Origins and History - Flamenco Beirut  
Andalusia, the cradle of flamenco. A melting pot of civilizations…
Andalusia, since olden times, is a locus of passages and encounters and a melting pot for various cultures that have, over centuries, made it a fertile ground for the gestation, then the birth of the sound that would later become known as flamenco.

In the 12th century B.C., Andalusia was occupied by the Iberians (the ancestors of the Spanish). There, the Phoenicians founded Gades (now Cadiz) and first introduced, into the Southern part of Spain, early Middle Eastern music. Gades was known for its lively and prosperous atmosphere. It was also known for the beauty (and shamelessness) of its girls, skillful singers and dancers who were a hit in the Rome of the Caesars. One of them was the famous Telethusa. According to Ricardo Molian, a flamenco scholar, the noisy art of these young girls is certainly reflected in today’s flamenco. Its ambiance of feasts, the screams, the hand clapping, the cymbals, the crotales, the cliquettes and the castanets.. are all festive manifestations that are clearly still found in today’s fiestas. 

In this “receptacle” of Andalusia will succeed the Carthagians, Romans, Barbarians from all sides, Byzantines and other Visigoths who will leave their successive imprints. Under the Roman Empire, the commerce between the countries of the Middle East and Andalusia prospers. The Syrians will bring with them Christianity and the first inflections of Middle Eastern chant.

Let us stop for a moment at the Byzantine period, of great importance to us. Why? Because it the 6th century emperor Justinian the First established the Christian Byzantine cult. Its liturgy and music contributed to the elaboration of Gregorian chant with its plaintive sonourous inflexions. Gregorian chant in turn will play a significant role in the shaping of some chants that are the basis of the flamenco repertoire. In that, the popular music of Andalusia will be strongly under the influence of these liturgical chants at least until the 11th century, via the Mozarab church linked to the Visigoths.

"Al-Andalos", or Arab occupation of Andalusia…
Then another important even took place: the year 711 saw the arrival of Arabs to the coast of Andalusia, and the birth of a civilization that, for 6 centuries, illuminated the whole world with its splendor. This civilization will give the world masterpieces in art, architecture and science, as well as a masterful lesson in tolerance and enlightened humanism. The cities of Cordoba and Granada were its religious, cultural and intellectual capitals. They will reach their golden age, and witness the harmonious and fruitful cohabitation of the 3 monotheistic religions. This will make them in turn a melting pot of Moslem, Jewish and Mozarab (The Mozarabs are the Christians of Spain who, under Moslem domination, adopted Arabic language and dress, while maintaining their religious beliefs) influences, to give birth to an original, refined and sophisticated culture. This culture, in turn, will become a primary ingredient in the Andalusian melting pot, and will be assimilated and kneaded by the Gypsies, who will add to it their own ferment.

For the lay Spanish citizen, and the more or less profane listener to flamenco, the Arabic influence on this art form is absolutely undeniable. For the historian and the scholar, this influence is as absolutely denied. The truth lies probably somewhere in-between. In flamenco, have certainly survived certain modulations, lamentations and voice inflections of Arabic music. Certain melodies and songs of Arabic origin have also survived, and reentered the flamenco repertoire, such as the "zambras", "zéjeles", "moaxajas," and other "jarchas" that were the songs of Moslem Spain. To this we can add the hypothesis that, if the court music of the time was erudite and particularly refined, there certainly existed a music of streets and back alleys, i.e. a popular music of a festive character, that could have left its imprint on the so-called popular folklore

Another element that entered the melting pot of Andalusia is Judeo-Andalusian music, mainly its religious form. Let us remember that, during the Arab occupation of Andalusia, at a time when the rest of Europe thrived on intolerance and religious wars, the 3 monotheistic religions lived side by side in peace and mutual respect in Andalusia. Cordoba even became one of the most important Hebraic religious centers at the time. The Jews were omnipresent in political, economical, and cultural life, and certainly had a great influence on music. One can detect in certain flamenco cantos traces of synagogue chants, in particular the well-known "Kol Nidrei".

A date stands out in the history of the Arab occupation of Andalusia: the year 822, which saw the arrival to Andalusia, at the request of Abderrahman II, of a man of Persian origin. His name was Ziryab, which means "black bird" in Arabic. An excellent musician, he settled in Cordoba and there founded a music conservatoire. He is said to have created a thousand melodies, and to have memorized more than ten thousand.

