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A History of Flamenco

Image The roots of Flamenco can be traced back for centuries. Born from the expression of a persecuted people, most notably, the Gypsies of Southern Spain, its unique blend of influences and musical complexity can be attributed to the consequences of the decree made in Spain 1492 by Catholic Spanish King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella that everyone living under their domain convert to Catholicism.

This proclamation was issued under the threat of varying degrees of punishment, the most severe being the death penalty, by fire. Gypsies, Muslims, Jews and anyone living in Spain at the time was ordered to convert. It is believed that because of this decree these different ethnic groups came together to help each other, and within this melding of cultures Flamenco was born.

Flamenco, in general, consists of three artistic elements: the singing (cante), the dance (baile) and the guitar (guitarra). In addition, there are often members of a Flamenco group playing "palmas" or hand-clapping. The relationship between the artists is similar to that of Jazz - there is a basic structure that one must follow, but at its heart, it is an improvised form. The singing is the centre of the Flamenco group. The dancer physically interprets the words and emotion of the singer through his or her movements, which include percussive footwork and intricate hand, arm and body movements. The guitarist provides the accompaniment to the singer and dancer, accentuating his or her vocal lines and/or melodies.

Most scholars will agree that the birthplace of Flamenco is Jerez de la Frontera, a small city

In Southern Spain. However, because of the nomadic nature of the Gypsies, who moved from town to town selling their wares and doing odd jobs, Flamenco quickly gained roots in several Andalucian towns, including Sevilla and Granada. Flamenco went through many phases in the 18th and 19th centuries, including the performance of the form by non-Gypsies. Ironically, this is what gave the form its legitimacy, as it was seen in theatres and cafes. It can also be said that it became commercial, with the obvious negative implications, as well as quite successful. And although the Gypsies did not achieve respect and honour for their contribution to the art form until many years later, they have always been considered the best interpreters of the Flamenco arts.

Towards the end of the 19th century flamenco entered the commercial arena. This led to the evolution of 'professional' artists and culminated in the period of the 'cafes cantantes' (song and dance cafes) where flamenco could be heard and seen in public. This evolution also led to changes in the nature of the songs as fads developed for particular types of cante. Many of the more primitive forms languished, and some were totally lost, while other more upbeat forms achieved tremendous popularity.

Growing commercialisation continued until the 1950s when the influx of tourists to post-war Spain threatened to debase the art form completely. Fortunately, at this same time, several singers rediscovered the older forms and re-established interest in flamenco as an art form as well as a commercial form of music. This process depended in part on memories of older amateur singers, as there were few recordings to reference.

The establishment of Flamenco Festivals during the 1960s - 1980s reinforced this revival. Although some regard these as having stifled the intimacy and spontaneity of Flamenco, they undoubtedly opened up the art to a wider public anhing short of an international phenomenon. The city where the first cries of Flamenco were heard, Jerez, now hosts an annual Flamenco Festival that attracts thousands of visitors from across the world. Flamenco fans, or "aficionados," can be found in most any cd provided opportunities for new artists.

Today, Flamenco is notountry. Flamenco is an art form that inspires, educates and entertains people the world over.

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