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Andalucía: Land of Flamenco

Flamenco is as diverse as the cultures that settled in Andalucía over the centuries: Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, as well as Arabs, Jews, Christians, and the nomadic Gypsies from India who made this their land, a place of rich cultural synergy.

Flamenco singing evolved from an amazing fusion of legacies: Jewish psalmodic melodies of the ninth through fifteenth centuries, Hindu music, as well as Byzantine, Muslim and Mozarabic chants. The six-string flamenco guitar evolved from Eastern instruments.

 

These elements, assimilated by the Andalusian people, and enhanced by their innate musicality and talent for spontaneous interactive improvisation, gave birth to flamenco, a folk genre of multifaceted rhythms, modulations and tonalities. An amazing variety of styles evolved -- flamenco scholars count 73 -- each characteristic of Andalucía’s eight provinces: Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Sevilla. (The capital city of each province has the same name as the province.) The earliest written reference to flamenco was by Cervantes in the early 17th century, describing a gypsy dancer named La Preciosa.

Some flamenco styles, or art forms, are onomatopoeic: the sound of the blacksmith’s anvil created martinete; rhythms of different gaits of horse hoof-beats inspired the intricate footwork of zapateado. Sentimental or playful songs evolved while picking olives, or during long hauls on horseback, humming to the rhythms of the horses.

To simply enjoy flamenco is knowledge enough. However it is rewarding to understand some of the basic rhythmic forms. For example, the solemn soleares as well as lively alegrías and bulerías are based on a series of 12 beats accented as follows: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. Try it! First by counting, then with precision clapping (palmas), foot tapping, finger snapping, and/or tongue clicking on the accented beat. Then, with one or two other people, follow the downbeat together with counterpoint, then in syncopation, and now combine all three simultaneously.

The feet are percussion instruments with infinitely complex combinations of heel, toe, ball, and flat. Flamenco’s distinctive dance aesthetics of bodyline, movement and stunning poses must be perfect, in fact they seem to transcend human anatomy. Intense interaction between singer, dancer, palmero and guitarist seems telepathic, and artists encourage each other with jaleo, spontaneous exclamations of enthusiasm and admiration such as oléasí se baila.

Intrinsic in Andalusian lifestyle, flamenco is enjoyed in tablaos (flamenco nightclubs with shows), congenial bars with spontaneous flamenco, peñas (flamenco aficionado clubs and get-togethers), traditional Andalusian festivals and fairs as well as world-class theaters.

Flamenco flourishes today in Andalusian cities and rural towns, many of which are known for their immortal artistic geniuses and contemporary living maestros.

A long enjoyed concept of cultural-flamenco tourism, under the auspecies of the Andalusian Agency for the Development of Flamenco, Routes through Flamenco Territories, encourages independent-travel and self-drive itineraries through distinct Andalusian provinces to cities or rural villages where specific flamenco forms of song, dance and guitar originated and continue to thrive. You experience authentic flamenco as an insider and feel the ambiance of the place, countryside, customs and people that inspire it.

Seville, capital of Andalucía, was fittingly declared the first City of Music by UNESCO's Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity in 2006, because “In Seville, music is everywhere and above all engages everyone….It is a place of inspiration for musicians and composers” (This UNESCO recognition is in addition to the organization’s earlier declaration in 1987 of Seville’s Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)

The ingeniously designed Museo del Baile Flamenco (Museum of Flamenco Dance) in Seville, housed in an 18th-century Andalusian mansion, exhibits the history and art of flamenco and its immortals. Master dance classes inspire future talents, and lively introductory classes are offered for beginners. There are modern faculties for workshops, seminars, art exhibits, a research library, shop, and extraordinary life-size audio-visual projections of performances, ranging from pure rural flameco to the classic film trilogy by Carlos Saura staring Antonio Gades and Cristina Hoyos: Amor Brujo by Manuel de Falla; Blood Wedding (based on Federico Garcia Lorca’s play), and Carmen, the flamenco version of Bizet’s opera. www.flamencomuseum.com

Andalucía’s supreme flamenco festival held every two years, La Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla starts the decade with its 16th presentation (Sept 15-Oct 9). Sevilla radiates during this extraordinary three-week performing arts festival featuring stellar flamenco artistry. The 2009 festival featured a total of 70 stage performances. With over 53,000 tickets issued, it was practically a sell-out. (The new contest-winning graphic design is now online.) www.bienal-flamenco.org

The art of flamenco is flourishing, evolving, fashionable, and traveling -- from cobbled streets of quaint Andalusian villages to sophisticated theater stages around the world.

See also:

· Land of Flamenco
· Fairs and Festivals 2010
· Great People

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media contact: Frank Shiell / Shiell Communications, New York
tel 212-242-2204 fshiell@verizon.net