Sal's flamenco soapbox

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My mysterious response


I thought about these concepts for years. It made me feel kind of unworthy. That is, until I formulated a carefully considered response to the issue of mystery. Well actually, it came to me in a dream on the lips of an angel. The wisdom that was revealed to me can be better understood if we take an example of how mystery applies in flamenco folklore. (Now it's my turn to be mysterious.) The dance form Garrotín, for example, has somewhat mysterious origins. Nobody really knows for sure where it came from. I personally don't think the issue is that important, but some researchers do think it's important, and like to argue about it. In my humble opinion, whether this dance originated in Galicia, Asturias or Lerida will always remain a matter for the die-hard intellectuals and is not worth fussing over. To make matters more interesting, my research also reveals that it has Celtic roots. Again, this is a matter for debate amongst those who find such things important.

I like to stress these differences of opinion to point out that flamenco has a shrouded and uncertain history. You could easily turn this into a romantic notion if you were that way inclined, and throw a blanket of dreamy eyed mystery around flamenco in general. To me, uncertainty means simply that we don't know. And that's all it means. It's far better to move on and live with not knowing than to turn the issue into an intellectual fantasy, which can be romanticized with whimsical theories. Faced with so many inconsistencies during my many hours of frustrating research into origins, I have adopted a simple attitude which goes something like this;


"Who cares"


It's wonderfully refreshing to end a hard day of study in this way. A bit of intellectual anarchy never hurt anybody.




Street level flamenco

It's not going to make you sing, dance or play better flamenco to know all the answers. A reasonable theory will keep my curiosity satisfied. I feel no great desire to know it all. Nor do I have any reason to doctor the facts in order to maintain some imagined air of mystery which does not exist outside the minds of poets and historians with nothing better to think about. I'm about as basic as they come.

Having said that, I must admit that it's nice to know the odd obscure fact or two about flamenco. You never know when you might get invited to a flamenco trivia quiz night. You may even want to write a book of useless information some day. In the meantime, it's infinitely more satisfying to just learn and enjoy flamenco at street level and claim the art form as your own, no matter where you come from. In contrast to the 'mysterious' practitioners, you may be lucky enough to meet a true master of flamenco who will tell you anything and spend hours of their spare time showing you the tricks of the trade. Why? Just because they like you.


My attitude is: GET REAL

My point is this. Mystery is not real. Learning flamenco, like many other things in life, depends mainly on interactions between people. Race or cultural inheritance has nothing to do with it. Mystery is a fabrication of the personalities that believe in it. It equates very simply to an inability to consolidate the variety of opinions inherent in the art form. I know that it's very easy to get confused when confronted with the many inconsistencies in flamenco. But I feel happy because at least I've made an attempt to consolidate it in my own mind. The proccess of researching the subject has been a therapeutic process. It has enabled me to lay the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle on the table and examine them. Most of the pieces fit together, but some don't. I'm not going to try to make them fit. I prefer to say, "Look at that! They don't fit. Isn't that interesting? Now let's get on with life".


Flamenco belongs to everyone
The moment I understood that flamenco belongs to everyone, my enjoyment was automatically enhanced. By virtue of the fact that flamenco is "an expression of the human condition", it belongs to you and me as much as it does to the gypsies. It then becomes a very personal expression of your unique emotional make up. When I play a Granadina for example, I'm not thinking of the rolling hills of Granada, or the Alhambra. I'm thinking of a dear friend of mine, who will always be a blessing and an inspiration in my life. This is how I understand flamenco. Soleares expresses solitude, Alegrías expresses happiness and so on. Once you learn some coherent dance steps or a few guitar forms, no amount of musing over mysteries can ever remove the personal element from your interpretations.


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