock group Ketama, and Ojos de Brujo. However, a recent ideological dispute now centres on the legitimacy of nuevo flamenco. Many question whether it should even be considered flamenco and whether it threatens to destroy ‘pure' flamenco (Cooper & Dawe 2005: 134). Since the art form has been defined as a way of life, fusion is seen as a betrayal of flamenco heritage, being rejected not only on aesthetic but also on ideological grounds, regarding it as counterfeit Andalusian identity (Steingress 2003: 171).
Martínez agrees that flamenco is a way of life but believes that this very nature causes it the art to be in a permanent state of evolution (Martínez 2003: 5). Washabaugh believes that no musical style is ever constructed in the past and simply handed down for our enjoyment in the present. ‘To portray music so would be to cast it in the guise of a museum piece, alive in the past but now dead, stuffed, and mounted' (Washabaugh 1996: 8). Modern fusion, therefore, can seem the next natural step in the evolution of flamenco. ‘Nuevo flamenco appeals to an increasing number of fans and new audiences because of its capacity to respond to a series of different musical, aesthetic and cultural necessities' (Steingress 2003: 172). In this way, young flamencos can build a bridge between traditional flamenco and the diverse musical palette available to musicians today. Kiko Veneno shows a very pragamatic approach to this development:
Flamenco in its classical form is, dead. It has never been surpassed. Young people stopped composing siguiriyas a long time ago; it is all new rhythms now. There is no reason to lament anymore. It just happened. It is sad, but that is the way it is. Instead of complaining, you have to take a risk and create something new
(Steingress 2003: 170).
Mitchell (1994) believes that the fantasies of flamenco as a ‘pure' and ‘natural' art form are based on a fear of modern mass culture. Therefore, whilst agreeing that traditional flamenco is dead, purists resist the trend to create something new in order to preserve the ‘purity' of the old.
Flamenco, as the song of the outcasts, has been mainly characterised by themes of suffering. The powerful and emotional performances invoking duende unite the flamencos with the cry of the outcasts. The third area of conflict concerns the role of this emotion in flamenco, and the doubt over whether modern day artists and nuevo flamenco transmit this essence. Flamenco, in the hands of the minorities, was a secret expression, very intimate, and despised by a large part of the population (Ruíz 2007: 37). This context provided an atmosphere where small groups shared and expressed the pains of suffering through music. In this way, many purists say that one can not ‘understand' flamenco, only ‘feel it' (Roldán 2008). Through oral tradition, artists were able to re-live these moments of tragedy, keeping the memory of their ancestors alive, and rousing powerful emotions through cante jondo. Some purists consider the cante chicodoes not evoke the same sentiments, and that only cante jondo transmits the ‘authentic' and ‘pure' essence of flamenco. This notion, however, is perceived as out-dated in today's flamenco community, ‘a sentiment that recently led the great cantaor Enrique Morente to make the following laconic but powerful statement: ‘Purity is for the Nazis'' (Tomatito & Vargas 2008: 121).Paco de Lucía also disputes this in a recent interview:
What´s with this fixation on the cante jondo being superior to the so-called cante chico? A bulería can be just as moving as any other song form, siguiriya or soleá included. This heirachy is pure fallacy
(Tomatito & Vargas 2008: 121).
The context of traditional flamenco was persecution and suffering, which is not a common occurrence in modern society. In a recent interview, Niña Pastori expressed how flamenco itself is suffering because gitanos are no longer poor;
Flamenco is nourished from poverty and fatigue, but today the Gypsy is in a different position. Children study with a computer in their room. We are well off and it is more difficult to express pain and depth in that way. No one has sung flamenco being the son of a government minister, but having a father who does not have a penny to his name
(El País 2009).
However, Totton writes;
I have heard it suggested that the tragic heart of cante jondo, the ancestral memory of persecution and starvation, must dwindle into triviality because the Gypsies are no longer persecuted and no longer starving. This seems nonsense to me. Prosperity is no impediment to the jondo tradition, for people still have occasion to feel marginalised, deprived, deserted, or jilted. Or to be imprisoned: this seems to be as good an occasion as any for keeping the carceleras alive
(Totton 2003: 159).
