What makes Beyoncé’s song “Flamenco” flamenco?

Beyoncé has released her eighth album. It is a country album that pays tribute to the music of her hometown: Houston, Texas. Her single, ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ has topped the Billboard country songs chart for 10 weeks, marking the first time a black woman has achieved this milestone. Previously, only Taylor Swift had reached the same pinnacle. The album is part of a trilogy: “Renaissance”delved into dance and electronic music,“Cowboy Carter” explores country, and speculation is rife among fans that the third installment will see Beyoncé embrace rock. What does all this have to do with flamenco art? Two days before releasing the album, the singer posted on her Instagram the tracklist, and the 18th track is called “Flamenco”.

For her fans, particularly those in Spain, anticipation ran high: the long-awaited collaboration with Rosalía seemed imminent. . Even more excitement ensued with one of the phrases Beyoncé wrote in the caption of her post:“I have several surprises on the album, and I have collaborated with some brilliant artists whom I deeply respect.” News outlets and Twitter threads speculated about the possibility of a track featuring both the Catalan and the Texan. However, to their disappointment, when the album appeared on platforms, neither Rosalía nor any hint of flamenco was present in the song ‘Flamenco’.

“No wails or anything”

In the dressing rooms of the Tablao de Carmen, our artists listen to the song. Within a minute of listening, the flamenco singer Panchito has already formed his opinion: “I’m looking for some flamenco, and I don’t find anything. Maybe I don’t have the capacity to understand it, and there’s something related to flamenco that I’m not aware of, but the guitar is country and there are no flamenco wails or anything,” he says as he listens. “Of course, maybe the lyrics are by Pepe Pinto, but they’re in English” adds the guitarist Diego de Chicuelo. The lyrics make no reference to flamenco culture or history, and musically, only some background clapping can be heard. What do our artists think about the fact that she uses the word ‘flamenco’? “It’s not advisable,” says the dancer Chino Fernández.

Beyoncé isn’t the only one incorporating flamenco elements into her work without sounding traditionally flamenco. In the national scene, artist Ralphie Choo made waves with his 2023 album, ‘Supernova’, hailed as one of the most innovative and celebrated offerings in the underground scene in recent years and includes tracks like ‘Bulerías of a Bad Horse’and ‘Tangos of a Trick Motorcycle’.. “Put on those motorcycle tangos,” requests Panchito. At the outset of the song, he quips: “Those cheers sound more like Tekken 5 or Mortal Kombat,” he jokes. “It has a somewhat flamenco touch,” says Diego de Chicuelo. But does it have the rhythm of tangos? The guitarist explains: “It’s a 4×4 rhythm, but that’s everywhere, and it doesn’t cheer in time, and just because you hear clapping to the rhythm of tangos doesn’t mean it’s a tango.” Regardless of whether it’s flamenco or not, they appreciate it: “You have to listen to this, it’s cool,” says Panchito.

Flamenco, something ‘cool’

Saúl Castillejo is musicologist, flamenco and avant-garde researcher, and oversees cultural development at the tablaos Cardamomo and 1911 in Madrid. According to Saúl, these nods or approaches to flamenco don’t clash with classical flamenco, nor do they harm it. They do not detract from the audience’s experience; on the contrary, he believes they draw listeners closer to an interest in traditional singing: someone who listens to Ralphie Choo might become curious and end up exploring La Niña de los Peines or learning what a bulería is. That’s how he himself delved into flamenco, through contemporary music.

“I believe flamenco is trendy, but not in a negative sense but now it has lost that thing it had of being something old-fashioned and ancient” Saúl continues. “Now it’s seen as something ‘cool’ and what figures like Rosalía did with the album ‘Los Ángeles’ which, although she was a singer and a guitarist, changed the way it was spread aesthetically and in the staging”. Regarding Beyoncé’s “Flamenco,” he also sees nothing inherently flamenco about it. He doesn’t even interpret it as a nod to the musical genre, but rather as a narrative about lost love involving a ‘flamenco man.’ He perceives it as embodying “the notion of a platonic romance with a Don Juan from the 19th century” he believes.

At the Tablao de Carmen, we embrace the avant-garde in flamenco through collaborations like the one we have with the Taller de Músics. Big Lois, Sara Sambola, Queralt Lahoz, Carlos Cuenca, Alba Morena… have all showcased their talent on our stage. Every night, our stage resonates with the timeless power of this centuries-old music and its enduring impact.