Sal's flamenco soapbox

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The word flamenco

Here are some of the more commonly quoted origins of the word flamenco. Take your pick.

From the Arabic 'felag mengu', meaning 'fugitive peasant', or 'peasant in flight'. This term applied to all persecuted people (including Muslims and Jews) who fled to the mountains to escape the Inquisition. This has also been interpreted as 'migrant farmer'. Another variation is "Fellahmengu" which is supposed to mean "Peasant without Land". Has anyone thought to ask an Arab? My God, does anybody who dreams up these things actually understand Arabic at all, or are these clueless pencil pushers just making it up as they go along.

The word flamenco - Felag what?

From the Arabic 'fellah menkum', meaning 'farmer from your group'.
Now wait a minute.
These theories which imply that Gypsies were farmers sound a little too easy. While it is true that in the 17th century Gypsies were encouraged to forget their nomadic ways and become farmers, why would they? The conditions and repercussions attached to the laws were too repressive to realistically expect passive compliance.

There is no good reason to believe that the settled Gypsies who worked at their various trades would suddenly change their traditional lifestyle and start farming. Likewise, those who did have 'nomadic ways' were not likely to settle down just because the government of the day decreed that they should. Historians are people too, and they love to argue with each other and make wild generalizations when it suits them. If we really knew the details beyond a shadow of a doubt, they would all agree with each other, wouldn't they? The simple fact is that there is not enough clear evidence to take this farmer business seriously. Taking all this into account, the phonetic similarity between the word 'flamenco' and the Arabic variations on the word 'farmer' seems an unconvincing basis for a valid theory in my opinion.

red arrowFlamenco originally meant 'Flemish': and still does. Open up a good dictionary and see for yourself. "Although flamenco music is now recognised as a marvellous and unique art form, this was not always so, as is demonstrated by the origin of the name itself. Flamenco, in fact, means... Flemish!
The story goes that when Felipe II's soldiers returned from their military occupation of the Netherlands, some Andalucians among them were one night heard singing and dancing and playing the guitar, and someone assumed that they must have picked it all up in Flanders, contemptuously dubbing the genre "Flemish music". The fact that no one ever bothered to rectify this absurdity is a measure of the disregard in which it was held"
Lawrence Bohme

red arrowAnother common version is that flamenco was originally a somewhat derogatory term used to describe the courtiers of Charles V, such courtiers having been recruited from Flanders by the Spanish monarch in the early Sixteenth Century and renowned for their self-confidence, style of bright clothing and ostentatious pride.

red arrowFurther insight into the flamenco / Flanders connection was emailed to me recently. "It was said the Flemish persons and gypsies both had a crazy way of having feasts; pretty loud. It has been said the association between both groups somwhere was made, and one group was called after the other, mixing them up into the same category. If one investigates how the Flemish lived in medieval times, in Flanders there seem to have been much more freedom, enjoyment and free time than which is today, and there was time and investment in a social life.
We can only guess what kind of music was made there because nothing was really written down, and most of the traditions are forgotton. If we look at Breugel paintings (Flanders) one sees oud and pipes, crazy singing but one can only guess how this was amongst the people."
Thanks Gerald

red arrowAnother version of this theory implies that the Spanish Jews who migrated to Flanders were free to practice their religion and openly sing their religious chants. At the time in Spain there was no such freedom. These songs were referred to as 'flamenco' (Flemish) songs by their kin who remained in Spain.


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