Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Authority Faustino Núñez

The Musical Genesis of Flamenco – Book by Guillermo Castro Buendía – Comments by Brook Zern

A new book by Guillermo Castro Buendía reflects the new thinking about flamenco’s history, development and perhaps its essential nature. It is titled “Genesis Musical del Flamenco”, and it’s an impressive contribution to the study of flamenco. I’m not on board with much of the new scholarship, or at least of some of its conclusions, (In my day, we didn’t need no stinkin’ scholarship — we drew our rigorous conclusions from, like, the vibe we got, man.) The book is analyzed in a blog entry by one of the defenders of the revised view, Paco Vargas.

In his introductory comments, Sr. Vargas offers the expected ridicule of the traditional view (“Those people obsess over how many fighting cocks the [great Gypsy singer] Manuel Torre had”), and he pays the requisite obeisance to “the great Faustino Núñez”, the diligent researcher and intellectual leader of their merry band. Skipping to the end, one finds a summation of the most important conclusions of Sr. Castro Buendía’s book:

- Flamenco music derives from Spain’s the varied and mixed musical tradition, and the sources are the following folkloric forms: fandangos, jotas, seguidillas, romances [ballads] and work songs. Forms that were widespread across the entire nation, and that during the Nineteenth Century – not before – were transformed by Spanish musicians (singers and guitarists) into the first flamenco songs. That is to say – in contradiction of the [fictitious] “Great Flamenco Novel” these songs did not materialize out of nothing in some mysterious way, but are the product of an artistic mutation of certain folkloric styles – not yet flamenco – that already existed.

- The most remote musical antecedents of flamenco are found in the music of the Sixteenth Century with the pasacalles, romanescas and folías); in the Seventeenth Century with the jácaras; and in the Eighteenth Century with guitar music, the most important being the special finger-strumming technique called rasgueado that would become the most important precedent in the development of flamenco guitar. That is to say, we’re talking about “musical precedents” and not flamenco forms or songs; thus, the beginning of flamenco will not be found in prehistory, antiquity or middle age. We insist instead: The mid-Nineteenth Century,

- The Arab musical heritage is unclear and still to be determined. Though historical logic dictates that it must have had its quota of influence upon the formation of flamenco song, that data we have now would tend to discredit it [discartarla] as the base or seed of flamenco.

- The Gypsy people did not bring any music to Spain, and so we must forget the theory of Indian music as an origin of flamenco. The expressive forms and musical elements traditionally associated with the Gypsies – sometimes as a racial thing – were already, like it or not, found in Spain’s popular and folkloric music before their arrival on the Iberian Peninsula. Those were: The Phrygian mode; hoarse, rough voices [“voces afillás”; the mixed binary/ternary rhythm pattern [hemiola or amalgamated compás]; intense expressive pathos; and melismatic singing.

- A deep relationship is noted between flamenco music and the musical styles that came to Spain from the Americas, most notably the zarabandas, chaconas, carios and, most signiciantly, the FANDANGOS, Attention! Not the singable fandangos we know today, but some instrumental and danceable forms that we’ll now discuss

- The influence of black music that arrived directly from Africa is indisputable, The black slaves brought to Spain rhythns, dances and musical styles that were important to the formation of flamenco music,

- Regarding the relationship between academic/formal music with flamenco, Guillermo believes that the infkuence was from esta hacia aquella, and not the other way around, as current thinking in flamencology. Nonetheless, it’s clear that flamenco guitarists assimilated and adapted many techniques of classical guitar such as arpeggio, tremolo, etc,

Summing up, dear readers, this book knocks down many of the myths of the “Great Flamenco Novel”, opening up an indispensable new horizon for properly understanding this art that we all love.

End of excerpt. The original is found at:

http://aticoizquierdaflamenco.blogspot.com/2015/04/genesis-musical-del-cante-flamenco.html

Translator’s note: While I’m on the other side of the fence, I have no trouble with a lot of those conclusions and some other points used by the serial debunkers of the old thinking. Skipping around a bit:

I agree with the idea that it’s dicey to claim Arabic music as the seed of flamenco, though there were certainly traces of that seven-century occupation that remained in Andalusia’s musical substrate.

Too many of us Western types, including Spaniards, seem to feel that all other non-Western forms sound the same. Jewish people tell me flamenco singing sounds exactly like their music, people from Pakistan and India tell me the same thing. And sometimes they write books allegedly proving their theories.

