Flamenco - The Guitar

The flamenco Guitar. © istock
The flamenco Guitar.

Flamenco - The Guitar

The role of the guitar in flamenco was originally a rhythmic accompaniment to give the song an organized structure and a driving force.



The flamenco guitar differs from the classical guitar in the instrument itself and in the technique used to play it. Today however the solo flamenco guitarist uses techniques from the classical school, and this is why the soloist has become a separate art of its own. It is not actually known when the guitar entered flamenco as an accompanying instrument, but many put its introduction around the early nineteenth century.

The birth of the solo guitarist came into being during the café cantante period, and has since gone on to be recognized worldwide. Guitarists such as Sabicas were responsible for the promotion of the flamenco guitar in America, and scores of others have carved lucrative careers becoming virtuosos of the solo instrument.

Flamenco performed without the accompaniment of the guitar is a most ancient style of song, a display of emotion, a desperate cry performed from the very heart of the singer.

But the solo flamenco guitar is a different field altogether, flamenco without the voice or the dance seems incomplete, and when you consider that the earliest forms of cante jondo were sung unaccompanied, and that these songs existed many years before the guitar was introduced into flamenco, it makes one wonder what niche the solo guitar occupies.

The solo guitarists spend many years enduring the most grueling practicing routines, for up to ten hours a day and his instrument must become part of his body, but does the true jondo guitarist need to subject himself to this grueling task, because his style is spontaneous and he relies on his instinct.

The jondo guitarist learns his art of accompanying the singer by many hours of juerga style flamenco, and the skill is produced by his natural ability.

His art is instinctive, and he has no reason to spend years rehearsing, as his style is spontaneous, and like the other elements of jondo flamenco, it should be an emotive interpretation of his character.

Most aficionados and flamencologists will agree that the most important part of flamenco are its words, and how the singer interprets them, and if there are none, then it will loose a lot of its drive and meaning, becoming more classical in style than flamenco.

Like in most discussions about flamenco, there will be many who disagree, and it basically comes down to personal taste, and many foreigners prefer the mellow sounds of the guitar, compared to a rough voz afilla that they cannot understand.

For the non-Spaniard, or even those outside of Andalucía, the cante is probably the most difficult to appreciate or understand, and is too often written off as just an unbearable wailing noise.

In the commercial establishments it is most commonly the dancers that the audience are there to see, and anything the singer or guitarist are doing is considered unimportant.

Even if they have no idea about flamenco, they can appreciate the grace and passion of the dancer, and to a degree this also can be said of the solo guitar.

There are those who believe that flamenco should be void of all ostentations, and that the prime role of the guitar in flamenco is to accompany the singer, and to witness this done well when the two become one is a most pleasurable experience.



But it is the soloists that receive the most fame and fortune, performing in large stadiums and concert halls, and traveling the world gathering hoards of fans along the way.

The accompanist is normally in the shadows, his job is to support the singer and not to show off his own technical skills, and in the not too distant past, he was not normally listed on the credits of the records that he performed on.

The accompanist is quite often the unsung hero, where as the soloists are the ones with their names in lights. The accompanist will compliment the singer and not show off his own-mastered technique, leaving the main focus on the interpretation of the singer.

The soloist has to demonstrate his skill, and he concentrates his playing more on classical techniques, a cleaner crisper sound that can reach the back of the stadium or theatre, where as the guitar of the accompanist is the driving force of the rhythm.

As with the commercial style of dancer, the solo guitarist will mix flamenco with classical and modern styles, striving to find new limits for his art. Like the dancer who has experimented with styles that were not normally danced, the solo guitarist has also entered into areas that are not considered to be conventional.



Paco de Lucía; a new direction

Most people, who have an interest in music, will more than likely have heard the name Paco de Lucia , even if they are not familiar with flamenco. Paco de Lucia is one of the most influential guitarist ever to come out of Spain, and although he is still probably the most respected flamenco guitarist of our times, he has experimented with many different styles, including jazz, blues, and classical concert guitar.

Paco de Lucia played along side just about all of the great singers of the last fifty years.

He was part of one of the most important duos in the history of flamenco, and together with his partner Cameron de la Isla, they took flamenco to a whole new level.

Paco de Lucia was born in Algeciras in 1947, and he was taught and guided by his father, whom, Paco said, would inflict the most grueling practicing sessions on him. To listen to some of Paco de Lucia’s early work with Cameron shows his knowledge and skill as a most talented and gifted flamenco guitarist.

He has made many albums with some of flamencos greatest singers and he has made as many as a solo guitarist experimenting with many different musical cultures.

Tomatito, Cameron’s second guitarist after the departure of Paco de Lucia, is another fine guitarist, but since Cameron’s death in 1992, Tomatito has concentrated on a career more as a solo guitarist.

Like many of the great flamenco singers, the guitarists are no exception when it comes to entering the world of fusion. Most of the guitarists like Tomatito are still able to accompany the cante when required, but there are many young soloists who are masters when it comes to performing solo, creating new dimensions for the guitar, but they lack the knowledge and skill when it comes to accompanying the singer. The jondo guitarist needs to have good knowledge of all the song styles; he needs to understand where the singer is going, and only exercising his skill with the falsetas in between the cante.

The soloist has the advantage of learning his art in the confines of his own home, copying from Cds, and Dvds, mastering the techniques and styles of the masters like Ramon Montoya and Sabicas.

Although he will be technically perfect he will not possess duende, and his music will be void of any feeling or emotion, as these are created by the guitarist’s own personality, and if he is simply copying, any feeling will be lost.

But what ever your preference, the flamenco guitar is one of Spain’s emblems, rather like the Osborne Bull, a strong and proud part of Andalucian history.