There are thousands of ways of singing flamenco

There are thousands of ways of singing flamenco, nearly as many as there are of listening to it. Flamenco is a traditional kind of Andalusian singing. It is newly created every day, by each artist; it comes into being each moment when a lamentation or cry or sorrow miraculously finds the right words, accents, and rhythms to give it its truest, and thus most musical, expression. The art of flamenco song isn't in any beauty of tone, nor even in musical qualities, but in the extraordinary unity of words, music and feeling: inseparable from each other, and from the heart that inspires them. You should feel each phrase striking you like an arrow made out of three kinds of wood. the words inseparable from the way they are shot out and sung, the melody impossible without the emotion that makes the voice grope and strike the note and hold it unendingly at a great height, as from a great distance. It should get you at point-blank range. And the quality of your own emotion will enable you to recognize the artist's: if it is genuine and strange and violent, if it stirs up in you feelings that are seldom touched, then you can be sure of the singer. Flamenco is this wonderful coherence, the way that words, music, sorrow or joy find their appropriate rhythm and cadence at the very moment they are conceived, and surge out in a single movement.

The Andalusian peasant is so knowledgeable about flamenco that although he may be musically uneducated, he will be able to detect an untrue tone that is the merest fraction out, and will know when an emotion has failed to find expression. Flamenco song is difficult and strange, not so much because our ears are unaccustomed to its Phrygian cadence and chromatics, but because it demands a knowledge of the heart -- of its simplicity, truth, violence and strangeness -- that seldom comes within our experience. It is both barbaric and expert; it cries its intimacies out loud; it is unstable and tears itself to pieces, but has astonishing clarity of expression; its emotion is actually being suffered as it is being sung; it is a music that is both long-known and newly-invented. Most flamenco artists don't have any formal teaching, but come from the villages. They learn their art from the tradition that lives on in the family or in the district, and evolves as it is handed down -- sufficiently well-established to resist distortions, supple enough to allow personal innovations; rigid as a skeleton, alive as the flesh. There is a large number of these songs; more than forty are known, though some are on the way out because they are extremely difficult to perform. This variety can partly be explained, perhaps, by the self-contained life of a single pueblo, where the ordinary people are responsible for feeding both the everyday material life and the spiritual life. The more sober type of song is called Cante jondo (from hondo = deep) and Cante Bueno; and Cante grande is the type that gives scope for less austere harmonies. Obviously the style varies from place to place; the mining district of Cartagena, or the vinelands of Xeres, will produce a different style of song from the Serrania de Ronda. In the Albaïcin district of Granada you can hear granadinas, or the ancient wedding-song of the Gypsies, the alborea. But at Malaga, 'the capital of sorrow,' the chief song is the malaguena which sings of pain and wrong, and is as harsh as steel. The alegrias -- which, according to one of them, 'make the Calle de Alcala sparkle, in Madrid' -- are more characteristic of Seville. The caracols are the alegrias of Madrid.Song and guitar-music -- of which Machado writes in his poem 'It says more than it plays' -- are often accompanied by dancing. Spanish dancing, with the exception of the very specialized Basque dances and the dances of the North, the sardana or iota, is essentially earthy. In contrast to classical dancing, it has only one or two dancers and does without a corps de ballet. It doesn't seek qualities of lightness, on the points or off the ground, but goes after deeprootedness with the taconeo or the zapateado. Vicente Escudero, and Antonio in our own day -- when he isn't taking advantage of an easily-pleased public -- are the finest exponents of this difficult art. And to finish, here are some requirements of the good flamenco dancer, according to Escudero:


Turning the wrists from the inside towards the outside with the fingers close together.

Fixed hips.

Wearing traditional clothes (presumably so that, by looking the traditional part to start with, the dancer may get closer to the inner pattern -- whose only inspiration is that of the heart).

Naturally, flamenco art isn't the only art practised in Spain. You can also hear the zarzuelas, imported from Italy, which are light operas on Spanish folklore themes; they are very popular with the public, who like music that has a surface charm. But Spain also has its great tradition of written music, from liturgical music to the secular music of the 18th century. We need only recall the names of Padre Rafael Anglès, Padre Antonio Soler, Isaac Albeniz, Falla, Granados, Turina, and in our own time Joaquin Rodrigo.

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