Flamenco En Beirut
Etymology  
WHAT DOES THE WORD "FLAMENCO" MEAN?
The meaning of the word "flamenco" is as mysterious as the origin of the Gypsy (or Rom) people. Daring speculations have been advanced by "flamencologists," musicologists and historians. So far no satisfying explanation has been put forth.

One theory holds that the word "flamenco" is originally a slang word of the 16th century that means boastful, pretentious, arrogant. From the middle of the 18th century onwards, it was used to refer to the Andalusian gypsies (previously called Egyptians, Greeks, Romanis, Roms, etc.) Soon afterwards, the word came to designate the culture of those gypsies, including their music, be it "cante" (song) or "toque" (guitar playing, which will appear later), and "baile" (dance).

Another theory gives the word "flamenco" an Arabic origin. This idea is endorsed by numerous Arab intellectuals and musicians. The word would come from the expression "felag mengu" (which would mean "runaway peasant") or some other Arabic expression. Music historian Ali Kheder endorses this theory pointing out that the gypsies, also called Kawali, were fabulous fortune tellers (faoualin, in Arabic dialect). Fortune telling, soothsaying and the ability to unveil or predict the future are called in Arabic, "faala." Consequently, the word "flamenco" would be a slight distortion of "fala min ka" or "fala min kom", which means "he foretold your future (singular or plural)". He bases his theory on the argument that flamenco directly speaks to the audience, who, traditionally, is often included in the performance.

All this seems plausible but note the following:
  • A reservation: the Arabic expressions from which the world flamenco would be derived seem to come from a dialect quite remote from standard Arabic, especially if we keep in mind it is all happening in Andalusia, a cradle of the arts and letters. What is, for example, the meaning of the expression "flana mincom" exposed by Mounir Bachir? Is it really Arabic? And what is its exact meaning?
  • An objection: the Arabs left Spain at the end of the 15th century. Why would it have taken 350 years to give the Gypsies a name derived from Arabic?


A third theory holds that the word "flamenco" comes from "flama" (flame) or "flamante" (flamboyant), evoking the flamboyant style of the Gypsies in dress, music and behavior.

A fourth theory states that the word "flamenco" derives from "Flaming" or "Flamand" (i.e. Flemish), that referred to Spaniards enlisted in the "Army of Flanders." This section of the Spanish army was stationed in the Pays-Bas (Netherlands) to enforce the authority of the Habsburg and hunt down renegade Protestants. The army had a reputation for being authoritarian, arrogant, and invincible. When the Spanish members of this army returned to Spain towards the end of the 17th century, specifically to Andalusia, they brought along Gypsy families that had joined their ranks. They joined to escape their status of "untouchables" and gain some privileges that came with their military engagement. They were allowed to practice certain jobs previously unavailable to them or to freely chose where to live. These Gypsies were called "flamencos" (deformation of Flamings or Flemish) by the locals and later kept this appellation.

Of all the theories, the latter is most convincing, for the simple reason that we can see an analogy with the kind of diamond (or rather diamond droppings) called "falamenk" or "falamenk istambouli," which were very fashionable in the Orient during the Ottoman empire, but are now out of style. Keeping in mind that Flanders is one of the world centers of diamond cutting and that the word "falamenk" probably derives from "Flaming" why not take this linguistic connection a step further and theorize that the word "flamenco," phonetically close to "falamenk," could have the same origin? The Spanish people added the "o" at the end of the word, while the Arabs added an "a" to the first syllabus.

To conclude, regardless of the etymology of the word, "flamenco" has become the identifier for the Gypsies of Andalusia since the 18th century and, by extension, designates their art. Our Byzantine quarrels over the word will add nothing vital, and the elucidation of this mystery will not make this art any less enchanting. Flamenco remains the most "flamboyant" example of human culture.
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