It comes from remote races, crossing the cemetary of the years, and it comes from the frontiers of the withered winds. It comes from the first cry and the first kiss.
-Federico García Lorca.
Flamenco originated in southern Spain,
in the region known as Andalucia. It was born as a result of the blending of diverse cultures, which include conquering races such as the Romans and the Moors, and wandering peoples such as the Jews, and the Gypsy (originally from India). The most significant cultural influence was the settlement of the Gypsies in the southern region of Spain during the 15th century. Their settlement coincided with the expulsion of the three above mentioned cultures by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492, the same year Columbus set out for the new world. Flamenco developed over a background of great racial tension. Felix Grande once said, “if we do not relate the music…to brutality, repression, hunger, fear, menace, inferiority, resistance and secrecy, then we shall not find the reality of Flamenco”.
Though Flamenco is finding life outside its native environment, it is still the time honored art of Andalucia. Flamenco is a culture in itself abiding by its own philosophy and lifestyle. In the Flamenco culture, music is the main source of expression.
Flamenco began as a style of singing, known as Cante Flamenco. The relatively recent development of solo Flamenco guitar (early 1900’s) has opened up a whole new realm in this form of guitar playing. It shows a separation of the old traditional ways of playing to enhance, or enrich a cante style vocalist, which in turn has changed the way a guitarist now supports a Cantador. The earliest written record we have of Cante Flamenco speaks of Tito Luis el de la Juliana, a singer who lived around the 1780’s. In essence, Flamenco is compiled of many singing configurations, each revealing its own mood, and striking the chords of humanistic emotional realism. The environment in which the ancient Andalucian singer lived caused him to believe that he should dwell on the negative conditions of his being, and though there has been great change in conditions, the feelings created in the cante are universal and immortal and preserve a link between past and present.
These various types of cante are the foundation for all Flamenco guitar playing. Almost all cante has a set rhythmic structure that any true Flamenco player must know and follow called the compas. One of the most important aspects of Flamenco is the complex syncopation against the compas, with the cante vocalized almost completely off beat, while the guitarist continues the set rhythm, furthering the syncopation. Occasionally, in cantes libres (rhythmically free songs), the compass is less pronounced, the singer might begin to create a set rhythm which the guitarist then must follow. The singer may improvise, no matter if the guitar playing is free, or set in compas, the guitarist at times may have no clues of where he is expected to go next.
Although there is no evidence that it was initially used to accompany the cante, the guitar became regularly used by the end of the 19th century. During this period there were two styles of singing in Andalucia, the cante gitano of the Gypsies and the cante andaluz – the folk music of the indigenous Andalucian people. Silverio Franconetti, an Andaluz of Italian origin and a distinguished singer of gypsy styles, came to the conclusion that the two could be fused together and thus, created Cante Flamenco as it is today. The gypsies were more interpreters of neighboring cultural art forms than creators. Franconetti’s version of the gypsy song was an evolved state of the Andalucian song over several centuries. He basically took the two and created a style which reflects Andalucia’s centuries old influences.
Flamenco developed rather quickly, increasing in popularity, as well as, artistic stature. Coffee theaters known as cafes cantantes, opened all over, allowing the enjoyment of refreshments to be enhanced while experiencing Flamenco. Prosperity was now in reach of many Flamenco artists through the tourist boom in Spain in the early 1900’s. Competition among guitarists in the cafes was fierce. Guitarists tried to achieve more recognition for their art which until then, was thought of merely as accompaniment for singers and dancers. These were the circumstances that spawned the “modern” Solo Flamenco Guitar.