El Duende (Gutierrez Montiel)
Without duende, there is no « authentic » flamenco. Duende is the proof, the evidence of the « becoming » of a flamenco act.
Duende is a Spanish word that is difficult, even impossible to translate. It possibly comes from the Latin « dominus » after becoming « dueno », the lord of the house. It is untranslatable, unless one turns to the language of religion. In the world of flamenco and bullfighting, duende may designate an invisible and mysterious animal, or as defined by the Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua: “encanto misterioso e inefable del cante”, a mysterious and unspeakable magic of the flamenco singing.
What then is duende? The Andalusian poet Federico Garcia Lorca has come closest to defining it. He is probably the only writer who has captured and transmitted the quintessence of duende in his own poetic and picturesque language.
Many flamencologists have also tried to define duende in a more rational language. But can one approach the duende rationally? Sociologically? via a musical science? Most certainly not. Yet I reproduce below 2 texts, one by Alain Gobin (Le Flamenco, PUF 1975) and another by Jean-Marie Lemogodeuc & Francisco Moyano (Le Flamenco, PUF 1994). Their approaches are pertinent and helpful in providing the neophyte with a tentative, even if incomplete explanation of what duende is, a sort of foretaste.
Alain Gobin (Le Flamenco) PUF 1975
But the cante jonde is also a projection into the future. For rarely does the Andalusian or the gypsy think about the present. There are no songs in the Levant that evoke today’s vicissitudes. In that sense, the song form is velleitary. It endlessly reinvents the past, or creates the future. We can, therefore, consider it located in an orbit of eternal becoming.
Inspiration, breath, duende animates flamenco art. It is the point from which dynamism and intensity emerge, it is musical form made wholly subjective as Duende Flamenco!
Individual and Collective Rites.
Flamenco and toreo [bull fighting] are, before anything else, individual expressions. They provide a way to liberate a dramatic past, a nightmarish experience still profoundly anchored in the memory or the unconscious of its protagonist. The role of the performer is to follow Adriane’s thread, go back to the sources, leave the labyrinth, and remember the past so as to exorcise it. To write and to tell is firstly to remember. To face the bull in the ring, to sing, or to dance is to remember as well. The artist does not invent himself, he reenacts events that were lived in the past. They are filtered through fantasy and imagination, to become an individual or collective from of therapy, a purifying formula. Collective celebrations lead to self-knowledge and to the affirmation of a personal and collective identity.
“TEORIA Y JUEGO DEL DUENDE” lecture given by the Andalucian poet Federico Garcia Lorca in 1930, original text in Spanish,
"Theory and Play of Duende” , in the English translation.