Why is Ziryab of interest to us? The Arabic historian Hamza Ibn Hassan Al Isfahani reports that the king of Persia Bahram Gur, who reigned ca. 550 B.C, wanting to make his people happy, brought into his kingdom some 12,000 musician from India. They were Roms – or Gypsies. They scattered throughout Persia and left there an important musical heritage. Ziryab, coming from Persia, had learned several of their melodies, adopted them into his repertoire, and later disseminated them in Andalusia. He was thus transmitting extremely ancient Indian melodies, as well as elements of the Persian musical tradition, that we detect mostly in the tonás as well as the vocal technique that is peculiar to the cantaor flamenco.

Meanwhile, what was happening on the other side of the planet? 1200 B.C., the Roms…
In the province of Punjab (in modern day Pakistan), a brilliant civilization developed in the 2nd millennium B.C. Its protagonists, the Roms, were excellent musicians, as well as dexterous craftsmen who manufactured, it is said, weapons of rare perfection, of which they supplied the kings of the time.

As we saw, between 1200 B.C. and the 10th century A.D., the Roms, for mysterious reasons, were cast out of their lands and scattered on the roads. They thus started a long voyage that led them from the Punjab, throughout Asia and Europe. They followed a road that started in India, crossed Afghanistan then Iran. Some of them reached Byzance through Armenia. Others landed in North Africa, through Syria and Egypt.

They arrived in Spain after crossing the Pyrenees mountains,, and reached Andalusia where the Atlantic Ocean and the warm climate made them stop and settle.

Historically, we can situate the arrival of the first Gypsies into Andalusia ca. 1425. They entered through French territory. We know that at this date the King of Aragon Alfonso V the Magnanimous gave a safe writ of passage to "John of Egypt" and a group he was leading, even helping them settle into his land.

The Arrival of Gypsies (Roms) in Andalusia
Let us now come back to Andalusia, or Al-Andalos, now living its last few decennies.
We are then in the 15th century A.D. and the Gypsies have just arrived. Why did they stop? Possibly because they found at last a welcoming land, a tolerant people, and because, though strangers, they felt that they fitted at last into a mosaic of diverse religions and cultures.

May be also because they recognized a familiar music, the music of their native land, spread by Ziryab.

After the Gypsies settled in Andalusia, they knew a period of peace and prosperity. They absorbed the folklore of Andalusia with its ancient Eastern resonances, and grafted onto it their own musical traditions. Thus was born the deep cante, or Cante Jondo, a symbiotic product of the encounter between Gypsies and Andalusians.

Some well informed flamencologists hold that the gypsies alone are at the origin of Flamenco. Others flamencologists, equally well informed, affirm that it is solely the continuation of a culture already extant in Andalusia. To the extreme viewpoints of both schools of thought, we can offer what we think is the middle truth: after the arrival of the Gypsies, the folklore of Andalusia most certainly went through a transition, a transformation, a "gypsying" that gave birth to new forms and new sounds that came to be later identified, around the 18th century, as "flamenco".

Hence, and even if we hypothesize that the Gypsies are not directly at the origin of flamenco, they incontestably gave this art from its final structure and character.

1492 – The Reconquista and the end of the Al Andalos dream.
The idyllic life of the Gypsies in Andalusia was meant to be short.

In 1492, with the « Reconquista » (the re-conquest of Spain by Ferdinand and Isabel) and the capture of Granada, the dream of Al Andalos was shattered. All of Spain entered a phase of obscurantism dominated by the Inquisition. The Inquisition ended tolerance and the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Moslems sand Jews.

A long period (nearly 5 centuries) then witnessed the marginalization, then the systematic persecution of all errant non-Christian communities in Spain.

THE DARK AGE: 16th to 18th century.
Repression and marginalization…
The kings who succeeded Alfonso V the Magnanimous did not exhibit his generous conduct. Rulers will not cease to persecute the Gypsy community, not for the disorder it created or the misdemeanors it committed, but for its profound and absolute love of liberty, its resistance to abandoning its language and customs, in brief its refusal to accept any authority figure and submit to it.

The first laws against the Gypsies appeared in 1499, when nomadism was formally declared to be against the law. This oppressing context pushed the Gypsies to adopt a semi-clandestine life. Highways, caves, fields, streets, and suburbs of cities become their sites of predilection. There they interacted with another hunted community, the Morisques or Christianized Moslems, also men of the street. Gypsies and Morisques will live side by side and interact.

