Let’s share an interesting anecdote that happened to Mimo, responsible for the Tablao de Carmen, with some foreign clients who came to the tablao to see the show after making a reservation through their hotel concierge.
The artists began with a flamenco “jaleo.
When the customers arrived at the table, two seated singers and three dancers clapped and the singers took turns singing bulerías, the two guitarists strumming their guitars. The clients called the waiter and in his absence, Mimo attended them. In English, they explained to her that they didn’t want anything, just to understand what they were seeing.
They insistently asked:“What is this? What is this??
Her astonished response was: “This is flamenco”( “Esto es flamenco”) .
To this, the client asked again: “What is Flamenco”? Is this from here? Is it typical of here?.
DOES EVERYONE KNOW WHAT FLAMENCO IS?
For those like Mimo who live near Flamenco and take it for granted that almost everyone knows what it is, (and that those who come to the Tablao de Carmen come to see flamenco) the question can seem puzzling at first. But that question led to her understanding the need to define what flamenco is.
In the words of Roberto Fratini, playwright and dance theorist, flamenco dance is like a caged tiger: a restless, lurking animal that never stops moving inside the cage. His movements are precise, strong and restrained. This is the flamenco dance, a force contained within the dancer that explodes on the stage of a tablao. The same analogy could be applied to flamenco guitar and singing.
It is important to highlight that many foreign writers and journalists have been drawn to flamenco, and have written or theorized about this art. One of the first books that talks about the gypsies, their culture and Andalusia is Carmen “Carmen” by Prosper Mérimée (this 1845 novel is the basis for the well-known opera “Carmen” by Bizet). Mérimée traveled to Spain and was fascinated by the culture of our country.
Other more recent examples of books written by foreigners can be found, such as the case of Corin Frayssinet-Savy, who documented an exhaustive study of the choreographic language of bailaor Israel Galván in his book Israel Galván, dancing silence.
Bearing in mind that there is a lot of literature on the subject, we aspire to describe flamenco in another way. Thus we start from a less conventional exercise than that of compiling what is written, and instead, we pose more questions:
- Is flamenco music?
- Is flamenco one dance or many?
- How is flamenco sung?
- Why is the playing of the flamenco guitar so different from that of other guitars?
- Is flamenco Spanish?
- What does it mean to “be flamenco”?
- Why is there flamenco in Barcelona?
- Why do gypsies feel flamenco as something so unique to them?
- What do flamenco people say about themselves?
- Where can one find flamenco? Where does flamenco come from?
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF FLAMENCO?
They say that one of the first references to the term “flamenco” dates from the final years of the 18th century and from the South of Spain, Andalusia. But like any manifestation of culture with popular roots, it is difficult to define and demarcate the details of its birth. Its origins are from the South of Spain…and has come to be inextricably associated with the Iberian Peninsula and the Spanish territory.
As a musical and artistic genre it is a living and changing force, and it flows the same way fashions do, changing the way of dressing.
Flamenco began in the countryside, in the blacksmith shop, in the mines, at parties, where people sang, where they carved out beats with the palms of their hands, where they played the guitar….And it reached tobacconists, bars, concert cafés, made it to the radio and television and theatre stages and major music festivals all over the world.
Flamenco passed from its beginnings in the South of Spain, to the rest of the country and to the whole world.
Despite changes and developments, there is also a need to preserve its foundations and roots. There is a study of flamenco, its history, its performers, its forms and all its disciplines. There is flamenco all over the world, dance schools in distant nations in other continents.
Nowadays, if someone comes to Spain to get to know it and enjoy it, they look for flamenco. You can find it in one of the most legitimate places, the quintessential flamenco venue: the “tablao” flamenco.
THE ART OF FLAMENCO
The term “art” defines flamenco as an artistic discipline. It gives it the breadth that the term carries.
The gesture of the hands of Adam and the Creator in the Sistine Chapel, or the look of the Gioconda, or the voice of Freddie Mercury or the winged and amputated bust of the Victory of Samothrace come from the hand of creators. Art comes from the creator and from his circumstances. It is one of the few explanations that can be given of art and what best explains the art of flamenco.
As a musical art, it is “cante” (voice) and it is instrumental. Nowadays, flamenco ranges from a solo voice to any number of combinations of the myriad instruments with which it is performed (piano, cajon, sax, bass, cello, flute, Indian tabla, electronics…). There are no limits.
Choirs from all over the world collaborate with flamenco artists, singing in flamenco styles that were originally accompanied only by clapping, or with the guitar or the blow of the hammer.
Flamenco dance is an artistic discipline that ranges from the most ancient, improvised and inherently gypsy dance to highly sophisticated choreographies. All the great ballet of the world has drawn from the gestures of the ancient dances of Spanish South. The flamenco pose, like a “bullfighting pass” has become a symbol of Spanish character.
Flamenco is beauty, it’s personality, it’s a gesture and it’s “feeling” in the strictest sense of the word. Flamenco art requires truth. There can be no façade. It demands attitude and presence.
The exact rhythm of the flamenco beats and the history of its origin instills respect, gravity and dedication. What has lasted for centuries and has been passed down from grandparents to grandchildren, from towns to suburbs, from urban neighborhoods to other countries, deserves a privileged place on the art scene.
The art of flamenco is present in any corner that evokes the culture of this land.
And as an art, flamenco will last through time because there is always something to sing, something to express.