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Flamenco History

Flamenco is a complex musical and cultural tradition. It’s one of Spain most representative form of art. Many regions had made their contribution to flamenco evolution, such as Andalucia, Muricia, Extremadura and of course, Barcelona, who have contributed to the development of a potent musical industry and have seen born a great number of world-class artists. However, the real roots are not known precisely, but normally the history acknowledged that flamenco grew out of a native Gypsies, Islamic, Jewish and Christian influence. Latin America and especially Cuba have been also very important to shape diverse musical forms. When the seed of flamenco were planted in Spain, it became so big it formed a culture by its own. This seductive mysteries are also even involved with the name “flamenco”, which the true origin of the very word is a mystery. However, in the 19 century people started to use this word to describe a way of life focused on the Gypsies.


 Details and important facts

Many of the details of flamenco history are lost in time, existing several reasons why we lack of this historical evidence. Many of the details of the development of flamenco are lost in Spanish history. There are several reasons for this lack of historical evidence:
  • Flamenco came from the lower levels of Spanish society, lacking of the prestige among the upper classes. A music that represented the spirit of desperation, struggle, hope and pride during its persecution.
  • The fact it has influence from the Gypsies, Arabs, Jews and Christians makes harder to really now the roots and soul of flamenco, and to that we must add the terrible Spanish inquisition in 1492.
  • The gypsies gave been the most representative culture that maintained and evolved this art form, passing through generations their performances in the community.
 To really figure out a complete panorama about flamenco influences, you must pay attention to the cultural background of the Iberian Peninsula since ancient times. Before the Arab invasion in 711, the Visigoths strongly influenced by the Byzantium Empire, that survived the Gregorian reform and the Moorish invasion, unfortunately, owing to the type of musical notation in which these Mozarabic chants were written, it is not possible to determine what this music really sounded like, so the theory remains unproven. Moor is not the same as Moslem. Moor comes from the Latin “Mauroi”, meaning an inhabitant of North Africa. Iberians came from North Africa, and so did the Carthaginians. Moorish presence in the peninsula goes back thousands of years. The appearance of the Moslems in 711 helped to shape particular music forms in Spain. They called the Iberian Peninsula “Al-Andalus,” from which the name of Andalusia derives. The Moorish and Arab conquerors brought their musical forms to the Peninsula, and at the same time, probably gathered some native influence in their music. The Emirate, and later Caliphate of Córdoba became a center of influence in both the Muslim and Christian worlds and it attracted musicians from all Islamic countries. One of those musicians was Zyriab, who imported forms of the Persian music, revolutionized the shape and playing techniques of the Lute (which centuries later evolved into the vihuela and the guitar), adding a fifth string to it, and set the foundations for the Andalusian nuba, the style of music in suite form still performed in North African countries.
During the Al-Andalus Empire, another important influence was present, the Jews. In a relatively tolerant empire compared to the Christians reigns, the Jews preserved their own traditions and rites, and certainly “flamenco palos” like Peteneras have been attributed a direct Jewish origin.

Al Andalus empire

Spanish Reconquest

 The rise of flamenco

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, flamenco took on a number of unique characteristics which separated it from local folk music and prepared the way to a higher professionalization and technical excellence of flamenco performers. The first time flamenco is mentioned in literature is in 1774 in the book called “Cartas Marruecas” by José Cadalso. During this period, according to some authors, there is little news about flamenco except for a few scattered references from travelers .Nowadays, we know that there are hundreds and hundreds of data which allow us to know in detail what flamenco was like from 1760 until 1860, and there we have the document sources: the theatre movement of “sainetes” and “tonadillas”, the popular songbooks and song sheets, the narrations and descriptions from travelers describing customs, the technical studies of dances and toques, the musical scores, the newspapers, the graphic documents in paintings and engravings; and all of this with no interruptions, in continuous evolution together with the rhythm, the poetic stanzas, and the ambience.

Gypsies family