Coiling hands, proud bearing, rhythmic clapping of the heels, piercing gaze, passion and fire… This sensible Spanish dance of the internal liberation with the distinct rhythm and beautiful guitar music is flamenco.
To perceive the heart of flamenco it is not enough to be even in a professional posession of the dance and the guitar playing technique knowing all the nuances and features of its musical styles. It is necessary to be able to feel the spirit of flamenco – this by centuries and nations formed art. Not many actually realize that the path of flamenco with its particular internal values can be religious. And in the foundation of this path there is an appeal to oneself and to the knowledge that slumbers inside but can be aroused by a deep-laid emotional experience – by a song, coming out right from the heart and giving birth to a tempest of feelings, and zapateado – rhythmic clapping of the dancer’s heels.
There are three main constituents in flamenco – cante (“song” in Spanish), baile (“dance” in Spanish) and toque (“playing music” in Spanish).
The musical and the emotional basis of flamenco is cante jondo (“deep song” in Spanish) – ancient Andalusian singing. There is nothing that can be compared with the beauty and sincerity of these sentimental and mostly sad songs. Cante jondo is a genuine art of expressing the internal state and the deep emotional experience.
Traditionally cante jondo is thought to be connected with the most ancient musical systems of India and the Gypsies roaming around the world and having brought that knowledge to Spain from Radjastan (north-west of India) between the 9th and the 14th centuries. That influence is traced in many versions of performing the simplest (from the point of view of notation in music) melody. Great number of technical nuances and sound palette shades is a distinguishing feature of the “Gypsy school”. Same bearing notes can be played in endlessly various ways. Such wide variance of how one frase could sound expressed the voluminosity of the vision of the world and so lets us bring flamenco knowledge into correlation with Veda philosophy. Other characteristic features of this style are polyrhythmia and bright, emotional performance accompanied by shouts.
Besides the Gypsies many other traditions influenced the process of flamenco and its basis – cante jondo formation. The rise and development of this art broaches several time and cultural layers each of which we will pay attention to separately.
Where it all came from
Flamenco appeared upon the merging of the cultures of the Middle Age Andalusia which gathered on its lands Arabs, Jews, Gypsies and Christians under the “patronage” of Muslims who were rather tolerant to other traditions. During that period three religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – were coming into a closer and, perhaps, more effective interaction between each other than at any other of the following times. That was a period of the universal retrieval: people of different religions exchanged thier knowledge. The top importance belonged to the practical experience but at the same time human life was viewed rather symbolically. Even though spiritual values were interpreted differently by different religions they were respected all the same equally. Flamenco as a symbol of the epoch was formed on the meeting-point of the cultures and absorbed and synthesized knowledge of different traditions.
The influence of Islam and Sufism. The Arabs
Sufism was segregated from Islam as a trend to which human’s original experience and searching for knowledge internally, not externally was particularly important. One Sufi mystic of the 13th century Ibn al-Arabi (1165–1240) born in Andalusia and having lived there for about 25 years already in his youth systematized the skills of the human’s spirit cognition and named the human’s path a mystical experience of living different rhythms which made him, perhaps without his realizing that, the main flamenco ideologist of his time.
He pointed at the three travels which a human accomplishes: from Allah through different worlds to the Earth world; to Allah – a spiritual travel completed by merging with the universal substance; and inside Allah – unlike the previous two this travel is endless. Each travel is directed by senses. Knowledge about them as well as about their accordance with actions were the matters of studying of all Arabic alchemists looking for energy transformation methods.
In the times of Ibn al-Arabi intuition, senses and feelings were almost visible, material, weighty. Contemporaty dance, full of expressiveness and emotion in many respects became egoistic and insensible, it doesn’t have that internal fluorescence for the sake of which it was actually created.
Flamenco strictly follows the given external rhythm: outwardly the rhythm is not independent but to attain internal freedom while it is performed real concentration and exertion are necessary. This is the condition of the dance that makes it possible to live the dance and transform the human’s internal energy while performing.
So we can be quite sure to suggest that such concepts like internal deliberateness, conformity and connexion in the art of expressing the depth of cante jondo were adopted from the Sufi mystics.
Flamenco systematization and development should be regarded as a merit of a Persian poet Ziryab (789–845/857), an Arabian singer, a masterly lute player, a poet and a composer, a theorist and a pedagogue whose name “Black Bird” was given to him for the “dark” tinge and melodiousness of his charming voice. Ziryab became the founder of the first Andalusian school of music and singing. The centre was situated in Cordoba and singing traditions of different cultures were taught there. Most likely Ziryab’s school should be considered the first basical centre of flamenco theory.
