Flamenco in 20th and 21st Centuries: Carmen Amaya to Tiny Desk

For some, she was the greatest female flamenco dancer of all time. Born in Somorrostro, she traveled the world with her flamenco artistry. Some criticized her upon returning from the United States because her shows had become too “Americanized”. However, there is no doubt that the dancer Carmen Amaya revolutionized flamenco dance, particularly for women, marking a new era in this discipline.

In 1988, we opened the Tablao de Carmen in her honor because here, in the Patio del Farolillo, she danced for King Alfonso XVIII during the 1929 Universal Exposition in Barcelona. Carmen was a pioneer, for example, in dancing with trousers, something reserved for men until then. Her strength and courage on stage captivated Spanish and American audiences during her tours of the United States, where she arrived when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. The Barcelona artist captured the way shows were done in New York, more spectacular and grandiose, and brought this influence back to her performances upon returning to Spain.

In the 21st century, flamenco dancers continue to change flamenco with their contributions and innovations: Israel Galván, Rocío Molina, Jesús Carmona, Marcos Flores, or Manuel Liñán have even been criticized for deviating from the traditional structure and style of dance. Manuel Liñán, for example, recently stated in an interview for El Mundo that colleagues in the flamenco world told him that what he was doing was not flamenco and that he should not betray this art.

Encounters with Other Music

Despite defenders of orthodoxy and purity, flamenco has continuously merged with other musical genres. The fusion of flamenco with rock, which Sabicas began in 1966 with the album “Rock Encounter”, has been highly celebrated as “the first attempt at fusion recording”, according to the Andalusian Regional Government. Thirty years later, the album “Omega”, by the singer Enrique Morente and the rock group Lagartija Nick, was released, considered one of the best avant-garde flamenco albums in history. This sound paved the way for groups like Los Planetas or Derby Motoreta Burrito Cachimba. Morente, from Granada, was also very innovative in fusing flamenco with classical music on the album “Alegro Soleá y Fantasía del Cante Jondo”.

One of the most successful partnerships in recent years has been with jazz since the release of the album“Lágrimas Negras”, by pianist Bebo Valdés and Madrid singer Diego El Cigala, or“Spain Again”, by guitarist Tomatito and pianist Michel Camilo. Electronic music has also found its place: groups like Fuel Fandango, Mëstiza, and La Plazuela have brought flamenco closer to electronic sounds and even funk.

Flamenco in the Spanish Language and among Spaniards

Flamenco has had an impact on Spanish society that has permeated language. For example, we say that someone “makes a desplante,” when someone acts with arrogance and audacity, but in flamenco dance, a “desplante” is to finish, to close a section of steps during the dance. Similarly, the word “juerga,” in the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, is defined as revelry and carousing, and according to the second definition, to say “juerga” is to say “flamenco party”.

The vocabulary in Spain has also adopted the word “duende,” to refer to a magnetic and mysterious charm. In 1933, the Granada poet Federico García Lorca presented his “Play and Theory of the Duende” in Buenos Aires, in which he explained that in Andalusia, this word is constantly used to designate that inexplicable gift of some artists to evoke emotion. “To seek the duende, there is no map or exercise. It is only known that it burns the blood,” in Lorca’s words. In Spain today, it is still mainly used in flamenco, but it has also spread to other artistic expressions.

In terms of aesthetics, the imagery of flamenco is still used as an image of Spain, to the point where sometimes it is not easy to distinguish what is Spanish and what is flamenco. During the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1936 – 1975), there was a movement called “nacional flamenquismo” that is, flamenco and Andalusian culture dominated Spanish identity. This helped to spread and commercialize flamenco art, but also fueled the stereotype of “Spain with castanets and tambourines”.

In the 21st century, flamenco has been embraced again as a cult music. Elements of flamenco are still used to promote Spanish culture, such as the advertisement “Con mucho acento” by Cruzcampo, featuring the voice of Lola Flores, or the Tiny Desk video with a flamenco jam session by C. Tangana.

“Everything about flamenco remains exotic, striking,” says Mimo Agüero, director of the Tablao de Carmen. The passion, mystery, and grace of flamenco continue to captivate both Spaniards and foreigners, and the way flamenco dancers move, clap, and hold a celebration has influenced the general Spanish way of being.

At the Tablao de Carmen, you can experience flamenco in its most authentic expression every night—come and enjoy it!