Guest Author - Terrie Lynn Bittner
The flamenco began in the Andelusia region of Spain some two centuries ago, the result of influences from Andalusian, Islamic, Sephardic, and Gypsy cultures. It was the music of the poor, not the wealthy, and the music reflects the hardships of poverty. The music was handed down from generation to generation orally and through personal training, due to the illiteracy of the lower class, so itís a true form of cultural folk music. Although no one is certain where the word flamenco came from, it soon became associated with gypsy culture, so much so that the word was sometimes used as a synonym for gypsy.
The melody reveals a connection to Greek and Roman influences. Other researches detect a hint of Gregorian and Asian influences. Muslims occupied the region for centuries and left behind their own influences. Because the history was only relatively recently studied, putting together the influences that make up the music we hear today is the work of musical detectives, and there is still plenty of room for modern researchers to add their own interpretations and discoveries.
In its earliest form, Flamenco music was most likely sung. Perhaps the audience or performers clapped along with the music, or rapped their knuckles, allowing for participation and enthusiasm to increase. It wasnít until later that composers added the flashy guitar music we now associate with the music, and later still that dancing become a part of the total picture.
The dance shows influence from Hindu dancing in the Phoenician empire, where dancers entertained at various festivals. The open knee hip movements are said to derive from African influences.
Flamenco didnít reach literature until 1774,when Josť Cadalso wrote about it in Cartas Marruecas, considered to be one of the authorís best works. For the most part, however, all information we have on the art form comes from travelers who mention it in the journals or reports. It wasnít until 1869, the start of the cafť cantante period, that flamenco music gained wider popularity. The cafes hired dancers to entertain. As the dancing gained in popularity, so did the guitar playing, which soon became a highly specialized art.
Today, the flamenco has joined together even more forms of music, and is influenced by the rumba, salsa, and even modern rock and roll music. The traditional guitar is often accompanied by castanets and cajons, but the tradition is alive and thriving, even gaining in popularity. From the entertainment of gypsies to the mainstream of culture, flamenco music has a fascinating history.