Ziryab was constructing musical instruments and having improved al-ud (the Spanish called it la-ud) by adding a fifth string to it created an original lute model which afterwards was used both in Christian Spain and North Africa.
Interestingly, Ziryab laid the foundation not only of performing music but also studying it. He put in good order the teaching system by making the performing skills and strengthening personal qualities of the musician equal. His attentive attitude to every-day actions and etiquette (it was Ziryab who set the trends in the matters of receiving guests and also we owe him our habitual order of serving the three courses in a meal: soup for the first course, fish – for the second and drinks and deserts – for the third) originated a real art of movements and intervals in the art of cante jondo.
Whad Ziryab did intersects with the Muslim skills of mystical immersion in a state of ecstatic experience which let the performer not just to figure the art more volumentrically but also to get imbued with it meaning being in the state of the ecstatic experience which is called Duende in Flamenco (“spirit” in Spanish).
The influence of Christianity
One interesting fact in the Andalusian history is concerned with the found vestige of the Knights Templar who established their Order in 1253 – 1258. Most likely those are the Templar as the keepers of the Christian secrets who we should thank for the merit of bringing Christian religious rhythms to flamenco.
The dance as a form of the art had a particular meaning and sacred functions reproducing some special nature of movements, principles of building the body and internal rhythm of acting. The dance was a mirror – the expresser and keeper – of the knowledge about the rhythm of living and remained such a one right up till the Renaissance period when it became just a part of the aesthetic upbringing of a person.
The Islamic Andalusia was a special place for developing different skills and capabilities and their search was one of the Templars’ missions. The unique music and movements form, aimed to transform the internal state and experience, no doubt, couldn’t be left unnoticed by them.
One of the Templars’ secrets was the knowledge used even by Jesus and Mohammed. It was concerned with the rhythmic style of the Holy Scripture or a prayer. A microtone was used in those rhythms which determined the frequency of the sound rank. In light of using such rhythms the knowledge about the rules of forming flamenco and its influence are clearly seen – different by frequency and complexity rhythmical structures correspondingly affect the perception, determining the “level of the rhythmic experience”. Using the microtones and halftones creates a form of a particularly strong effect which can be used both for an efficacious internal comprehension and for a deliberate influence on the external space.
The variety of the polyrhythmic flamenco nuances gives the performer an opportunity to change emotional and energy filling at any moment. Therefore the dance also becomes deeply personal because a real, not imaginary technical, perfection is expected from the dancer. Flamenco is like a game where different rhythms are to be perceived and an echo bringing all the participants of the action to a common ecstatic experience is to be achieved.
One of the classical Christian motive introduced in flamenco by the Templars were The Songs of Saint Mary – Cantigas Santa Maria – which were written for the king of Castile and Leon Alfonso the Wise in the 13th century.
The Africans. The Iberians. The Greeks.
It was not possible for Africa – the cradle of the mankind, the thesaurus of the Earth rhythms – not to influence the deeply musical, passionate and rhythmic art of flamenco. The representatives of the African continet came to Europe during the colonization period of Africa and Latin America. There is a supposition which is not unfounded that the native African step, originated from the tribal African dances, added fire to the sensible flamenco.
The traditional Kenian dances are based on the tight contact of the feet with the ground. The Tansanian dances which there are more than a hundred are also tied to the ground. Almost across the whole continent a particular importance of the feet perception of the rhythm is spread. Thus strong kicking the ground with feet which symbolizes new power revelation, the power that is responsible for forming manliness in the young men, are used in the Ugandian ritual dances connected with the youth initiation.
Working with legs is a particular skill to preserve the connection with the ground, something like listening to its rhythm. The rhythmic forms of the contemporary flamenco created by the clapping of the heels called zapateado most likely came from Africa and were used mainly by men. Women used their hands more. Today it is hard to recognize that difference because men’s and women’s dance movements have become almost the same.
The Iberians - ancient inhabitants of the Pyrenees – formed Tartess – a state on the territory of Andalusia – in the end of the second millenium BC. Some researchers consider the Iberians to originate from Africa, the others – to be the heirs of the pre-Indo-Europeans’ knowledge with whom they were interacting with in any case. No matter where the Iberians actually came from, perhaps, the most ancient layer of the skills to express the depth – Madre del cante (“the mother of singing” in Spanish) – is the basis of singing resting upon the skills to convey the sound. That tradition traces back to the tribal customs of the Iberians for whom the sound was brought into correlation with the first-born effort from which all the existing was descended.
