Flamenco: Folklore or Art Form? - Flamenco Beirut  

Flamencas (J. Sorolla)

Traditionally, popular music is considered « folk music » or part of « folklore » if it is imprinted with geographical or social characteristics of the culture where it was born. It carries traces of historical or personal events, that allow the listener to easily place it in a « local » spot. The same is true for folk dances that can be national, regional etc

On the other hand, a work belongs to the « art » domain if it is pure creation, and calls on universal esthetic principles, perceptible by all.

If flamenco were simply folklore, it would not have fascinated so many illustrious composers and enlightened creators. It would not have conquered the entire planet, from the USA to Japan, to be now found over the 5 continents, recognized and appreciated in geographical areas well beyond its cradle.

Flamenco is an art, because it follows certain esthetic principles, and because it has universal meaning. Its influence is evident in the work of contemporary composers. It continues to fascinate without discrimination world amateurs of music who are neither gypsy nor Spanish, but who identify with flamenco and adopt it unconditionally.


Pastora Imperio (M. Benedito)
Flamenco has become an integral part of world culture.
It is known, recognized, studied, taught, and disseminated. It is played, sung and danced not only in the fashionable nightclubs of Madrid, blessed with the Movida, but everywhere else in the world. The most prestigious Spanish universities now have chairs in "flamencology". Schools of flamenco dance and guitar are springing across the globe, most notably at an astonishing rate in Japan. Peñas are being organized even in Scandinavian countries. Magazines, websites, television programs, festivals and competitions dedicated to or specializing in flamenco are everywhere appearing.

Spain and Andalusia in particular, are part of our collective unconscious. They have nourished the imagination of numerous writers and musicians since the era of Romanticism in the 19th century. Let us recall Chateaubriand, Prosper Mérimée and his unforgettable Carmen, Théophile Gautier, Gustave Doré and countless others. Flamenco was occulted during the era of Franco, when Spain was isolated from the rest of the world for a few decades. However it came back with full force in the 1980s, bringing dreams of freedom to Western people invaded by technology and rationalism, and helping them define and shape their identity.

This phenomenon has spread into the North American continent with the "Latino" wave. It has reached the Middle East where countless "gypsy" festivals are organized, and popular music is increasingly colored with a "Hispanic" touch. In the Far East and North Africa, the Arabo-Andalusian repertoire is being rediscovered, and countless Hispano-Arabic musicians are reviving it; often, traditional flamenco singers do not hesitate to join in.

The main victim of this flamenco fashion is of course flamenco itself. It is now displayed in less than authentic form, to an often uncultured public. It is high jacked by show business professionals who feed the public "Gitano" stereotypes such as polka dot dresses, lacquered chignon hairdos, blackened eyelids, and erotic hip motions, not to mention gondoliers, boleros, and multilayered jabots. In short, a phantasm has turned into a fantasy, with clichés and stereotypes included.

Truly, flamenco nowadays is largely reduced to Sevillanas and other Rumbas. This is taking place at the detriment of the "cante jondo", the deep chant, located quite far from the "fiesta. The "cante jondo" is first and foremost the expression of the tragic perception of life as it was felt (and often still being felt), by its creators. It is the painful expression, largely through song, of the distress of a people victimized through poverty, marginalization and persecution.

Jean Rostand said: "A bit of science takes us away from God, a lot brings us back to Him." The same is true for flamenco. Fragmentary knowledge, or even worse, misconceptions make us perceive flamenco as a colorful uncomplicated piece of folklore and a minor art. A more rational approach can hook us into becoming a devoted public, ready to discover the thousand treasures of a protean art form that we can endlessly explore.

Can one really appreciate flamenco if one is not Spanish, even Andalusian? How can people as diverse as the Japanese, the Italians, the Anglo-Saxons, communicate with an art form so foreign to their culture? What do we know of the origin of gypsies? What do we know of the "palos" of flamenco, the Bulerias, the Soleares, the Mineras and the Siguiriyas of which Garcia Lorca said they could be played in a church without profaning it? What exactly is meant by the "duende"? What is a "compás"?

And ultimately what is flamenco? Where does it come from? How did it evolve? What is left of it nowadays? And can we, as modern day "payos," capture its essence and its meaning?

So many questions that we would like to tackle, to be able to better grasp, understand, and appreciate the universal art of the flamenco.

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