The Mystery of Flamenco Featured

A brief guide to this exciting, enticing form of music and dance

by 28 April 2011

It starts with a steady rhythm, a sound that can only belong to a guitar, the Spanish guitar. The sound gets progressively louder. Then it is joined by the sound of shoes tapping the floor. And then you hear the unique sound of castanets, and all these underline the steady, pulsating rhythm of the music. What you are now about to witness is a true masterpiece. With a whisk of her skirt a woman appears on the stage, majestically moving to the music, tapping her heels and clasping the castanets. This is a sight beyond comparison, a unique artform. In fact in 2010, UNESCO declared flamenco as one of the "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity."

Now the singing begins, a male voice breaks into song and although you can’t understand the words or what they mean, the sound captivates you. The music and the dance express sorrow and joy. The sound is so emotional that you don’t need words to understand the meaning, you need to simply listen and watch the passion take physical form. A flamenco performance is an experience unlike any other.

Flamenco is a folk culture that originated in Andalusia, probably during the 16th century. It reflects a combination of at least four cultures, the Gypsies, who arrived in Andalusia from India in about 1425, the Moors (Arabs) who at that time were ruling the area, the Sephardic Jews, and the Andalusians themselves. It was originally just singing, accompanied by the rhythmic accompaniment of a wooden staff on the floor, but the addition of the characteristic gitano guitar style gave it added depth.

The ingredients of flamenco are four-fold: cante (voice), baile (dance), toque (guitar), and jaleo (raising merry hell). The latter is one of the most characteristic features, because it refers to hand-clapping, foot-stomping and shouts of encouragement. This of course means the audience, an important ingredient for all performing arts, but absolutely essential for flamenco.

There is one other rather mysterious ingredient of the art form: duende. Poet Federico García Lorca gave it a romantic interpretation: "Duende can only be present when one senses that death could be possible." He refers to those unique moments of an impassioned flamenco performance, when a singer is possessed by the darker overtones of the song, and the deep spirit of flamenco will enter the mind of anyone who is willing to open the door to it.

Flamenco remained a folk tradition up until the mid 19th century, when the earliest cafe cantantes opened, initially in Seville in 1842, and then progressively throughout Andalusia and then Madrid. In the early 20th century, cafe cantantes declined in popularity, and flamenco became a theatre attraction, with opera and ballet versions. The dramatic events of the 1930s and '40s put flamenco very much into the background, but it was never forgotten, and festivals founded in the late 1950s and early 1960s led to a revival and a new generation of artists.

Today, the most authentic way to enjoy a flamenco show will be at a tablao (a flamenco club) where you can also enjoy either a selection of tapas or a tasty dinner. For an unforgettable flamenco experience, Luxos recommends El Corral de la Morería, Madrid’s most famous venue for this art. Located near the Royal Palace, you will find the best flamenco artists here, as well as great cuisine. In Barcelona, El Tablao de Carmen is entirely dedicated to flamenco, and its very name is a tribute to one of the greatest figures of the style, Carmen Amaya. When in Marbella, visit Tablao Flamenco Ana María. Wherever you are, try not to leave Spain without having witnessed a performance!

Luxos Recommends:
Madrid - El Corral de la Morería - C/Morería 17, Tel. +34 913 658 446
Barcelona - El Tablao de Carmen - Avenida Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia 13, Poble Espanyol Tel. +34 933 256 895
Marbella - Tablao Flamenco Ana María - Plaza del Santo Cristo 4-5, Tel. +34 952 823 107
Spain SS2011