The sound in its basis is the result of the deepest deliberate effort of a human. That is why it so strongly affects the consciousness and even the subconsciousness of people. But to reach that depth and express it is a difficult skill which was the aim of the Sufi mystics, the Arabian alchemists and the Christian Orders.
As for the Greeks, who had control over the south of Spain before the Celtic invasion, they brought castanets to accompany the dance of flamenco. The Greeks called them krotalon (which means “rattle”) and made them of metal which also proves their connection with India and the cult of Vishnu, the adherents of which still accompany the ritual kirtans (“hymn” in the Sanscrit language) with playing small metal plates – karatals.
And, of course, the Gypsies
Perhaps, flamenco connection with the Gypsies – mysterious and uneasy people – is the tightest. In the Middle Ages the Gypsies migrated from India to the Islamic Andalusia bringing to the forming live flamenco art not only Indian vocal school traditions which exerted decisive influence upon the flamenco singing basis formation – cante jondo. The Gypsies also showed particular legs work in a dance which they borrowed from Kathak – a sacral dance from North India concerned with Vishnu cult. The dance was a must in a religious ritual and accompanied the stories about Krishna playing. The significant importance of this dance is in perceiving the body as an instrument for conveying divine energy. Perhaps it was kathak which the advent of the dancing side in flamenco owes to. Its elements added internal strength and emotional exertion to flamenco and also brought diversity of legs technics in it.
Simultaneously let us note that there have always been particular skills of moving legs for women in all the mystic systems of the world since if the woman doesn’t use her legs in a correct way she upsets physiological and energy functions of her womb which conformably leads to a demolition not of only her personal nature but also her progeny. First of all using legs in a dance intensifies muscular stress which may hamper achieving and expressing internal depth. Though as long as today dancing has become more external rather than internal, external effects are taken naturally.
Cante jondo and cante flamenco
In its contemporary and most familiar to us form flamenco appeared in the 18th century but by then having already lost its bonds with the origin – cante jondo, the art of the deep experiencing expressed by means of singing.
We should note that the term “cante jondo” is used by the flamenco researchers to signify both an ancient method of the deep experiencing and the oldest group of flamenco styles themselves indicating their interdependence. Thus there is a dual meaning of “cante jondo” term – one means an ancient art of the depth expressing and another one means flamenco styles or a group of them.
The ancient flamenco significantly changed in the end of the 18th century. A different technique of working with legs, quick waist turns and other nuances of the dance movements appeared. Most likely only the plasticity of the dance remained immutable. A gap between those who performed flamenco and those who observed it arouse and began to grow. In fact the art of cante fell into decay in the end of the 18th century and a new art – flamenco – was born. Indeed a new art was born – not the old one revived as many are used to think. The “beginnings” of flamenco were entailed with development of many musical styles, in the old manner called cante flamenco, but in reality strikingly different from cante jondo – its ancient and sacral basis.
Styles in cante jondo – debla, carcelera, tonà, martinete, saeta, soleà, polo, siguiriya, serrana, caña, nanas, cantes de trilla.
Styles in cante flamenco –tiento, tango, tanguillo, zapateado, farruca, garrotin, buleria, alegria, cantiña, playera, fandango, fandanguillo, romeros, mirabrás, jabera, giliana, calesera, sevillana, panaderos, malagueña, granadina, taranta, taranto, cartagenera, rondeña, minera, jaleo, bandola, alicantina, galeras, mariana, verdiales.
The researchers of flamenco use different principles of the numerous styles classification, but one way or another all of them are devided into the ancient cante jondo and “the rest”. In other words everywhere cante jondo is marked out apart as a fundamental principle and almost independent art.
Styles of the contemporary flamenco
There are three levels, three trends or three genres, if you want, in the contemporary flamenco which reflect the depth and the keys of the performance. They are cante jondo, cante intermedio ( “interim” in Spanish) and cante chico (“small” in Spanish).
In the antiquity the depth (jondo) was expressed only by singing (cante) with no accompaniment – music and dancing joined later. As a flamenco genre cante jondo is characterized with dramatic poetry and music; the guitar is used just as a poor, with little beautifying, accompaniment.
