Flamenco - Characteristics

The spontaneity of the dancer © Michelle Chaplow
The spontaneity of the dancer, and the way the singer interprets the words will ensure that no two performances will be the same.
Flamenco is not only about music, it’s about tradition © Michelle Chaplow
Flamenco is not only about music, it’s about tradition © Michelle Chaplow

Flamenco differs from all other styles of music, and even though its spontaneity and emotional depth has similarities with jazz, or even the early blues, which was also the music of outcasts, it is the words and the driving rhythms that are the most important part. Harmonies and melodies are not the principal element in flamenco like in western music, where we tend to listen first to the tune, and after the rhythm and words, and the rhythms of flamenco also differ considerably to those of modern music.

The spontaneity of the dancer, and the way the singer interprets the words will ensure that no two performances will be the same, and if they are then it will be the new trend of modern flamenco, which bears little resemblance to the authentic version.

It is these characteristics that separate flamenco from any other style of music and dance in the world, and to see a deep passionate display of flamenco, where the dancer performs with such intense enthusiasm, drawing his inspiration from the sediment that lies in his blood, is as magical as the word duende itself.

Flamenco is not only about music, it’s about tradition, and it is this tradition that has given the outside world an image that is only too familiar in Andalucía.

The flamenco clubs are decorated with eye-catching mosaic tiles, antique looking posters advertising past bullfights, ornate wrought iron work, and large oak wine barrels that line one wall, a picture postcard image and a scene familiar to anyone who has witnessed a flamenco show here in Andalucía.

The high backed andalucían chairs, a black cordovan hat hanging from one, the other draped with silk Manton de Manilla (Handmade shawl) and glazed ceramic pots in various colours, an array of copper ware hanging from the wooden beams also distinguishes the club from all others.

The role of the guitarist is also different as it is his job to hold the performance together, the guitar being more of a percussive accompaniment than in modern day pop or rock music. He will also need to have an extensive knowledge of all the styles of song and dance, almost to the extent of being able to sing and dance them himself.

It is often a profound and moving experience, the amount of emotion and passion displayed by these ardent flamenco artistes will be something you will remember long after you have returned to your normal daily routine after your holiday has finished.

The sheer force and power in the dance when the performer will unleash a brutal and instinctive routine, maintaining a pervading sense of grace and dignity throughout is a most wonderful and passionate experience.

The exciting rhythms that are woven around the song by the snapping palmas (handclapping) and the machine gun type rattle of the feet, will leave you deafened for a long time after the show has finished.

The excitement is added to by the riotous jaleo, where shouts of Olé and Guapa are directed at the dancers in an attempt to help them reach a high where they will find the duende and let the spirit guide them in their dance.

The spectacle of the singer is also a strange phenomena, his hands and arms outstretched as if grasping at the words, his face red with rage, his fingers snapping at the rhythm, whilst he performs from the deepest labyrinth of his soul.

Flamenco is not just about a style of music, it is a culture that has many different influences, but it remains unique. Its performers are continuing an ancient tradition that has been passed down to them from ancestors who were not artistes, and many had no intensions of ever becoming one.

To these people flamenco was just part of every day life, and in most cases it was only performed in the surroundings of their own homes.

One of the main characteristics in flamenco are the gypsies, and many believe flamenco to be their creation, but if this was accurate, then why do gypsies in other parts of the world not perform a similar music and dance.

The answer is simple; the gypsies of Andalucía have been influenced by this mysterious land, which they chose as their home hundreds of years before.

It is Andalucía that has inspired flamenco, and the gypsies brought with them certain styles of their own, and they molded and formed flamenco into their own colourful style,

and it is the gypsies that have guarded and continued to preserve flamenco.

Without the gypsies flamenco would probably have been lost and forgotten along the way, and this is why many believe that they were its sole creators.

As a 19th century writer once said, “In nothing can the character of a people be read with greater certainty and exactness than in its songs.”

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