Early flamenco song and dance is believed to have evolved in gypsy settlements in the provinces of Sevilla and Cádiz. These districts, known as ‘gitanerías’, date back to the 16th century. Also present in Andalucía, at the time, was a large population of Moors and Jews. These groups certainly interacted, but the extent to which these groups influenced the evolution of early flamenco is not clear. Much debate surrounds the early history of flamenco.
One of the more popular arguments states that: After the edict of king Carlos III in 1782, in which more tolerance was shown towards gypsies, flamenco began to emerge from behind closed doors. Previously ‘cante gitano’, as it was then known, had been a closely guarded secret concealed from outsiders. Some scholars contest this argument, due to lack of evidence. The most reliable source of information on early flamenco is the work of Serafín Estéban Calderón – Escenas Andaluzas – written in 1847. Calderón mentions the following styles: tonás, romances, peteneras, rondeña, jabera, el polo and la caña. Flamenco dances of the period were known as ‘bailes de candil’ (dances of the lantern) and included rondeña, zorongo and possibly tangos. A few quotations survive which identify el polo and la caña as dances, but no description of their choreographies exist.
The second half of the 19th century saw many new trends in flamenco. These include the crystallisation of various types of compás, accelerated interchange between flamenco and Andalucian folk music and the emergence of the café cantante. New styles appeared such as soleares, alegrías and bulerías. During this period the guitar became the main accompanying instrument. Originally cante gitano was accompanied by hand claps, foot tapping and other percussive effects such as knocking on wood. By the end of the 19th century flamenco had absorbed influences from as far afield as Northern Spain and South America.
Flamenco first reached theatre audiences around 1910. This was pioneered by singers such as Don Antonio Chacón (1865 – 1929). It emerged that the theatre going public favoured more the Andalucian styles and cante gitano went out of fashion for a while. This led to concern, among certain Spanish intellectuals, that cante gitano might become extinct. The composer Manuel de Falla and the poet Frederico García Lorca were influential in the urge to preserve gypsy flamenco, and a competition was organized in Granada in 1922 (Concurso y Fiesta de Cante Jondo). Unfortunately this first competition was less successful than had been anticipated, because the organizers had not allowed professional artists to enter the competition.
Meanwhile the dance had become very popular. A revolution was taking place. Styles were being introduced, which had previously only been sung, and techniques had become much more complicated. One development was the introduction of long passages of footwork by female dancers. Formerly, this activity had been reserved exclusively for men. The flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya (1913 – 1963) became an international celebrity, astonishing audiences world-wide with her phenomenal virtuosity. She appeared in several Hollywood box office hits, and was invited to dance at the Whitehouse by two consecutive American presidents.
Another trend setting innovation during the first half of the 20th century was the introduction of the flamenco guitar solo. The first flamenco guitar phenomena was Paco Lucena (c1855 – 1930), who introduced classical guitar techniques into his playing. Key figures, influential in the development of the flamenco guitar solo, include Ramon Montoya (1880 – 1949), Niño Ricardo (1904 – 1972), Sabicas (1913 – 1990) and Paco de Lucia (born 1947).
Nowadays flamenco is going through a period of great change. New instruments are being used and influences are being drawn from other forms of music, such as jazz. The two artists most influential in the modernization of flamenco are guitarist Paco de Lucía and the singer Cameron de la Isla (1949 – 1992). Their musical collaboration has inspired many modern flamenco performers.
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