Cante chico – contrary to cante jondo – is a light and a jolly genre as much as it can be in the art of flamenco, simple in its form and characters. In cante chico styles a leading part often belongs to the guitar, and the guitarist’s technical perfection becomes a criterion of appraisal, not his ability to reveal and show something non-verbal with his skills what cante jondo aspires to in its best patterns. Cante chico is the youngest style in flamenco, its appearance is connected with the changes that have been taking place in flamenco during the past centuries.
Cante intermedio is a category of the interim forms between cante jondo and cante chico. Dramatic mood in cante intemedio may take turns with merriment, and the guitar melodies sound more and more diverse and pass on from accompaniment to solo.
Each style includes a group of dancing styles characterized with a particular rhythm and performing manner.
Solea por buleria is one of the primary and most popular styles of flamenco. Imbued with minor colours this dance is characterized by slow hands and torso movements with quick zapateo and turns impregnation and also rhythm acceleration in the end of the dance. Solea por buleria song is executed without following the rhythm.
Buleria is a fast style of the dance. It is characterized with a mixture of syncopated rhythmic patterns conveyed by zapateado, clapping hands, knees and chest and other distinct dynamic movements. It can be performed both in major and minor keys.
Alegrias is a cheerful and joyous style. Its homeland is in Kadiz. The appearance of alegrias is associated with the Spaniards’ victory over Napoleon. The beseiged inhabitants were supported by the Arragons and together they managed to defend the city. That story is often narrated in the alegrias couplets. This style has a jovial but at the same time coarse and triumphal nature. It is performed in major keys.
Tangos is a jolly, lively and most often quick dancing style with a simple but distinct rhythm performed on the festives and fiestas. You can see many hips and shoulders movements in tangos, hands and torso are very pliant which is most likely to be related to the Arfican origin of this style.
Farruka is a men’s dance. Solemn, lofty and magestic.
Less famous but not less popular flamenco styles.
Singing tona creates a particular scope in the performance as it is sung without any guitar accompaniment but to a given rhythm. It is one of the oldest flamenco styles pefromed in a free tempo. Such a style gains particularly deep emotional experience.
Saeta is a “flamenco prayer”. Religious mysticism of Islam and Christianity is concealed in saeta. Saeta is a binding link between a human and his fate.
Debla style (“god” in the Gypsy language) was almost forgotten by the middle of the 19th century but once it was one of the main styles of cante jondo. Together with caña it is considered one of the most difficult to perform. Perhaps that is why debla is at the verge of disappearing. Debla lies in the basis of cante jondo and forms one branch together with martinete and carceleras.
Martinete and carceleras are the nature of cante jondo. Unlike martinete, which yields to some everyday life state and expresses it accordingly, carceleras carries out aspiration for freedom.
Properly speaking it was conceived in the places of its deprivation. Concurrently both styles represent some form of communication depicting a human’s state.
Nanas is a style of the “first birth” that represents high purity, childhood, intercourse of a mother and her child.
Cantes de trilla, or just trilleras, completes the forming of cante jondo. It is the style which is associated with the end of certain processes and transformation into a different quality. It seems that this original style switches the consciousness and lets accomplish internal transformations.
Various flamenco styles, studied and practiced nowadays both in Spain and beyond its bounds though they are not paid enough attention to, connect the contemporary flamenco with its Andalusian roots. Each of them separately holds a key to the insight of the dance depth, but together they open access to the spirit of the mystical and beautiful art of flamenco – to what the Spaniards call “Duende”.
Duende – the spirit of flamenco
Flamenco today is an art-egregor formed by the spiritual knowledge and traditions of different cultures of the Middle Age Andalusia and orientated to:
- strengthening the spirit through emotional experience;
- filling with movements, colors, sounds and feelings;
- unifying different forms of perception in an indivisible rhythm;
- bringing consciousness to harmony and balance.
And all of it is tightened with the internal power of flamenco and its spirit – duende.
Without duende flamenco loses its deep and delicate substance, its inner essense. A genuine art of dancing should be sought in duende, not its emotional form.
Many aim to gain inspiration in a dance but it is just why flamenco is so especial – there is no use even to try this dance without inspiration for duende is the power which the dance becomes just a poor flamenco improvisation without.
If there is no duende, an attempt to find or imitate it is just an emotional substitutional form and this is what distinguishes the real art from its fictitious double.
