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Flamenco in Malaga

To say the word "Flamenco" brings to mind many different images and sensations.  Flamenco.  Flamenco is a word with many layers and complexities.  For some it might be the image of a strong and powerful woman stamping her feet and turning and twisting in a dance full of emotion and expression.  It might also be the sensations left by the sad and incomprehensible sounds produced by a flamenco singer, or the complex sequence of solitary guitar chords that leads one into a beautiful meditation.  Flamenco means many things to many people.  It is a word that exists in many languages, even though its roots are not altogether clear. Some say that it comes from the Arabic language.  The arabic words "felag" ,meaning field worker, and "mengu" meaning fugitive, are commonly thought to be its roots.

Flamenco in Málaga is only one of many variations of the dance and music that exist in the region of Andalucia in Southern Spain and are identified by the same name.  Even though there is nothing written about Flamenco until much later, Flamenco is associated with the arrival of the gypsies in Spain, who first settled in Andalucía in the fifteenth century.  This theory retains its credibility, as the music of the gypsies, and that of flamenco share many of the attributes of the music common in India from this time, and many believe that the gypsies originally came from this part of the world. 

Upon arrival on Spanish soil in the 15th century, gypsies would have met and lived in communities with various groups of people who had already settled in what is now the region of Andalucía.  Several groups of people of Muslim faith who had come from various parts of Northern África were residing in the area.  These groups would have also carried with them a wealth of culture and customs.  There were also settlements of people of Jewish faith living in the same area.  It is very likely that Flamenco was born out of not one, but all of these cultures.   

With the influences of other cultures folded into the mix, it was the gypsies who practiced and developed Flamenco.  They were the ones who used it as a form of expression, entertainment and art.  In those times, flamenco was much more primitive than it is today.  As the gypsies were nomadic, they were accostumbed to entertaining themselves with little more than what they could carry easily on their backs or in their hands.  Flamenco is a prime example of the resourcefulness and simplicity of the gypsy people.   It was, in those times, most often practiced with only three elements, the body for dancing, the voice for singing, and the clapping of hands for rhythm.  This very simple and pure form of Flamenco is called "a palo seco", which is translated to mean, Flamenco, "on its own". 

Over time Flamenco gained in popularity with the Spanish people. Between the years of 1765 and 1860, the three most important centers of Flamenco were  Cádiz, Jerez de la Frontera, and the Triana barrio en Sevilla.  During this time, there was a transformation in who participated in Flamenco and how it was delivered to the public.  From belonging exclusively to the gypsy culture, it transformed into a recognized form of entertainment for the Spanish people, who gathered in patios, restaurants, and private salons in order to see the lively  performances put on by the gypsies.

It was not until the end of the 1800s that the guitar became a recognized instrument in Flamenco music.  At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, Flamenco experienced an explosion in popularity.  This period is called the Golden Age of Flamenco because during this time, all three aspects of Flamenco developed, the dance, the song, and the instrumental.  It is no surprise that after 1910, Flamenco has continued to gain in popularity, reaching many foreign lands, and branching out in many new directions.

In the province of Málaga, for example, it is possible to see the wide variety that exists in folkdances and music that one calls Flamenco.  Folkdances of the region like "verdiales", "malagueñas", "rondeñas", and "jaberas" are all considered artful forms of expression that belong to a particular city or village in Málaga.  In order to talk about the Flamenco of Málaga, it is necessary to talk about "fandango", which is simply a folk dance with roots most notably in the region of Huelva, but also present in Málaga.  All of the above mentioned dances are really variations of the fandango, each performed with different  musical instruments, as each comes from a different part of the region, and was originally performed by regional musicians.  Of all of these variations, it is the "malagueña" that has stood the test of time, and survives today enmeshed in what is known as Flamenco.  

In order to talk about the Flamenco of Málaga, one must recognize the musician Juan Breva.  It was he who put Málaga on the map in the history of Flamenco.  Born Antonio Ortega Escalona in the year 1844 in Veléz-Málaga, he dedicated his life to music, and transformed the folk music and dance of his village into Flamenco of Málaga.  He spent many successful years as a Flamenco  musician in Madrid, where he sang on various occasions for the royal family, and regularly performed in fashionable clubs and theatres of the time.  His style is known to be luminous, simple, direct, powerful, and full of emotion.  Federico García Lorca is one of many of Breva's greatest fans.  He wrote the following poem about Breva: 

Juan Breva

Juan Breva tenía
cuerpo de gigante
y voz de niña.
Nada como su trino.
Era la misma
pena cantando
detrás de una sonrisa.
Evoca los limonares
de Málaga la dormida,
y hay en su llanto dejos
de sal marina.
Como Homero cantó
ciego. Su voz tenía,
algo de mar sin luz
y naranja exprimida.

 

The Flamenco that one hears today belongs to a movement that is guided by musicians who are open to new influences and musical styles.  Musicians like the famous guitarist, Paco de Lucía have attracted a new generation of musicians and audiences to the art, and contrary to the Flamenco of 100 years ago, today the guitar can be the primary focus or point of interest in the music, or it can follow the more traditional role of accompaniment. Instruments such as the cajón, a Peruvian drum, flutes, cellos, violins, and sitars are now quite commonly incorporated into Flamenco music.  Also, styles of music such as bossa nova, jazz, and rock have benefited from and contributed to flamenco.  Musicians such as Tomatito, from Almería, Gerardo Nuñez, from Jerez, Juan Manuel Cañizeres, from Catalunya, and Vicente Amigo, from Córdoba, have all added their unique touch to the art. 

The roots of Flamenco, the sounds and movements that are unique to this Andalusian art form, are very much still alive today.  Like a great wine, or an ancient tree, it could be that over time, it has changed dramatically, loosing and gaining something of its former self.  Superficially, it is quite distinct from what it was in times past.  However, the source that originally inspired the gypsies of 500 years ago to dance and sing is the very same as the impulse of people today who continue participating in and learning this art form.  Now the majority of the world can experience the gypsy's unique understanding of the world, and see it in its many variations, styles, and compositions.  Like any really good art, flamenco has withstood the test of time, and continues to reflect the traditions of the extremely rich andalusian culture and its people. 

 

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