This chapter has highlighted that there are two types of flamenco aficionados. The traditionalists, who seek to preserve the memory of an archaic art form, and the modernists who, as contemporary innovators, seek to continue writing the story of flamenco. There is no concurrence between both these groups, as the traditionalists would rather flamenco rest in peace than be taken out of context, misinterpreted and hybridised with modern influences. The question, therefore, is, can these two sides coexist in the flamenco scene? Purity verses hybridity, fossilisation versus evolution, tragedy versus creative innovation, all intimidate the flamenco scene. Whilst tradition can stifle creativity, modernism can radically change the history of a people group seeking to preserve ancestral ways of life and oral traditions.
This first area of conflict revealed that purists contend for a ‘pure' art form, whilst modernists believe that this attitude is contradictory because the origin of flamenco itself is not pure, but hybrid. It is evident that the adaptations and additions to flamenco song forms have posed a threat to the strong, traditional sense of identity that is evidently intertwined in cante jondo.
This second area of conflict has observed the reality of change in the flamenco scene today which has been influenced by the advances in popular music as a whole. Whilst fusion seems a natural progression in the evolution of flamenco, its foreign influences threaten the essence of flamenco as a way of life, the story and culture of a specific people group which have sought to express tragedy in song, not experiment with musical synthesis.
This third area of conflict has studied the way in which flamenco has been defined as the music of minorities and its intention to express powerfully the emotions caused by tragedy and poverty, re-living these moments through song. Purists argue that because poverty and suffering are not part of modern life, the crucial essence of emotion is lost in flamenco today. Put simply: no suffering, no song. Modernists dispute there being any impediment to the jondo tradition, however, and seek to continue in the legacy of the art form.
Conclusion: The Future of Flamenco
This dissertation has presented two main perceptions of flamenco. The traditional perspective sees modernisation and change as a threat to the purity and tradition of the art form, while the modern perspective seeks to build on tradition and add fresh life experience and sounds to the music. The debate over flamenco's purity has revealed some contradictions, mainly the way in which, from origin, flamenco has always been a fusion of diverse cultural influences. This reality often serves as a justification for progressive musical evolution embraced by the next generation of flamenco musicians. As Washabaugh explains: ‘today's artistry paves the way for tomorrow's renovations (Washabaugh 1996: ix)
Flamenco in itself is a phenomenon. It has developed from being the musical expresson of a small minority group in Southern Spain, to a globally recognised art form. It has remained a constant, changing and evolving music, and in this process it has also attracted the interest of intellectuals, historians, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, writers and film makers, and even developed its own specialist field, flamencology.
Throughout history, flamenco has managed to present both the popular and the jondo side by side (Martínez 2003: 108). Whilst flamenco was embarking on a journey to modernisation from the era of the café cantantes onwards, there were still devout artists who never entered the commercial scene, and kept traditional flamenco in its ‘organic' form. Though many flamenco veterans are now no longer alive, there is still a trace of musicians seeking to hold onto this ‘pure' cante jondo. However, if flamenco was originally a private art expressing the painand hardships of a marginalised minority, this element is now being largely lost in the vastness of modern interpretation. Today's aficionados can not relate directly to the suffering and persecution expressed in many of the traditional lyrics, so flamenco is appreciated mainly for its sensory impact, the way the rhythms and singing style make you feel, not its social message. Martínez highlights that the universal qualities embodied in that sensory impact still hold a fascination. The strength of emotion, the rhythmic and harmonic complexity still attract, making flamenco another globalised art form (Martínez 2003: 108). As long as there are traditionalists, romanticism and nostalgia will struggle to coexist with the pragmatic approach to post modern music.
In concluding this study, it is apparent that the essence of hybridism that united a people group and created flamenco ultimately has become the driving force that has transformed it into a global phenomenon. This reflects an art form that has been in a continual state of evolution, feeding off every element of its past, and now off the present diverse musical scene. The paradox presented in the debate between purists and modernists does not seek to be resolved. However, the threatened nostalgic traditionalists have to face the undeniable success of an art form that has shown persistent vitality. Upon the reflection of flamencos history, one could also conclude that it is because of this very public battle between tradition and modernity, that flamenco has been kept on the music scene, each more insistent in producing an expression that reflects its core values, be it ‘purity' or fusion. Either way, the phenomenon of flamenco in today's music scene, does not show signs of ‘dying out' but of continual evolution.