In our Sounds of Cultura segment, the art and history of Flamenco.
Jose Cardenas: Flamenco is a complex cultural and musical tradition. It's a Spanish musical genre and dance characterized by its audible footwork. In tonight's "Sounds of Cultura," Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez introduces the art and history of flamenco.
Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez: Flamenco is considered a gypsy invented dance, incorporating the guitar, feet tapping, and hand clapping. It is a dance with much mystery and lure. In a -- although many believe flamenco is a somewhat recent phenomenon, the fact is that flamenco is full of history and culture. Flamenco is believed to date as far back as the 16th century. Stemming from the southern region of Spain, called Andalucia. Flamenco involves a singer, the guitar, and the dance. Hand clapping is also incorporated and provides a rhythmic beat to the performance.
Linda Machado: There are many different rhythms in flamenco. For example, many consider the mother of flamenco dances, it's about loneliness. Another is about pain. And yet another is about death, probably your darkest rhythm. There are many rhythms that don't have music as we consider, it's just rhythmic clapping. Those come from the prisons and the cultures of gypsy. So it's not always music, but it's rhythm-based. And each one is different, and we dance to those rhythms. So if you dance, you're not dancing a dance, you are moving to a rhythm of loneliness.
Ricardo de Cristobal: At first it was a family affair. The gypsies danced in their communities. Sometimes people came to watch, and sometimes money changed hands, but it was not really a commercial activity until about 1840. And it was in full swing as a commercial activity by 1860. And prior to that, dancing was just something people did when they felt good. They sang when they felt bad and when they felt good. And the songs were of anguish and grief, and loneliness, as well as party time.
Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez: Originally flamenco purely comprised of the cante, the singing. It's considered the most important part of flamenco. The cante is rooted in the gypsy, Arabic or MOORS or Jewish cultures. Flamenco has always been considered the music of the poor or the oppressed in which the dance translates the message.
Linda Machado: The gypsies would be together, they would live in caves, they were outcast, and they would be celebrating life, joys or commiserating life's sorrows, and it came out of that. The pain of loss of a family member, and the movement started after once you sing, people got up and started to move, and they move in connection with the rhythm. You dance sad, you move sad, you feel the pain. And you try to emote that.
Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez: The guitar and Arabic influence was incorporated into flamenco in the 19th century when flamenco emerged in music cafes throughout Spain.
Ricardo de Cristobal: The guitar follows the singer or the dancer. And many people use choreography and the arrangement and play it the same way every time. And that's a way to make it work. And it's a very modern way. A lot of guitar solos are written down, not so much written down, but set in stone and played the same way every time. The traditional method of accompanying the singer is to just listen and when I worked with singers, they would make a point of singing it different every time. They would tell me, you can't memorize this, you have to listen. That's the art of accompanying. And you have to really watch the dancer. And not just the feet, watch the body movements. There's little signals, when it's going to change, when it's going to stop, when it's going to start. It is going to speed up, slow down? What's she going to do now? That's the art of accompaniment. To me, it's tremendously exciting.
Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez; Modern day flamenco incorporates salsa and jazz among other styles. And the guitar performance is considered a solo art form. Some say that changes of modern age have distorted the art of flamenco. Many of its followers with passion for its history try to teach the original art form to anyone who is willing to learn it.