I agree with many of the non-Arab influences cited above, both Spanish and European. But the crucial element in flamenco song, to my ears and most others, is that it is non-Western.

Okay — wait. Flamenco song is many things. Some of the more than sixty forms sound one way, some sound very different. The sevillanas are catchy, and I could sing them if I could sing. They, and a lot of other flamenco songs, use the “follow the bouncing ball” approach, where each syllable is a beat/note (unless it’s held for two or more beats/notes.)

(Faustino Núñez, the authority cited above, uses the terrific term “cante silábico” or “syllabic singing” for this common approach that we’re all so used to.)

Equally important: the notes that are sung would be found, or implicit, in the chords that musical Westerners (except a few of us ungifted unfortunates) could readily select for proper accompaniment. In other words, our music is harmony-based, whether or not someone is playing the chords.

The other kind, non-Western, derives its direction from melody alone. It uses a line that rises from the tonic or root note, meanders around for a while without being glued to a clunky rhythm and without committing to an exact pitch for each nominal note, and ultimately descends back to the root.

Obvious examples would be the soleares, siguiriyas and martinetes. These are the flamenco songs that drive normal people to distraction or drive them away. (Inevitable intermission talk: “Why is that horrid man shouting and screaming while the pretty lady is trying to dance?”)

BZ

January 22, 2017   No Comments

Early Press Coverage of Flamenco in Madrid of the 1850’s – from the blog of Faustino Núñez – translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Faustino Núñez is probably the most important flamenco expert in Spain.  He is a diligent researcher who has unearthed countless old archival and press mentions of flamenco and of “preflamenco” or “protofamenco” – early songs and dances that may be precursors of actual flamenco.

His fascinating blog, called “El Afinador de Noticias”, offers hundreds of them.  Here are segments from the entry of June 25th, 2011, titled “Flamenco Music, Madrid, 1853 and 1854″.  The original entry is seen at:

http://elafinadordenoticias.blogspot.com/2011/06/musica-flamenca-madrid-1853.html

Faustino Nüñez writes: 

We head this entry with a press clip from March 31, 1854, headlined “Musica Flamenca” that reads:

“In some cafés it has become the fashion to entertain the public with Andalusian singers (“cantares andaluces”) instead of pianists.  It’s a new fruit that’s growing in the establishments of montañeses [people from the mountain regions] , and that’s drawing the attention of the Madrid public, which distracts itself by listening to the lamentations, sighs and tender “playeras” that are intoned by the gente flamenco – the flamenco people – who by means of interminable kyries [referring to a section of the Mass] and the “ayes” that shake  [levantan] the banquettes and make the women who come to hear them pirrarse de amor [crazy with love].”

(Some things never change.)

This flavorsome entry is an early reference.  It has substance [“Tiene miga”].  The establishments of the montañeses from Andalucía are appearing again as places where a good part of flamenco music took shape [gestated].

The item appeared a year before the arrival in Madrid of the most important figures in the flamenco of Andalucía.  It was brought to light by the Dutch investigator Arie C. Sneeuw in an article published in the flamenco magazine “El Candil” under the title “Some new data for the history of flamenco”.  That information was published later in a small book titled “Flamenco en el Madrid del XIX”, Virgilio Márquez editor, Cordoba, 1989.

I’ve put the originals here, from the Madrid daily La Nación, though many know them from other sources, due to the interest they have generated in the blog.  I recommend reading them for what they reveal about this “new music”, as it was called, that was replacing pianists in the cafés.    They appear in this order:  Gacetilla (“Little Gazette”) of February 18, 1853.  The next day the writer, Eduardo Velaz de Medrano, gave further comments about the flamenco fiestas celebrated in the salon of Vensano.  The reporter places the event on the 24th.  José Blas Vega [the late, great Madrid flamenco expert] brings us another report titles “Concierto Gitanesco” from February 19th in La Nación.

“Flamenco Music:  The Andalusian cantores who shined in the concerts in the salons of Señor Vensano over the last few nights, and whom we described in this column, appeared again on Sunday in a private home, in the presence of noted artists of the Italian theater, once more making an excellent impression.

