Non Spanish People in Flamenco

Non Spanish people have been involved in Flamenco one way or another for a very long time, perhaps not from the very beginning but certainly from about 1950.

The subject of non- Spanish flamenco can be rather sensitive and I therefore woud like to approach the discussion sensitively.

Here in Britain where I am currently living there is still a very strong feeling that flamenco belongs to Spanish people and that performers of flamenco need to be Spanish.

I have repeatedly witnessed people ask performers if in fact they are Spanish and this has not been simply out of curiosity; it has been because the people posing the question have thought that if the performers were British for example, somehow they would be less worthy, less authentic.

I would like to first consider authenticity in Spanish flamenco performers.

There is a generally accepted and not very accurate or complete idea that flamenco comes from Spain. Yes it does but not from all over Spain.

Flamenco originated in Andalucia in the South of Spain and as it grew it became popular throughout much but not all of Spain.

Notably: Madrid, mainly because flamenco performers from Andalucia moved to Madrid for flamenco work opportunities and stayed there and set up their own schools of flamenco.

Flamenco also became very popular and developed in neighbouring regions such as Extremadura and Murcia, especially La Union and Cartagena. Again partly due to people from Andalucia moving to those regions for work, although that said the many of the people from those regions are not so very different from Andalusians.

However, it would be somewhat inaccurate to think that the majority of people from Andalusia are interested in flamenco and are active participants of flamenco. The reverse is closer to the truth. Flamenco has always been a minority cultural expression and although it has been so very popular all over the world it still originates in a particular Andalusian sub culture.

So, I am saying that flamenco is not a generally Spanish art form and as such simply being Spanish does not mean that one has an interest in this kind of music.

But what of the people who are Spanish and are interested in flamenco? Are they any better than non- Spanish flamenco practitioners and if so how to they acquire and develop the ability?

The short answer is yes, the Spanish and especially the Andalusians are the very best flamenco performers in the world. This has always been the case and always will be.

This leads people to use the expression: it is in the blood. It is not and ability at flamenco cannot be transferred genetically. There is no genetic component.

People acquire flamenco as a consequence of their interaction with their surroundings. So, when we hear so much about flamenco performers being the children of other much respected flamenco artistes the family connection is very important culturally but not genetically.

If this is true then it would seem that all the non- Spanish flamenco performer would need to do is move to Andalucia, surround themselves in Flamenco culture and they could be just as good as the Andalusians. Actually in my opinion this has never been the case and I think that it is very obvious why.

People who follow that path do so as adults when they can.

An adult is already a part of the culture where they were brought up and has already not had that time in a flamenco environment. Even if a non-Spanish person we taken to Andalucia as a baby by their parents they still would to a certain extent receive cultural influence from their parents.

This could lead to I think an incorrect conclusion.

Based on what I have said above an organisation here in Britain wanting to book a flamenco act for an event might think that they would be on safe ground in they insist on booking only proven Spanish performers. It may be so but not necessarily.

Spanish people are coming to Britain nowadays and looking for work. In many cases they have never had much interest in flamenco.

To be precise parents in Spain have often looked for after school activities for their children, as much as anything to help to keep them in a positive and safe environment if they had to be at work and because in Spain we think it is good for children to have a hobby or activity apart from their academic school life. Oh, and we can show off to our friends about how much we spend each month on our children!

The local dance academy is one option that is available, usually has enough space to take many students and organisesd a couple of performances a year so it is a popular choice. Flamenco or more exactly Spanish dance is taught at these academies as well as classical ballet. The dance classes alone are not enough to acquire a real deep knowledge of flamenco.

Once the aforementioned ‘flamenco dance students‘ become adults they may travel to a country such as Britain looking for work. Sooner or later someone tells them that they might get a little pocket money from flamenco and they cannot resist the offer. They have black hair and look very Spanish and know how to behave on stage in a certain charismatic way. All good but that is not being a professional flamenco performer.

Does that mean that all Spanish flamenco performers in Britain for example are just amateurs? Absolutely not! Many of them are exceptionally good and I am eternally grateful that they are happy to work with me.

Are any of the British of other non- Spanish flamenco performers in Britain any good? Oh yes they are and I am  most certainly happy  work with them.

My conclusion is the old expression that we should not judge a book by its cover.

We should judge people by how they do their work. In this case we should judge flamenco performers by their flamenco performances and nothing else.