How to find the key to perceiving the spirit of flamenco? This question excites mind and heart of everyone who studies this dance. Any beginner masters the dancing vocabulary in just several laps. First the torso carriage, then studying arms and legs positions and thorough hands work. Then goes an important stage – feet and heels clapping erection, so-called zapateado (a real flamenco dancer can make five different sounds with his heels). Special attention is paid to the head position and the look as these elements add proper vividness to the perfomance.
Also the performer is to learn the campas (rhythmic patterns typical to each flamenco style) and master the jaleo claps. Seems like so little is left – to learn to feel music and let yourself out into improvisation bringing together technics and innate temper. But it is not enough for duende!
Duende requires particular state of the soul and inspiration which is, as is well known, unpredictable.
None other than Fedefico Garcia Lorka – a Spanish poet and musician, raised on the folk cante jondo songs, impregnated with the Spanish yearning and the depth of the perceptible experience of the flamenco art – knows what duende is about.
The Spanish flamenco art connoisseurs are very scrupulous spectators. Their exclamation “No tiene duende!” (“He doesn’t have fire!” in Spanish) is like a death sentence to the performer. Lorka liked to tell a story narrating how “an eighty-year-old water-boiling bodied woman wrested the first prize from the young beauties” on a dancing contest in Jerez-de-la-Frontera. She won over the young beauties only due to the sense and inner power she raised her hands and head and clapped her heels on the stage with.
Golden Age of Flamenco
Starting from the end of the 18th century flamenco began to play an important role in the Spanish society and an epoch of its mass expansion began. Since then a new history of flamenco began in the context of which, very likely, en end was put to its being a path of internal searching and development.
At the same time flamenco began to lose the knowledge it was guided by. The year 1842 can be called a turning point in the history of the dance: the first profile club opened in Sevilla and gave birth to the flamenco industry.
Mass popularity came to the dance during the period of so-called “Golden Age” of flamenco in the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries. Its main figure was Silverio Franconetti. On one hand he was an extraordinary person who, having plunged into flamenco, presented it as a special art. But on the other hand the problem was that any art has to ripen in the minds of not only several individuals but at least some ten people. Flamenco was doomed to a pseudo-development when the followers of Silverio made a contest of it converting a sacral art into some sport what inevitably had to bring it to its subsidence.
So the “gold-likeness” of this period is quite doubtful. And even though great cantadores gathered around Silverio then, they could never reach the primordial depth of flamenco.
Amongst the cohort of his students we can only pick out Antonio Chacone who surpassed his teacher in creating conditions for many new styles and sorts of flamenco to appear and to enrich most of all the external, performing form of flamenco.
The songs began to be devided to those that accompanied the dance – atrás, and those just for listening – alante. But without internal filling external form couldn’t last long and already by the middle of the 19th century flamenco suffered next decadence. As a business product it had to undergo certain changes and as a deep art – to wait for new researchers and followers of the primordial meaning. Business brought into flamenco feeling imitation which made it close only to those who welcomed external plain forms and were oriented to the consuming attitude.
In Spain – the homeland of flamenco – this dance isn’t danced everywhere, or, rather, is danced everywhere but lived, perhaps, only where the traditions are still strong. Any village in the south of Spain doesn’t need any special occasion for a festival – be it in the afternoon or at night, in the morning or in the evening, in a solitude or in the middle of the central square – with a great mood they just put on their costumes and dance. A woman dancing flamenco is beautiful and graceful, temperamental and captivating, fetching and haughty, proud and confident.
This dance is deeply individual, sometimes its character is contiguous with unconquerable loneliness, a state in actual fact defined by a human personality and his internal richness. Flamenco appeals to some invisible source and expresses itself emotionally very freely and easily – from a cry or a shout to love and some particular joy.
Flamenco teaches a human to interact with himself. This experience is not for some outward effect. Just the feelings give birth to the very vibration inside the body which is rendered into the outside afterwards.
Judging by the arising tendencies, flamenco should be expected to have some aesthetic future, some successful exterior development. But any exterior style won’t be able to replace the true experiencing of the ancient flamenco with its roots settled in the thesaurus of the multitude of cultures and traditions. To perceive any dance, not just learn to dance it, be it flamenco, Arabian belly-dance or hopak, we have to understand its roots, follow its history and rely on our own inner rhythm sensation instead of the exterior effects. And only then a contemporary dance will reveal its ancient secret telling about our internal essence, about us real.
The ancient art of cante jondo expressed the deepest experience of a human and at the same time it was an instrument of saving the connection with this depth. This is what makes flamenco even more valuable inasmuch as gaining the connection with the internal – our real – world is particularly important today.