Sal's flamenco soapbox

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Flamenco history

The Christian reconquest
When Ferdinand and Isabella captured the last Muslim stronghold of Granada in 1492, Jews had three choices: conversion, exile or the Inquisition. Their history in the peninsular was a long history of persecution. Enough was enough already. The 20,000 or so Jews in Granada at the time did the wise thing and left Spain for good.

The "capitulation" of the Catholic Kings, which took the form of the "Treaty of Granada" and outlined 69 articles of religious tolerance, was enough to woo the Moslems into surrendering peacefully. For a few short years there was a tense calm in the province but the inquisitors were never happy with the deal. The Church advisors, using religious justifications, convinced Ferdinand and Isabella to break the treaty and force the Moslems to become Christians or get the hell out of Spain.

Moslems and Gypsies head for the hills

Indian elements

There are those who believe that the Gypsies brought the flamenco style with them from Hindustan. This argument is supported by the strong resemblance found in the ragas, the nuances of the Indian dance and similar arm and hand movements.

In 1499, 50,000 or so Moslems were coerced into taking part in a mass baptism. It didn't work. During the uprising that followed, those who refused the choices of baptism or officially sanctioned deportation to Africa, were systematically and brutally "eliminated", to put it mildly. The bulk of the Arabs had already packed up their bags and left for greener pastures during the previous few years.

Not surprisingly, the 300,000 remaining Muslims fled the populated towns and villages and headed for the hills. In the same year, Gypsies were treated to a royal decree designed to make them leave the country or face terrible penalties. Again, it comes as no surprise that many Gypsies joined the fleeing Muslims and took refuge in the mountain regions and caves.

The birth of flamenco
These cultures had little in common with each other but they found themselves united against a common enemy. Christian dissidents who had little stomach for what was going on also joined them. The various folkloric traditions would have already experienced some cross-pollination before the fall of Granada. It was in this underground environment of forced exile however, that the first flamenco forms were most likely created and developed.

The Gypsies did not invent flamenco as we know it, but they certainly played a significant role in its distilling and development.

Although they borrowed the bits they liked from the various cultures around them and adapted them to suit their purposes, it would be stretching credibility to say that everything was borrowed.

It is reasonable to assume that Gypsies already possessed music and dance traditions of their own when they entered Spain. Centuries of wandering through strange lands would have infused their psyche with dance and musical echoes which reach back all the way to India. The early songs and dances of flamenco, many of which were used in rituals connected with Gypsy customs such as wedding ceremonies or the forging of iron, continued to be modified and refined over time. Flamenco is that collection of songs and dances, Gypsy and non-Gypsy, which made it into the 20th century.


(You may close your history books now)


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