Sal's flamenco soapbox

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The Gypsies

Gypsies. Gypsy migration routes
After the initial 10,000 Luri musicians who travelled from India to Persia, the main migration from India occurred in the the 9th Century. The next major dispersal occurred out of the Balkans into Europe in the 14th and 15th century. After the abolition of Gypsy slavery in Europe in the mid 19th century, some moved to America. In the 20th century, the Second World War, the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the more recent conflicts in Yugoslavia have caused further dispersal.

Gypsies in Spain
Gypsies were first recorded in Spain in Zaragoza, capital of Aragon in 1425. The majority entered via Barcelona (in Catalonia) in 1447. Throughout their (recorded) history, Gypsies everywhere were resented and persecuted for one reason or another. Most of the time there was no good reason. Well, not from a politically correct late 20th century perspective anyway. I feel sure there were many reasons based on fear, suspicion, rumor and superstition that would have been perfectly reasonable to the people of the day.

Spanish gypsies

"The term gypsy refers to an ethnic group which calls itself the Rom and speaks a language known as Romany. It is unknown how many gypsies there are either in general or in Spain. The Spanish gypsy population might be as high as 500,000.


An estimate of the world gypsy population ranges between three and six million. The calculation is made difficult by the nomadic life-style of some gypsies even today, as well as their cultural isolation and sense of mystery surrounding their origins. "

As an example of the way they were treated, in 1560 Spanish legislation forbade Gitanos of travelling in groups of more than two. Gitano dress and clothing was banned. Punishment for breaking this law was up to eighteen years in the galleys for those over fourteen years of age. As time passed it didn't get any easier for them. Gypsies were despised in other countries as well.

In 1721, (the German Emporer) Charles VI passed a law which specified that any Rom found in the country are to be killed instantly. Romani women and children would have their ears cut off and whipped all the way to the border. (Meanwhile, back in Spain) In 1726, Gitanos in Spain were forbidden to appeal against the sentences of the courts. In 1783, Spanish legislation reiterated previous orders. Gitano dress, way of life, and language was forbidden, and settlement was compulsory within ninety days. Ref

Traditionally, they worked as blacksmiths, horse traders, musicians, dancers and fortunetellers. Although they also worked at other jobs such as bar tending or helping out in the bullrings, Andalucian Gypsies in the old days generally lived a day at a time. Flamenco songs reflect centuries of hardship. Perhaps this might explain why some of the singing can sound more like a tortured primal scream than a song.



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