Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco – Rumba Group The Gipsy Kings

Flamenco Forms – Rumba Flamenca

Here’s a loose translation of the entry for rumba in the marvelous two-volume Diccionario Enciclopédico Ilustrado del Flamenco of 1988 (Editorial Cinterco), which is hard to find:

“…In Cuba, rumba signifies a popular and provocative dance of black origin and the music that accompanies it.  From there, it spread to other American and European countries.

[In Spain], the rumba is a flamenco-ized folkloric song with a copla [verse] of four six-syllable lines.  It is of Hispano-American origin, popularized in Spain through the theater and variety shows, from whence flamenco interpreters took it and lent it a festive aire between the tango and the bulería.  Prior to 1935, the only recordings in this style are by Niña de los Peines, Bernardo el de los Lobitos and Manuel Vallejo, though there were other interpreters including José Ortega, Diego Antúnez and Pepe de la Matrona.

In the fifties, the Catalan Gypies made it fashionable, and El Pescailla wasa notable interpreter.  Since then it has been quite popular in tablaos both as a song and a dance, the latter interpreted with many convulsive movements and twists.  After [the singer] Peret’s personal version appeared, many more have arisen, some created by folkloric groups, always very rhythmical and with plenty of room for improvisation.”

That’s all the encyclopedia says — a pointedly short entry, with no musical examples.  I’ve always considered the terms rumba flamenca and rumba gitana pretty much equivalent, both denoting the Spanish or flamenco-ized version described above.  Rumba catalana, though seemingly more specific, seems to refer to the exact same thing.

I hear rumba flamenca records several times a week, playing in stores and restaurants of New York City — always by the Gipsy Kings, who may be the best-selling of all World Music acts.  They’re from the Camargue region of France — which is a lot closer to Barcelona than Andalusia is — and they were initially hyped by Bardot and the French glitterati, but they sure do a great job of appealing to big audiences.  They often play Radio City Music Hall.  Their rumbas are instantly identifiable because of their trademark harmony, the lead singer’s distinctive voice, and perhaps the group’s particular swing.

In 2014, they received the Grammy for Best World Music Album, split with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

There’s a DVD that shows the group at Wolf Trap.  The producers kindly asked to comment on the group for inclusion in the film.  I was astonished to see that the material included a well-sung version of a deep and difficult flamenco song made years earlier by one of the older family members, showing that the clan had serious roots beyond the French Riviera.  (They decided not to use my comments, which expressed reservations about the art of the Gipsy Kings, but they gave me a credit at the end anyway and even spelled my name right.)

Brook Zern

February 9, 2014   No Comments