A History of Flamenco, the Soul of Andalusia
When someone comes to Andalusia, seeing a flamenco show is usually on the top of their “Must-Do” list. It makes sense – flamenco is one of the most distinctive and impressive arts to see in Spain. Flamenco dance is an art of passion. It’s not just a typical performance – you feel the emotion of the flamenco inside of you. But do you know where this art comes from? Let’s discuss the history of flamenco dance from its origins to its present.
While people associate flamenco dance with Spain in general, it is an Andalusian art, from the south of Spain. In 2010, UNESCO World Heritage declared flamenco on the list as of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. While flamenco flourished in Andalusia, it is difficult to say exactly where it all started.
Types of Flamenco dances
There is not just one type of flamenco. There are many different variations, divided by origin and geographically. For example you can find Bulerías from Jerez, Seguiriyas, the closest to the Cante Jondo, and Soleás both from the flamenco triangle (explained below). Other styles of flamenco are the famous Sevillana from Seville, Fandango (arab and portuguese origin) from Huelva, and Alegrías.
Other provinces outside of Andalusia and within Andalusia created their own style of these. For example, Fandango (arab and portuguese origin) from Granada (Granaina), Malaga (Malagueña), Murcia (Murciana), or Tango from Cadiz (Tanguillos), etc.
However, the original flamenco came from further South in Cadiz province. The Golden Triangle of Flamenco is where most people believe the Cante Jondo originated. The flamenco triangle is between the cities of Cadiz, Jerez de la Frontera and Triana in Sevilla. Cante jondo is thought to be the purest form of flamenco that still exists today.
The history of flamenco has only been documented for two centuries. For this reason it is difficult to know the precise roots of flamenco in Andalusia. Everything before the 19th century we can learn from stories that have been passed down.
Origins of Flamenco
Most people associate the origins and history of flamenco with the Romany gypsies. While gypsies have been one of the main creators and influencers of flamenco, they are not the only ones. Gypsies first arrived to Andalusia region in 1425.
There is division among historians about where the gypsies arrive from. It is commonly believed they came from the Punjabi region of India and Pakistan. However other historians argue they arrived from Egypt.
When the gypsies first arrived, the Moors still controlled the Kingdom of Granada in Andalusia. However, this was towards the end of their control. In 1492, the Moors were defeated by the Christians and expelled.
Once the Christians regained control, the gypsies suddenly came under severe persecution. They no longer had the freedom to express their culture. They were not allowed to wear their clothing, speak Romany language, or practice nomadic jobs.
Instead, the Spanish Inquisition forced all gypsies, Jews and Moors who remained to convert to Christianism. They had to become Spanish Christians religiously and culturally, abandoning all aspects of their culture, or be expelled to North Africa. The Spanish Inquisition committed genocide against those who refused and tried to exterminate them entirely.
These stories say that to escape persecution, many gypsies, Jews and Moors fled to the mountains. The fusion of music from these groups formed the origins of the flamenco we know today. Flamenco developed in the mountains during three centuries. Little is known about its history during this time.
The origins of flamenco sounded very differently than it does today. In the flamenco primitive stages, it was chanting with rhythm beaten on the floor. However throughout the history of flamenco, it developed into exotic songs exploding with emotion and feeling.
Growth of Flamenco
In the 18th century, the persecution against gypsies began to subside. They began to move to villages and towns in Andalusia. They brought the music with them. People in the villages and towns found their music exotic and intriguing.
Gypsies began performing at juergas, private parties for the rich. During this time, flamenco was strongly associated with gypsy culture. The majority of this growth took place within the Flamenco Triangle, Cadiz and Seville provinces.
The Golden Age of flamenco
The “Golden Age” occurred between about 1850-1910. During these years flamenco shows became greatly popularised. Flamenco bars and cafes emerged and great flamenco singers became local “celebrities”. This is also the time period when flamenco was divided, breaking away from the gypsy culture into different styles. Some of the new styles appeared as well by the influence of traditional local music or each region like “Jotas”.
Many gypsies did not want to perform in the flamenco bars. The bars wanted to dictate precise times for performances and which styles/songs could be performed. For the gypsies, flamenco was a spontaneous and passionate art. They couldn’t be told what they had to perform and when to perform it. For this reason, non-gypsies began performing flamenco.
The non-gypsy (payos) version of flamenco was milder. This mild style of flamenco became more popular and choreographed dancing was developed with it as well. The new version was more theatrical, a diluted flamenco show from that performed by the gypsies.
Flamenco in the 20th Century
The flamenco boom from the 19th century decreased in the early 20th century. By the 1920s, the Cante jondo style performed by the gypsies had nearly become extinct. At this time, flamenco mostly existed as Opera Flamenca, a very theatrical performance. Many people consider this time a commercial “debasement” of traditional flamenco.
However, flamenco began to disappear entirely in the 1930s and 40s. Due to the Spanish civil war and World War II, Andalusia was economically devastated. Flamenco performances died out as people focused on survival.
In the 1950s, flamenco slowly started making a come-back. A flamenco competition was held in Córdoba and many small towns followed suit with their own competitions and events.
Foreign tourists started to arrive to Andalusia to enjoy the beautiful weather and culture. They noticed flamenco as a distinctive art. The Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, realised the potential flamenco had to make money from tourism. He promoted it and flamenco bars once again exploded along the Costa del Sol.
During the last 50 years, flamenco has become popularised again and the style has changed. Two modern influential artists are Camarón de la Isla and Paco de Lucía. However, there are many artists who keep Cante jondo alive, which many people consider the purest form of flamenco.
Where to See Flamenco
Flamenco performances now take place throughout Andalusia. However, there are many different styles and types of performances. You can see a theatrical performance with choreographed dancing and music in a large theatre. Or you can find a local bar where flamenco is performed without dancing.
One area where flamenco is very much alive is Jerez de la Frontera. Jerez has produced the largest number of flamenco artists. Many people believe Jerez was also where Cante jondo was likely started by the gypsies.
The city is full of tabanco bars, where you can try some local Sherry while watching a performance.
Flamenco is a unique and distinctive performance from Cádiz and a definite must-see in the area. Although Jerez has a lot of places to see performances, you can find flamenco in most places throughout Cádiz province.
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