To survive, the Gypsies practiced difficult jobs, notably blacksmithing. They settled in ghettos or outside the walls of cities, such as the Triana neighborhood in Seville, Santiago and San Miguel in Jerez, and the Viña in Cadiz. Their isolation from mainstream society led to a separate and distinct artistic development. Thus will be born the first cantes, the cante primitivo, a supreme and absolute expression of the tragic Gypsy condition, its daily life of misery, hunger and persecution.

En gitana soleá
Voy yo cantando mis dudas
Tantas, que no caben más.
(In my Gypsy loneliness
I'll sing my sorrows
Such, I can't contain them).

1783 : the Pragmatic Sanction of Charles III.
Flamenco appeared quite suddenly, over a span of some twenty years, towards the end of the 18th century.

The year 1783 was a turning point in the history of flamenco. In that year, King Charles III of Spain issued the Pragmatic Sanction that declared Gypsies to be citizen with equal rights under the law. From this moment flamenco began to emerge from the shadows.

After centuries of obscure gestation, we witness around 1780-1810 a renaissance of the cante jondo. It re-emerged a fully mature art: its music was complex and difficult, the songs particularly refined, and the forms and structures well crystallized.

The diffusion of flamenco thereafter was particularly rapid, favoring the guitar in the 19th century and dance at the beginning of the 20th century.

Golden Age and Decadence… Music Halls and Flamenco Opera.

More and more openly performed, the cante flamenco gradually became a spectacle practiced in specialized music halls, later called "Cantante Cafes". Cantante Cafes offered musical spectacles to a clientele looking for entertainment, but also driven by artistic and cultural curiosity. During the golden age of flamenco, every single Andalusian city had such establishments. In Union, a mining city, there were 16 such houses on the same street!

In the beginning of the 19c, flamenco was known only to Gypsies in the suburbs of cities, and to a few enlightened "payos" (non-gypsies) who were familiar with it. It was a "payo" who was to disseminate flamenco outside the gypsy world. His name was Silverio Franconetti. He popularized flamenco by playing it in his cantante cafe "Cafe of Silverio". To make it more accessible to a general public, he thrived to soften the primitive and wild nature of the cante, by introducing fiorituras and by focusing on the melody, thus giving the cante a color more dramatic than tragic color.

Flamenco then became a lucrative "business". Its profits were shared by the performers, the owners of performance venues, and the organizers. The downside was that the performers, now professionals, had to submit to the demands of a market that, increasingly, turned their art into a formulaic commodity. Flamenco was running the risk of becoming a mercantile mass-produced form of entertainment.

Of note, it is mostly the « Payos », the non-Gypsies, who developed and controlled such a market, because Gypsies generally refused to submit to this novel dependency. This explains why, in parallel to music halls, authentic flamenco continued to be played in the intimacy of homes, and during ceremonies and feasts.

This period came to be known as the "Golden Age" of flamenco, due to the clear talent of its performers: El Fillo, El Nitri, El Pelao, Enrique el Mellizo, La Serneta, La Andonda, El Lebrijano, Juan Breva, Antonio Chacon and many others.

The performance of flamenco in front of a public who had little knowledge of its roots and underlying culture gradually led to the marginalization of its basic cantos, the tonas and their derivatives. The deblas, carceleras, martinetes genres definitively disappeared during the following era, that of "Operism". In addition, the cafes often mixed or alternated performances of authentic cantes with grotesque or parodist turns, which were extremely popular. Hence Gypsies tended to take the stage less and less, leaving their place to Payos.

This era also saw the timid birth of what came to be called "Flamenco Opera", undoubtedly the most decadent form of flamenco. Flamenco Opera was spearheaded by Pepe Marchena, a true leader and the main inspirer of this degraded form of flamenco. Flamenco Opera was extremely successful in Spain and abroad, invading even the bullfighting arenas.

Flamenco Opera flourished from the [19]30s to the [19]50s [FADIA: c'est 1830s ou 1930s?], corresponding to the dramatic period during which Spain was torn by civil war. For flamenco, those were years of mediocrity, during which creativity gave place to ease and a certain banality, turning flamenco into a superficial and artificial form of entertainment.

Federico Garcia Lorca: an attempt at salvaging flamenco
During this period of « decadence » two major factors were to preserve flamenco's original authenticity, and contribute to making it known to a more « intellectual », more enlightened public who was likely to understand and appreciate it. First, the poet Federica Garcia Lorca, together with the composer Manuel de Falla, and the painter Ignacio Zuluoaga created in 1922 the famous Competition of cante of Granada. It succeeded, to a limited extent, in restoring to this art the purity of its origins.

