What Is Flamenco?

In its purest definition, flamenco (pronounced [flameko] in Spanish) is an art form derived from the numerous traditional music traditions of southern Spain. It was created within the gitano subculture of the area of Andalusia and has a long history in Extremadura and Murcia. In a broader sense, the phrase is used to describe a range of both traditional and modern musical genres that are distinctive to southern Spain. The gitanos of the Romani ethnic group, who made great contributions to its development and professionalization, are strongly tied with flamenco.

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The flamenco genre is thought to have begun at the end of the 18th century in the cities and rural towns of Baja Andalusia, with Jerez de la Frontera serving as the first recorded example of this art. However, there is almost no evidence to support these dates, and the manifestations of this period are more akin to the bolero school than to flamenco. There are theories that suggest dance styles from the Indian subcontinent, where the Romani people are believed to have originated, including the kathak dance, may have influenced flamenco. According to the documentary Gurumbé, there may have been an African impact on the rhythms and choreographies of flamenco. Miguel’s film Afro-Andalusian Memories (Gurumbé, Canciones de tu Memoria Negra [es])

A new generation of flamenco performers who had been influenced by the legendary cantaor Camarón, Paco de Luca, Morente, etc. arose in the 1980s. These musicians were drawn to the urban popular music that was revitalizing the Spanish music landscape at the time—the Movida madrilena. They include “Pata Negra,” who combined flamenco with blues and rock, “Ketama,” who draws inspiration from mainstream and Cuban music, and Ray Heredia, who created his own musical world in which flamenco plays a key role.

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