I’m not usually one for instrumental music, or music where I don’t understand the lyrics. Perhaps as a writer, I cling onto the words to evoke feeling. Perhaps this is also the reason why writing about music proved to be truly ineffable on a ‘Words and Music’ module I took at UEA, leaving me with a respectively low grade. I have been to operas and seen classical orchestras, willing myself not to be bored, trying not to fall asleep.
Often, I pretend to myself that I enjoy these things, or that at least it was “an experience”. I don’t like to reject a whole genre of music, so that is not my point here. I wouldn’t desecrate classical music as a whole, yet believe that we all have particular music tastes. For example, instrumental band 65daysofstatic are able to provoke emotions and excitement without the need for words, to me. Similarly, I was recently able to enjoy a performance of flamenco in Córdoba, and it happened both while instrumental, and without understanding the lyrics.
In fact, I enjoyed Carmen Gastroflamenco so much that I wanted to write about it, and found out the names of the cast. Antonio Contíñez was on guitar, with dancers Rafael del Pino as ‘Keko’ and Miriam as ‘La Chiqui’, and the cante singers’ names were a little illegible. The performance as a whole began with an instrumental introduction, before Contíñez was joined by Miriam, then by Rafael. After an interval, and some delicious tapas, more dances and songs ensued, with a finale complete with all cast members.
Although I listen to music throughout my day as background, as Mike Marqusee claims, flamenco is ‘anything but background music’, claiming the centre of attention. I was blown away by the passion conveyed by the cante, which is expressed best by Marqusee. You don’t need to understand the words to feel the sentiments of love and loss that are deep and guttural, written between the lines within each waver of each note sung. It encompasses one of my favourite things in art – the ability to possess both strength and vulnerability. This is reinforced by the movement of the baile, united by hand-claps and foot-stamps.
I was blown away by the passion conveyed by the cante
The dance is sensual and passionate, like the songs and the fluctuating rhythm of the guitar. It reminded me of my own tap dancing, and I felt a sense of connectedness. Another aspect of flamenco that I appreciate is that age and experience are valued, as opposed to other forms of dance, and you can see the skill of this in both dancers. The dance is hypnotic, yet as Marqusee describes the song it mirrors, it is ‘abrupt and angular, frequently harrowing, sometimes ecstatic, always spontaneous’, moving like water, seamlessly, from each section of the performance. This is ‘deep song’, the cante jondo, the heart of flamenco.
When watching the performance, I couldn’t help but see it from a feminist view, in both that there were men and women on stage in a way that felt equal, as well as the celebration of women’s passion and strength through song and dance. Marqusee also speaks of its nature as being both personal and political, speaking of Garcia Lorca, who
‘found in it a source of inspiration in his lifelong political-cultural-sexual struggle against bourgeois philistinism. The recovery and promotion of deep song was part of a larger democratic embrace of popular beauty, an antidote to what he came to see as the inhuman machine of modern capitalism.’
He also explains the roots of flamenco, and the mixture of cultures than influenced and create Spanish cultures and traditions as we know them. He claims that ‘influences from Arab, Berber, Jewish, Byzantine, even South Asian music forms were mingled with Spanish folk and ballads, together with tunes returning from Spanish America.’ Although there are many reasons why some of the history of flamenco has been lost, it is commonly held that travelling communities arriving in Andalucía in 1425 have been one of the main creators of the art form, hence the melting pot of influences.
there were men and women on stage in a way that felt equal, as well as the celebration of women’s passion and strength through song and dance
Much of my feelings about my flamenco experience are ineffable. They reach out to my roots in terms of my ancestry, and my love for music, song and, dance with passion and emotion. I was glad to be able to see an authentic show, with truly incredible artists, and perhaps I will stumble upon more throughout my time in Spain.
All images via FlamencoTickets.com/Tablao Carmen Gastroflamenco