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Flamenco History, Part II

Formation (1780 - 1850)

author: © Flamenco.ru
translation: M. Kobiakov
updated: 12.06.2010
Spanish gipsy woman with guitar

The first documented mention of flamenco was in Andalusia in 1780. By that time flamenco’s melodic structure and style were already defined and, therefore, this time is generally accepted as the start of its existence.

The main categories of the Andalucian population at that time were: aristocracy, clergy, middle class, trades people, workmen, gypsies as well as a section, which according to its living standards stood on the lowest rung of the social ladder and mostly including beggars and vagrants. Because of the grievous conditions in the country caused by the oppressive rich aristocracy, destitute villagers were moving away into the city. This was the environment in which flamenco gathered strength and began gaining in popularity, however, until the very last third of the 19th century it has received national approbation outside of a small circle of aficionados.

Flamenco’s habitat was in a home. In a traditional Spanish dwelling all the apartments were built around a common inside yard (patio), that served as something of a focal point for the whole building. Such arrangement implied quite close association among the neighbors, who often were members of one large family or a clan. Inside the house the yard was a place for festivities and where secrets of singing were passed on. All this was happening within the constraints of family relations which explains why the most significant names in flamenco are family dynasties in which the secrets of the craft were passed on from generation to generation.

PatioMusic was perceived as a dialogue, an exchange, and this explains its extemporaneous character. A dialogue between two singers, a singer and a guitarist, a song and a dance.

The life, taking place in the yards, has gradually spread out into the streets – wedding celebrations, baptisms and other festivities. In some Gypsy settlements these “flamenco fiestas” have acquired their own image. They took place outside of the city at the temporary gypsy settlements. Sometimes they would be open not only to the members of the family but also to wider audience where singers have acquired fame showing off their abilities and their individual mode of delivery.

Having escaped the family circuit flamenco began to penetrate other strata of Andalusian society. Famous singers and dancers began to take part in what started as strictly clan festivities.

By the end of the 18th century flamenco could be heard in taverns and inns along the Andalusian roads.

Prohibido cantar y bailarIn Seville and in Jerez, festivities dedicated to the patron of the city or region provided justification for fiesta flamenco, not to mention that in taverns there was always a chance to listen to a singer or to perform a song while waiting for a glass to be served. For people singing came as naturally as speaking. Flamenco became so widespread that proprietors of some of the taverns banned singing in their establishments and one could encounter posters saying, “Singing and dancing is forbidden” (Prohibido cantar y bailar).

By far majority of singers and dancers were gypsies. Mystical, even demonic force of their rendition of this music was even reflected in advertising posters. One 1781 poster began with the following: “Demon is dozing in the soul of a gypsy and is awaken by the sounds of sarabande”.

Alhambra, Granada, 1872

Year 1845:

“Spain! What sanctuary it is for the people bored with Europe! Here, it is not only the nature that is unique – even life itself has formed somehow differently. God only knows how and by what means the people live on this stony ground and it appears that their only preoccupation is singing, dancing, playing guitars not in the least caring about what in other countries is called life.”

And still, even though public performances were already conducted before 1842, Flamenco was thriving mainly at gypsy homes and behind the closed doors of country inns and taverns. During festivities that went on until the wee hours in the morning it began to acquire fame attracting more and more aficionados. And the number of singers continued to grow. Gradually singing became the way to earn a living, a profession, and the trend was to improve in order to survive competition. Good songs were valued and more money came to those, who sang better than the others. It was no secret that money was becoming an important part of the performance.