Flamenco Essay

Topics: Andalusia, Flamenco, Spain Pages: 6 (2200 words) Published: July 11, 2011
To what extent is Flamenco iconic of Spanish cultural identity? The passionate imagery conjured by the flamenco art form of colour, life and exoticness are characteristics often associated with perceptions of Spain. In saying that, within contemporary society flamenco has now become an icon of “Spanish culture” however the degree to which its resemblance accurately portrays Spanish, or more specifically the Spanish nation’s cultural identity is limited due to it being more an expression of regional identity that has been portrayed to be a national symbol (Malefyt 1998). This argument can be seen in the examination of how it is tied to the social identity of the southern locality of Andalusia, its exploitation as a politicised art form and its re-creation into different non-traditional forms which further complicates the idea of flamenco as an icon as it resists a fixed conventional style that has been followed through tradition. Furthermore, underlying this discussion is association between politics and ethnicity in regards to identity, as the evolution of flamenco to have a place within modern popular culture is revealed as a construction rather than a natural process. One of the foundational understandings of flamenco is that is it is a music of the Gypsy (or ‘gitano’) people, yet this is a common misconception. Despite the world only having heard of this performance art for the last two centuries, its origins can be traced back to the Christian reconquest in 1492 when the last Islamic stronghold was taken in the city of Granada. The Moors who had ruled for 800 years and the Jews were driven out and forced underground along with their music, with its form recognisable in the early nineteenth century in Serafin Estebanz Calderon’s description of a dance in Seville (Jordan 2002, p.87). Such a historical background has lead Totton to make the claim that “Certainly the Gypsies are important, but flamenco is not exclusively theirs” (2003, p.14) as while they have been largely responsible for its survival they did not bring the music into the country when they arrived in the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century (Manuel 1989, p.382). The Gypsies have been the catalysts who brought about their own style, strong rhythmic sense and tendency to dramatise but rather flamenco can be seen as having developed from “the melting pot of Andalusia” (Totton 2003, p.14). This is significant as it demonstrates that identity and cultural production are created in regard to context, and so cultural identity is a fluid notion that changes over time. Furthermore, the fact that it is so readily associated with this minority subculture in itself acts to undermine flamenco as an icon of Spanish cultural identity and in the words of Totton, “flamenco is not otherwise Spanish, and the average Spaniard is likely to know no more about it than the rest of us” (2003, p.14). However it is essential to look at the relationship between the Gypsy people and the art form as its development was mobilised by their social conditions with ‘traditional’ flamenco being perceived as an expression of their social identity and they remain as its forerunners. While modern flamenco currently embraces a variety of musical forms, the three main elements of traditional flamenco are the cante or song, baile or dance and the guitar. In its original homeland of Andalusia, the cante continues to be the most important form of flamenco expression, with el cante jundo, or deep song, being the true definition of flamenco to purist supporters (Martinez, p.19). Manuel says that flamenco includes cantes that are specifically associated with gypsy identity and stylistic features perceived as being particular to gypsies such as raspy vocals, sobbing-like falsetto breaks and generally strenuous, impassioned and histrionic (Manuel 1989, p.55). Through this form flamenco communicates strong uninhibited feeling. However it is essential to clarify that historically, flamenco was a product...
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