Flamenco throughout the world
In this article I am going to talk about Flamenco throughout the world.
I do not want to write a very authoritative encyclopaedic type piece.
This is because I do not consider that I am any kind of great authority.
Why flamenco might not have been so successful
Not everyone in Andalusia likes flamenco.
Likewise, not all Spanish people like flamenco.
The singing can often be very harsh and it is not always easy to understand the melody.
Flamenco has a very strong cultural expression.
What I mean by that is that flamenco is a product of the Andalusian culture.
Andalusia has been and is home to a number of key cultures.
These are Moorish/ Arabic, Sephardic Jewish, Gipsy and of course the Spanish Andalusian people themselves.
One way of understanding is to say that these cultures together produce a musical expression which we call flamenco.
We might reasonably expect that flamenco would stay where it was born: in Andalusia.
The expansion of flamenco throughout Spain
However, flamenco did not stay in Andalusia.
I do not have exact dates but I do know that quite early on flamenco performers moved to Madrid to find work.
Madrid quickly became a crucial city for flamenco.
There were and are several performance venues called ‘Tablaos’.
These are not large theatres.
They are smaller venues but they host exclusively flamenco performances.
At the same time that these ‘Tablaos’ were being created flamenco guitar makers were setting up their workshops in Madrid.
Usually, these guitar makers or luthiers made classical and flamenco guitars.
The key point is that there was a need for flamenco guitars because flamenco was growing.
Flamenco Outside of Spain
I do not have exact dates but I think the approximate time is early 20th Century.
There was a key development that took flamenco out of Spain.
This was the development of flamenco dance companies.
Previously, flamenco had centred around the singing, quiet often plaintive and harsh.
Flamenco dancers realised that they could create their own companies where dance would be the most important element.
So now they had a complete big show.
Lots of dancers on stage, several flamenco guitarists and maybe two flamenco singers.
A lot of passion, skill, colourful costumes, lots of movement and music.
You would not need to be an expert or a follower of the purist flamenco singing to enjoy such a show.
I am not sure if there was very much interest or investment in such shows in Spain.
However, it does seem that the company directors understood that their work could be very well produced, staged, and received in the U.S.A and South America.
For many, perhaps most people outside of Spain the word flamenco conjured up images of the flamenco dance with the guitarists and singers in the background.
Growth in popularity of the guitar in the world
Around about 1950 the guitar started to become a very popular instrument.
Although of course people had played guitar before then, the feeling I have is that the guitar as a popular instrument really started to take off in the 1950’s.
I do not mean specifically flamenco, rather any and all guitars.
This would include classical guitars, general nylon strung guitars, steel stung guitars, electric guitars and probably other types that I may not be aware of.
The consequence was that the guitar as a musical instrument became very well known.
It was reasonably inexpensive compared to other musical instruments.
Crucially, you could the guitar very nicely with just a few chords and it was an excellent instrument for accompanying singing.
The guitar was perhaps also popular among young people.
Hence it was the ideal environment for people to become familiar with flamenco guitar playing.
The Popularity of the Flamenco Guitar Throughout the World
While all this was happening flamenco guitarists were developing their solo skills.
There have always been some notable flamenco guitar soloists.
The big name going back to the 1930’s is Ramón Montoya.
At that time flamenco guitarists primarily accompanied flamenco singers and dancers.
Montoya, however, felt that the flamenco guitar could be a solo instrument.
To this end he developed a number of solo flamenco pieces.
Notably his Rondeña which had a huge impact and is still played and further developed today.
Other names that immediately spring to mind are Niño Ricardo and Sabicas.
In a sense they followed on from Montoya.
So, by the 1950’s when the guitar was becoming very popular flamenco guitarists were already very good.
And they continued to develop their musicality and skills.
The Flamenco Guitarist within the Flamenco Dance Company
Certainly, the main role of the flamenco guitarist was to accompany the dancers and singers.
However, the guitar solo was an important element within the program.
Thus, if you went to see a flamenco dance show you would also enjoy some very fine solo flamenco guitar playing.
The knock- on effect was that gradually flamenco guitarists could start to offer solo recitals.
Friendship between Flamenco and Classical Guitarists
Some people say that at the beginning of the 20th Century flamenco and classical guitarists did not respect each other.
I am not sure if I believe that.
I wonder if the enmity was more a construction of a few individual players who wanted to outdo each other.
Spanish classical composers have been inspired by the regional musics of Spain and that included flamenco.
In the 1960’s we certainly see friendships between flamenco and classical guitarists.
The most notable example is perhaps Paco Peña and John Williams.
Flamenco in Cinema and Television
From memory we started to see a lot of flamenco on television in the 1970’s in Spain.
Flamenco may have been shown in television before then but I do not know how many Spanish households had a television set.
I think that the main source of entertainment was the wireless radio.
The Friday or Saturday night variety show became very popular as families started to purchase their own television.
My memory is that flamenco was a most frequent part of the evening’s entertainment.
Some people, especially academics have complained that flamenco was in their view slotted in between the magician and the comedian.
As far as I can understand everything was in sense slotted in.
The shows had a running order with a place of a variety of performances.
Through these shows flamenco reached a wider audience in Spain.
Flamenco in cinema probably goes back a long way.
The popularity simply meant that flamenco was increasingly seen in cinema.
Flamenco Recordings Throughout the World
I do not know when the very first flamenco recording was made but I do know that a record of flamenco guitarist Ramón Montoya was released in 1932.
As the interest in flamenco grew naturally so did the recordings.
Thus, by the 1960’s tourists to Spain could purchase flamenco records and of course take them back to their own countries.
At that time the records tended to include flamenco singing, flamenco guitar with the sound of castanets or footwork and the flamenco clapping. Sometimes there was also a solo flamenco guitar piece.
Often you could find records with a selection of Spanish music including flamenco.
As we might imagine the tourists could invite their friends to listen to their records and this in meant that flamenco was reaching a far greater audience than the live performance alone.
Additionally, and most importantly flamenco musicians also recorded in other countries.
Paco Peña is an important example.
He made his base in London where he recorded a great many records and continues to do so.
Some of his records are solo flamenco guitar but others include flamenco singers, dancers, castanets and cajón.
This of course has meant that flamenco has reached an even greater audience.
Flamenco in Spanish media
The Spanish media including Television, Radio, Newspapers, and magazines have always reported on flamenco.
But of course, increased interest in flamenco has led to increased media attention.
This including documentaries and interviews.
Flamenco in worldwide media
Media throughout the world has followed suit.
Many television companies have produced documentaries on flamenco in many countries throughout the world.
I guess that they understood that flamenco was a subject that interested a wide enough audience to justify making and airing programmes.
Flamenco as an academic study
Flamenco has been a subject of academic study for quite some time.
I do not know exactly when the first Spanish intellectuals published articles and studies on flamenco.
Certainly, it seems that this was already happening at the beginning of the 20th Century.
In Spain, such academics are known as ‘flamencocologos’.
Occasionally they are treated with contempt.
Some people feel that they are trying to be too clever and that they miss the true point of what flamenco is.
Nowadays, I see from time to time books and even PhD studies about flamenco.
Sorry to say but these seem to be of absolutely no interest to performers of flamenco and people who are close to flamenco.
Flamenco Throughout The World Conclusion
I have tried to present some of the activities that have contributed to making flamenco popular throughout the world.
Of course, there may be other factors which I may discuss at a later date.
My main point has been to discuss just how amazing it is that a music specific to Andalusia should become know and enjoyed worldwide.