is traditional flamenco
Flamenco is a generic term applied the body of music,
song and dance normally associated with Andalucian
Gypsies. In the broader
sense, flamenco is the Andalucian folk art of the poor.
The word is also used to describe a flamenco performer
or aficionado. It evolved from a combination of Gypsy
and non-Gypsy cultural influences. Although we tend to
think of gypsies as being major contributors to
flamenco, which they were, they were not the only
contributors. The truth is they were relatively late
arrivals on the scene in terms of actual influences.
Way back in the 9th century for example, a musician from
Baghdad called Ziryab founded a singing school in Cordoba.
He is credited with introducing the lute (Al-U'd) to Spain
and also with adding a fifth bass string to it. It is said
he knew 10,000 songs (more than your Ipod can hold) and he
was largely responsible for adding Persian music and poetry
to Andalucian culture.
A major diaspora of Gypsies started arriving in Spain in
the mid 15th century. They had come at a bad time and were
not welcome. With the rise of Queen Isabella came the
Spanish Inquisition. When the Moors surrendered in 1492 and
Spain officially became a Christian country, Moslems, Jews
and Gypsies were given three simple choices. Basically, you
agree to walk with Jesus, or get lost. The other choice was
you would get to meet the inquisitors and try to explain
why you object to being a Catholic. But conversion didn't
mean freedom. It just meant you would be persecuted and
live a short, miserable life instead of being killed.
It comes as no surprise that most of the Moors and Jews
decided to flee and never come back. Gypsies were also part
of the religious cleansing and given the choices, were
forced to flee the city troubles along with the Moors and
Jews. So this unlikely mix of fugitives, while not bonded
to each other by race or religion, were at least allies who
had a common enemy and had ample opportunity to steal music
and dance ideas from one other as they camped under the
That's the simple version. I leave the unpleasant
details in the hands of bickering historians. The long and
short of it is that many of the gypsies ultimately survived
the turmoil and remained in Spain while the others (Moors
and Jews) left the country for good. In this context it
would be fair to say that at least some of the music and
dance traditions of the Moors and Jews (and Christians)
were assimilated and adapted by the gypsies.
Although the Sephardic Jews disappeared from Spain in
the late 15th century, echoes of their haunting music
linger on in flamenco melodies such as Peteneras.
Personally, I can't listen to Sephardic music without being
reminded of flamenco. The well known guitar piece
"Romance", (or "Spanish Ballad") is believed by some to be
a pre-Inquisition Jewish song. Likewise, the Moors have
long gone but the Arabic-Islamic influence is unmistakable
in such things as Granadinas and Tarantos. Later influences
included the Gregorian musical system as well as the
Christmas carols of the Christians. Some of this is
wonderful stuff for a lively academic debate, but the main
point I'm making here is that flamenco did not just
suddenly appear out of thin air. Unlike the Beatles in the
1960s, who suddenly burst onto the music scene in what
might be called a revolution in music, flamenco
"influences", without which there would be no
flamenco as we know it, evolved slowly over many centuries.
Mind you, the Beatles had their influences too but theirs
were more contemporary. Flamenco as we recognize it today
is only around 200 years old but there can be no
doubt in the mind of any intelligent person that it's
incubation period stretches way back.