Flamenco behind the scenes

The oldest record of flamenco dates back to 1774, and while flamenco has since evolved in time, one cannot deny its fiery attributes, hence the name flamenco- a derivative of ‘fire’ or ‘flame’, that has no doubt been retained since its birth. In the workshop named “Flamenco Song Under the Microscope”, Coventry University lecturer, Isabel Cobo Palacios, took us on a journey through flamenco music, primarily focusing on the lyrical component.
Flamenco music is sung in two Spanish dialects: the Caló dialect and the Andalusian dialect. The difference between these two versions is that the former is nature-oriented and romantic whereas the latter is usually performed as a political statement, and by these differences, they could be broken down into two categories- Cante Gitano and Cante Andaluz. These categories translated would be ‘gypsy songs’ and ‘Andalucian songs’. Despite so, it is widely believed flamenco to be the invention of the gypsies, who in the 15th century brought into Andalucia dance and song that were heavily influenced by their Indian roots.
In Cante Gitano, herbs and birds and water are frequently used. Rosemary, which is believed to have cleansing powers, is one of the most popular themes. As an example, a verse goes “Romero santo romero, que saiga lo malo y entre lo bueno”, Cante Andaluz, on the other hand, has now been increasingly politicised, especially since the economic crisis in which Andalusia suffer most. In 2011, this led to the infamous 15M (Indignados) movement that mobilised millions of citizens across the country to challenge policies of austerity following the banking crisis. Perhaps the more popular group would be the Flo6x8 movement, which is a flash mob group that famously performed in a bank in 2013 and later in the Andalusian parliament in 2014.
Isabel also spoke about how the verses of the different versions of flamenco song were created. Due to its lingual versatility, the lyrics could be amended according to the rhythm and the tempo. For example, ‘derramado’ and ‘derramaito’ are both synonyms for overflow, but the usage of which version depended on whether the singer needed 4 or 5 syllables. Seeing that flamenco can either convey love or a political stance, is something I find most intriguing. There is also something about this all-woman dance: while dance is typically gendered, I find the theatrics and movements rather more rebellious than feminine, don’t you?
In the second workshop dedicated to the arts of flamenco, art lecturers Frieda Van de Poll and John Burns spoke about the works of José Lamarca, which is featured in the flamenca exhibition in the Alan Barry foyer, Coventry University. This workshop was more of a technical based workshop rather than historical, making it advantageous and beneficial to arts and art history students. During the workshop, around 12 photographs of Lamarca were exhibited on Power point. As the slides changed from a piece of work to another, the one thing that remained constant was how stunning the portraits were. John Burn’s main commentary was on the light reflection in the photographs. According to him, most flamenco photographers of Lamarca’s time liked having the light coming from the left side of the photos.
Lamarco was responsible for countless portraits of famous flamenco artists, the duo, guitarist Paco de Lucia (1947-2014) and singer Camaron de la Isla (1950-1992) – known the most inspirational duo in flamenco’s modern history. I believe that what is most breath-taking about his photos, especially of these two performers, is the unique candidness of the portraits, devoid of photographic trickery or posturing, enabling him to capture the little details of their partnership, private lives and personalities with unpolished honesty.

Written by Veronicah Boh

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