There’s such a vogue for these “flamencos” that now an impresario has launched a campaign to take advantage of such a good occasion.  The talk is of nothing less than the coming arrival of El Planeta and María la Borrico, celebrities who are well known in Seville’s barrio de Triana.   The plan is to bring back the good times of the Café de Malta, and to that end we’ll see extensive changes in one of Madrid’s cafés that, due to its central location next to the Principe Theater, offers clear advantages over all the other cafés.  Once the singers have been installed there, it only remains to bring back the classic pomadas (commonly called sorbets) of Señor Romo, celebrated among all the dessert shops past and future, not just for their proverbial cleanliness but also for their special gracia (charm) in providing the most capricious varieties of sorbets (commonly called pomadas), served by his white hand that passes again and again over the confectionery choices before placing them in the cup.  What hands they are!

We don’t know if the impresario’s plans will be realized, and if we’ll indeed have Gypsy concerts [“conciertos de gitanos”] in the Café del Principe, with the corresponding “juegos de manos” ["hand games?"] as in earlier times, but we can be sure that we’ve seen the flamencos “muy metidos en harina”  ["deep in the flour?"] with the most influential parroquianos [parishioners – i.e. regulars?] of the establishment.”

Flamenco has been frequently denostado [translator's note: I don't know if this word means denigrated or avidly followed] by “good” Andalusian society, used as a pastime and almost never appreciated for its artistic quality.  The references we have from, say, 1853, La Nación of Cadiz mention the successes of the proto-dancers Josefa Vargas and Concha Ruíz, who arrived from Madrid to delight the people of Cadiz with their singular dances; El Comercio (see this blog) speaks of the tenor Buenaventura Belart singing in “El majo de rumbo” the caña, the malagueña, the “soledad” [soleá?] etc. and  triumphs of the guitarist Trinidad Huertas.

[A source refers to]… a spectacle of flamenco music, not the music of Tinctoris or [Josquin] Deprez (masters of polyphonic music from Flanders) [that word in Spanish is “flamenco”] but that of [the early flamenco singers] Juan de Dios, Santa María, Villegas, Farfán or Luís Alonso (also announced were El Planeta and María la Borrica).  A jewel of flamencology that we owe to Señor Sneeuw and reproduce here due to its great importance in the science of flamenco.  For more on this subject, see the indispensable monograph by Jose Blas Vega, “Los cafés cantantes de Madrid”, pages 39 to 46 and the entire book).

Those flamenco artists created the basis of Madrid’s flamenco, a court that would later be headed by Antonio Chacón, Manolo Caracol and Enrique Morente.  If only Madrid’s flamenco lineup today could boast of artists like these….

End of blog entry by Faustino Nüñez.

Translator’s note:  In the mid-1990’s I translated the above-cited article by Arie C. Sneeuw for this blog.  It appears as one of the first entries at:

http://www.flamencoexperience.com/blog/?p=24

It’s interesting that in these earliest clear descriptions of flamenco events, someone is already nostalgic for the good old days:  ”The plan is to bring back the good times of the Café de Malta…”  (It’s not clear that this refers to prior flamenco performances; I doubt it.)

Recently in my blog I translated an extensive study by Manuel Bohórquez who seems to have shown with old documents that El Planeta, the formerly mysterious early Gypsy singer who had always been presumed to epitomize the art of Triana, was in fact born in Cadiz and evidently chose to live most of his life in Malaga.  (He is described in an early written account, “Un baile en Triana”.)

(I believe there was a subtle subtext — that while El Planeta was undeniably a Gypsy, the Gypsy neighborhood of Triana (across the river from Seville) was not as important in the creation of flamenco as had been assumed; and that Cádiz, sometimes seen as secondary in the generation of heavy-duty allegedly Gypsy songs, and Malaga, not even associated with heavy-duty profound songs, were more important and more welcoming than the Gypsyphile authorities had insisted.  That’s despite the fact that  those cities were not as Gypsy as was the barrio of Triana.)

Well, a passage above shows the deep link between El Planeta and Triana:  ”The talk is of nothing less than the coming arrival of El Planeta and María la Borrico, celebrities who are well known in Seville’s barrio de Triana.”

Faustino Núñez does not allow the word “Gypsy” — he calls it “the G-word” — in his extensive and highly influential discussions and textbooks about flamenco and its origins.  But when  crucial early events like those above are described by writers as “conciertos de gitanos”, for example, he does not omit the otherwise inadmissible word.  He also may permit the use of Gypsy names that are given to versions of certain songs crucial “deep” songs — e.g., the siguiriyas del Planeta —  and are far more common that names of evidently non-Gypsy creators — e.g., the siguiriyas de Silverio [Franconetti].

 

March 19, 2014   No Comments