What Is Flamenco Today?

Don’t confuse what makes something popular with what truly carries a genre into the future. Anything commercially successful, be it guitar or singing, doesn’t have much to do with the genre itself necessarily. For example, Paco de Lucia was great respected artist because of his accompanying skills and his compositional style and innovations over decades. But none of that has to do with his international success which was pretty much because of his disco style rumba, his speed and technique abilities, and his Trio collaboration project. As far a flamenco singing you have Gipsy Kings, a huge international success with “rough unpolished” vocals as per proper flamenco…but again disco rumba is the thing going on.

Commercial succcess when the artists are coming from truly deep artistic background, can function as a doorway. Many guitar players inspired by paco’s speedy runs vs. McLaughlin & DiMeola, might have not ended up accompanying flamenco singers for a living later in life if they had not been exposed to the commercial thing. Likewise, many people that love Gipsy kings will have found out about Camaron as they looked deeper in to what they were singing or where the songs/style comes from. From Camaron will lead you to La Perla, Caracol, Gloria etc etc. Evolution happens regardless of what the superficial thing looks like. It’s a matter of how deep into the genre the listener wants to go.

Sep. 21 2015 ricardo

It’s been done already, but it is subtle because it is hard for someone from Jerez say, that is very old, to admit even outside of their own barrio that there is authentic, good, or “innovative” flamenco going on. Once you can admit outside of jerez in certain towns of andalucia, then outside of andalucia in the major cities, then in Europe, and Asian, and (gasp) even AMERICAN people are doing flamenco authentically, then one need only look at the SPECIFICS of what those innovations are, which ideas ended BACK in Spain (remember Ida y Vuelta? ), and continue to evolve. The examples are too numerous to mention here.

Sep. 21 2015 Ricardo

As an explorer of music, I have to go with my eyes and ears. The thing that exists today…I am not seeing/hearing anything remotely like that in the old toque of Mr. Serba. The thing I just linked to of N. Miguel, follows right in line with where it’s at today, starting from the earliest audio recordings of it in 1987…perhaps several years after the video performance. For the record, N. Miguel had not recorded this far as I know, but certainly had other innovative ideas that seem to point more toward what we are talking about interms of evolution (Rondeña Buleria for example in 1976!). I am all for the story if it be true, and yes of course the audio and video available is the tip of a vast iceburg…but until other evidence appears it’s grain of salt for me.

Sep. 26 2015 Ricardo

Flamenco is defined no more or less today than it was in the past. There is cante, there is guitar, there is dance. Since the begining, if it was known at all outside of spain, it would be as others say, Dance troupe superficially, Guitar solo a little more specifically, and cante deeply. It always will be like that.

Now if you are asking what is the STATE flamenco today interms of the 3 elements…well, if you care about singing at all it is obvious that the cante has died a slow death and the guitar and dance have been taken to new “heights” interms of expression and creativity. Why is that? I say because since Spain has become more open, the younger generations no longer feel a need to precribe to the homegrown singing thing. There will always be aficianados and amatures at high level. But in the public light, the great professional singers are almost all gone because their art was cultivated from birth. Perhaps the next generations will revive the cante but as young adults (the age they probably would really identify with their family legacy or whatever) you won’t possess the skills required to be like the old greats.

What we are left with for a long time now interms of good singers of flamenco, are the Camaroneros. Watch Flamenco by Saura, then put on Flamenco Flamenco to see how fast the cante died out vs Dance and guitar getting sophisticated.

Sep. 28 2015 Ricardo

k, ok, to be CLEAR….I don’t mean dead as in the glass menegerie way of classical music. And yes Classical music is also “dead” in the sense the forms are FOSSILIZED at this point and interpretations are not the point….we don’t, for example, play a Bach fugue or Beethoven Sonato Allegro and within the interpretive perfomance “improvise” or create new melodies and harmonies, fleshing out the original idea AS THE ORIGINAL COMPOSERS WERE INFACT DOING….no, classical music is note for note played and interpretions are left to things as basic as dynamics, tempo, phrasing, etc. Even basic **** like transposing like Bach did to his OWN PIECES is rarely done. And when it is done, like Segovias classical guitar rep in some cases, even those SPECIFIC versions get fossilized and re hashed by guitar students. And Modern or contemporary “classical” music is an obvious oxymoron of terminology…yet we get the point. “Orchestral” is not fair if it is played on piano only…yet we still get what the genre is. Sure what ever THAT junk is, is still alive.

Flamenco forms are different. And when afcionados get in a ruffel at some young whiper snapper singer doing M. Torre, or A. Chacon with their OWN messed up interpretion, and shake their heads…it is not because they did not adhere to the note for note version. As Morante alludes to without being specific, a GOOD cantaor can take the original form and tastefully add individuality and expression with the ACTUAL notes and rhythms being unique, while keeping true to the original creation. It is not like improvisation in Jazz, nor is it like transposing a classical work. It is done in the moment and in a way to even LEAD the accompanist….even lyrics, tied to melody/harmony, can be suddenly altered from iconic form to be suddenly current and meaningful in context….it’s quite special.

