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I’ve just come across this wonderful photograph on the web. I have no idea who took it or who appears in it. It is merely entitled ‘gypsies,’ but, after two weeks of high-flown flamenco, it comes as a welcome reminder of the little-known and largely undocumented origins of the art. It also reminds us that flamenco emerged out of the backstreets, half-paved patios and bars of southern Spain where the poor  — too often gypsies ( did this term,  one wonders, come to designate all those whose ethnicities were not readily identifiable?), sailors, impoverished peddlars of the art — forged the art in the midst of struggling to make ends meet. And, like this photograph, the origins of flamenco are lost in time… Little is known about where exactly it came from, what the exact influences are or who the very first proponents of this art form were.  The official history dates back to the nineteenth century. Yet, we must assume that flamenco in its earliest manifestations started some centuries earlier. After all, Cervantes in his Novelas ejemplares writes of La gitanilla, who was skilled in music and all sorts of folkloric dances.

Flamenco has indeed moved from the street to the stage. It is now, as we well know, a classy art form. However, it may not be a bad thing to remind ourselves every now and then of the rustic and communal origins flamenco, where it has long been the artistic expression of a particular ethnic and social identity. It is an upwardly mobile music and dance form, one that now inhabits the upper echelons of art and is best known as stage performances, but here is a wonderful memory of its improvised and often spontaneous emergence in the cobbled patios of southern Spain.

Of course, what I like best is the fact that this photograph  casually dispenses with one of the most basic gender assumptions of flamenco: namely, that flamenco guitarists are always men…

March 3, 2010 Post Under General - Read More

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