Second was the musician Antonio Chacon, nicknamed Don Antonio Chacon because of his encyclopedic knowledge. Antonio Chacon was a man of immense talent and performing abilities, and was able to arouse the interest of intellectuals and the higher social classes. He created many new styles of flamenco.

In addition, a handful of authentic artists, led by Tomas Pavon and his sister Pastora « La Niña de los Peines » resisted the siren's call to degrade their art during the era of Flamenco Opera. Tomas Pavon, by the purity of his Gypsy-inspired singing, brought back to life a certain number of styles that had been forgotten such as the « tona grande » and the « debla ». Pastora carried high the standards of authentic cante flamenco, and gained the esteem of a knowledgeable and demanding public.

From the 1950s : a return to sources. The 1950s witnessed a return of flamenco to its roots, in a felicitous attempt to find back its sources and rekindle the creative imagination that would allow it to move forward. Flamenco abandoned the stereotypes and artifices of theater, and started again looking for an esthetic framework and a mode of expression adapted to new historical social and cultural realities. Flamenco found a public able to live it from within, and ready to approach it with respect and a passionate interest. Those years saw the proliferation of concerts, conferences, hommages, publications, recordings, and the birth of flamenco institutions and centers. Startling new voices were heard, such as those of Fosforito, Juan Talega, the sisters Bernarda and Fernanda de Utrera. A chair of flamencology is created in Jerez, and later an Andalusian Flamenco Foundation. This is also the era that saw the development of « Peñas » or flamenco circles.

More importantly, during that era, the prestigious « Llave de Oro » (Golden Key Award) was given in 1962 to the gypsy Antonio Mairena, a remarkable cantaor. Mairena is credited with reviving and rehabilitating forgotten styles; he also recorded a historical anthology that stands alone as an exhaustive encyclopedia of flamenco. In addition, he published with Ricardo Molina the book « Mundo y formas del cante flamenco » now considered a seminal reference. The term « mairenism » has been coined to evoke the rigorism of Mairena and his irrevocable refusal to accept any compromise in the art of flamenco.

The end of the 20th century saw the appearance of numerous extremely talented flamenco artists. Let us mention in guitar: El Niño Ricardo, Diego del Gastor, Melchor of Marchena, Ramon Montoya, and more recently Manolo Sanlucar and the revolutionary genius Paco de Lucia, Tomatito, Vicente Amigo, Enrique de Melchor. In dance: the couple of Cristina Hoyos and Antonio Gadès, Mario Maya, Javier Molina, Matilde Corral, Antonio Canales, Rafael Aguilera, Joaquin Cortes. In cante : Terremoto de Jerez, Fosforito, Bernarda and Fernanda de Utrera, Enrique Morente, Chocolate, José Menese, El Lebrijano, Carmen Linares, José Mercé and numerous others. Last but not least, we should mention the gypsy Camaron de la Isla, a unique artist who died in 1992.

It is impossible to ignore the « pseudo-flamenco » that appeared in the 1960s, and that is now enjoying tremendous success. This flamenco, undoubtedly commercial, is characterized by its openness to other musical cultures. We must insist that this process, while it can be fruitful and enriching, must remain perfectly bridled not to transform flamenco into a hybrid genre that has no landmarks. Thus have emerged groups of « flamenco fusion » such as « flamenco rock » « flamenco jazz » or « Arabic flamenco ». Its performers include Ketama, Fragua, Pepe Nieto, Los Chobos, Pata Negra, Mano Negra. There is also the flamenco manouche represented in France by the Gipsy Kings, and more recently by the « Ojos de Brujo ». Those styles of music must be carefully handled. If Ketana claims the ascendancy of the prestigious Habichuela family, and if Ojos de Brujo has succeeded in various popular styles of fusion, those musics are more often ill mastered and far removed from the precepts and dogmas of Antonio Mairena!

To discover authentic flamenco, anthologies are useful. However it is best to try and listen to specific artists. Here is a list of performers with whom you cannot go wrong:
Guitar: Vincente Amigo, Paco de Lucia, Moraito, Manolo Sanlucar, Paco Serrano, Paco Peña, Juan Carmona, Tomatito,
Cante: Enrique Morente, Duquende, Camaron de la Isla, José Mercé, Arcangel, Diego el Cigala, El Polaco, Ojos de Brujo, Remedios Amaya.
Advise: beware of, even avoid, « fusion » flamenco such as Arabic flamenco or jazz flamenco. These styles often have nothing to do with authentic flamenco, and are often of mediocre musical quality.

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