My point of it being “Dead” is that it is simply out of the expressive understanding and technical ease of execution of the new generation compared to the old. They sing Chacon or Gloria…but compared to the masters, the interpretation falls short interms of ability of the singer to execute the actual notes and rhythms and add feeling and personality. It’s obvious to anyone that studies cante seriously. I already gave my personal opinion of why I think that might of happened. What we are left with are Camaroneros that can do a close copy of Camaron versions…without being too much of themselves in the end result. It’s fine, but it is not moving forward from there. As an anology you had Caracol, then Paquera….she was called a “caracolera” because she copied his style but in the end her own personality was so strong and unique and powerful in the details of the scales and rhythms and expression, key, etc…that she stands as her own strong personality and example of FORWARD evolution of the art form. Her great nephew Jesus Mendez??? well, no offense he is great at what he can do relatively speaking…but know for a fact he started too late to contribute in the manner I am speaking. He doesn’t really possess the physical ability…aficionados are left to their old records for exemplary versions. He has recorded with some much better fidelity and guitar falsetas of course…

There is one more ugly fact of why I personally feel the evolution was stiffled…it has to do the the orthodox square box compas style and over used specific letras/melodies required of ANY and all proffessional talented cantaores imposed by the BAILE… an internal suicide of sorts, but that is another can of worms.

Sep. 30 2015 Ricardo

Good questions…what stays the same we can think of as an outline or skeleton of the melody. If you look at norman’s site you will find examples of different soleas…what distinguishs them is the specifics of the FIRST line of verse (in case of 3 liners) or 1st and 2nd (in cases of 4 liners)…there needs to be adherance to the skeletal outline in order for the style to be accurate. The delivery of it can include embelishements including decorative notes (appagiature type thing) above or below target notes, and TIMING…the rhythmic location relative to the guitar accomp or other compas reference.

While we can’t use the final stanzas of the letra to define a style (the melodies where the chords go to relative major then final resolve to phrygian), you can see that we at least have even more room here for some interpretive creativity or personality.

More obvious example of what is allowed to change, take for example buleria….you probably recognize where in por medio the singer can sing a B natural to pull in the E7 chord to the guitarist, again first line of verse has this option. It can be delivered in many ways, but after all it need not be delivered at all…the singer could have pulled you to Dm instead by somehow getting to a D at the right time…idea that a good singer can do this on the fly but also leading the attentive guitarist by the nose. In the case of second line of verse (guitar goes C7-F typically), you have room here again for personality…Paquera being one of the few who does crazy scales and stretches the time of this single line of verse like nobody else….opting for a final resolution (Bb-A) that is almost always the same simple counter beat syllable thing.

Fandango same deal, there is the skeleton of fandango de Gloria for example, then how the singer delivers with deliberate conviction and accuracy the right notes. In a case like this (there is the por medio version and the Arriba version, so only two skeletons to deal with), the skeleton itself is already a complex challenge to get accurate, so there is seeming less room for personality. When you know what the skeleton is (derived from hearing hundreds of examples) it becomes clear who really has skills and who doesn’t. But when splitting hairs between two or more great singers, it is just taste.

Hope that helps somewhat. Here is an example of fandango de “el currilla”, interpreted by bunch of greats. IMO, Platero is far the best. Perhaps the skeleton is more clear with Fernanda. Mairena example used is not even the right skeleton.

quick answer to all your questions is “yes”… for the buleria case, on norman’s site you will see it refered to as “buleria corta”… where he has focused on buleria por solea, or as guitar players we think of it as “solea por buleria”….but it is the same skeleton melody that goes to B natural, regardless of the tempo. Obviously at slower tempo there can be more embelishments.

The double edge sword of the singing Bailaor or Bailaora…yes they have the skeleton, but it is also tied into a boxed concept of phrasing….so when they hear a singer going out of the box they call it “wrong” and impose their dance concept to the singer (that should be otherwise free)…a sort of artificial selection imposed on otherwise talented singers (as we have done as humans to pets and cattle). Of course this was not consciously done, but a big part of what I see as the “death” of cante.

Oct. 5, 2015 Ricardo

This is how they accomodate good cante…”oh he has a great quejio and knowledge…but he can’t sing for dance…he is totally out of compas…”….that type of nonsense. Young singers are “taught” how to do it “correctly” ie, orthodox, and further the “in/out of compas” or “if it is out of the box it is wrong” mentality. This is reinforced by aficionados that can’t even do palmas.

Of course a good dancer will accomodate an old singer or any with seniority if dancing SOLO…but probably will not use him for a theatre show or whatever pays good. Getting PAID is the thing….That is why if you watch old documentaries like Rito y Geografia they often lament about working in big city tablao vs down south at home with grandma and go on that other non professional family members as being the more desirable and authentic cante.

Oct. 5, 2015 Ricardo

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