What is "Flamenco?"
By Lawrence Bohme
Although flamenco music is now recognised as a marvellous
and unique art form, this was not always so, as is demonstrated by
the origin of the name itself. Flamenco, in fact, means... Flemish!
The story goes that when Felipe II's soldiers returned from
their military occupation of the Netherlands, some Andalucians
among them were one night heard singing and dancing and playing the
guitar, and someone assumed that they must have picked it all up in
Flanders, contemptuously dubbing the genre "Flemish music". The fact
that no one ever bothered to rectify this absurdity is a measure of
the disregard in which it was held - just like "jazz" (originally
a synonym for sexual intercourse), before the genre was dignified
As for its origins, there is no reason to believe that flamenco
is any more exclusively "gypsy" than is the violin music of Hungary
or Russia - wherever they went, the gypsy people made their living
telling fortunes, fixing pots and chairs, stealing, begging and playing
the local music which people wanted to hear.
As for the Arab influence,
there are undoubted similarities in the singing style, but the
eastern influence in European music was generally much more prevalent
in the Middle Ages and did not have to specifically stem from them.
In fact, the origins of flamenco are much older than the arrival of
the gypsies in the 15th century, going back even earlier than the
invasion of the Moors in the 8th.
Musicologists currently believe that flamenco singing was, in
the beginning, a profane version of early Christian liturgical "plain
song" (Roman, Byzantine, Mozarabic), the direct descendant of which is
what we now call "Gregorian chant". Of course, in a melting pot like
Andalucia, every new race or tribe added its particular seasoning to
the dish, and the gypsies, originating from northwestern India, did
not fail to contribute the intricate rhythms of their native ragas.
At best, flamenco is an incongruous patchwork of musical genres
which is most accurately described as "the music which is played
in southern Spain"...
[More Spanish Stories]