Escritos Flamencos de Balbino. Algunas consideraciones sobre el flamenco en 1994 (texto en inglés)

3-Libreto álbum “Duende”, The passion and dazzling virtuosity of Flamenco. (Texto original en español (perdido) traducido al inglés.

Disco editado por ellipsis arts…, 1994 Roslyn. New York. USA).


(Algunas consideraciones sobre el flamenco en 1994)


Balbino Gutiérrez


Flamenco singing as it appears today is the evolutionary result of a cultural and musical phenomenon that started in Andalusía at the end of the 18th Century. It has its melodic, rhythmic and poetic foundations in the rich folklore of that  old region in the south of Spain where a mixture of people and cultures have settled throughout history. The origin of the different styles or palos in Flamenco singing can be found mainly in the provinces of Cádiz, Seville, Málaga and Granada, although variations have arisen in other parts of Andalusia and in the bordering regions of Extremadura and Murcia.

Soleares, siguiriyas, tangos and fandangos are the basic palos o Flamenco singin, giving rise to more than thirty different variations, most of which are stil sung today: malagueñas, alegrías, bulerías, tientos peteneras, mirabrás, cantiñas, cartageneras, granaínas, tarantas, tarantos, fandangos de Huelva, rumbas, guajiras, colombianas, etc. The list of famous cantaores (singers) of the last two centuries would be endless.

Flamenco singing has become the most characteristic form of spanish musical expresion al over the world, spreading byond borders and across continents. Artists tour numerous countries, which have permanent clubs and circuits for their performances: France, Holland, Germany, Mexico, Venezuela, Japan, etc. The vitality of flamenco singing has not decreased. On the contrary, its has grown year after year. The number of active professional singers covers a wide range of ages and nuances. The most important and influential sector is the one that comprises singers between 30 and 60 years old. Next to them we find the young promising artists and the “old ones”, the old masters, heirs of the old singing schools. In addition, there is a proliferation of amateur singers, or professional singers known to a limited local sphere.

Unlike performers in most modern music and even in the opera. Flamenco singers usually have a long artistic life and are held in high esteem by the public and the critics. A Flamenco singer’s loss of physical abilities generally offset by the acquisition of other professional knowledge and values, which constitute an important ongoing heritage for the “disciples” of the new generations.

With the dramatic and premature death, 0n July 2, 1992, of the legendary cantaor, Camarón de la Isla, Flamenco singing suffered one of the worst traumas  of its history. A constant duality of flamenco singing was based on the autstanding personalities of Camarón de la Isla, a Gipsy, and Enrique Morente, a payo (non Gipsy). With Camarón’s death, this duality disappeared.

Thus, the role played currently by cantaor Enrique Morente is fundamental. He’s become a sovereign of cante, who can hardly be  compared to any other singer. Born in 1942 in Granada, he has developed a remarkable artistic career, based not only on his prodigious voal abilities anf talent, but also on an artistic intuition that has allowed  him to extend his activities to fields like the adaptation of fine poetry (Federico García Lorca, Saint john of the Cross, etc.), the composition of symphonic and chamber music works and soundtracks for theater, motio pictures  and television.

This huge innovative body of work reflected in endless live performances all over the world, and in 16 recordings encompassing dozens of flamenco styles, have made Morente a target of controversy. Fueled by his supporters and adverdsaries alike, Morente’s popularity has grown considerably. His great success with audiences and the flamenco press during his recent performances in Madrid confirm that he is one of the leading names in 20th century Flamenco.

Thanks to many cantaores, especially Camaron de la isla and Enrique Morente, Flamenco has been able to successfully overcome the challenge presented by modern times, and is ready to face the future with a justified confiance.


An important lyrical existential legacy

The authenticity of Flamenco is expressed not only through its music and rhythm. But also through its lyrics. The lyrics are traditionally of popular origin or by once authors who became anonymous with the passing time. The lyrics contain and comprise an enormous diversity of subjects from the satirical to social:

Tu madre no dice ná/ tu madres es de las que muerden/ con la boquita cerrá…Your mother says nothin’/ your mother is one of those who bites/ with her little mouth shut

For the most part, it is the great enigmas of life, death and love, which dominate the short verses of the songs:

Un pañuelo le eché a la cara/pa que no comiera la tierra/boquita que yo besara. A handkerchief I trhew at her face/ so that the little mouth that I kiss/ won’t eat dust.

No se asuste usted, señora/que es un minero quien canta/ que del polvo de la mina/tiene ronca la garganta. Don’t be afraid, Madam/ it is a miner who sings/ and the mine’s dust/ has given him a sore throat

In relation to love, the songs cover a broad range that could be called “love chronicles”, because none of the phases of love relationship are excluded: praising the loved one, the declaration of love, assurance, happiness, passion, doubts, remorse, grief, absence, adultery, hate, loneliness, etc. We could simplfy by saying that the lyrics of each palo (Flamenco style) are used to express the varied feelings of the Andalusian soul.

Fandango talks about daily happenings that are not necessarily lifeless:

De orillo barcelonés/un anillo te prometo/si dices por la mañana/ése que canta quién es/de noche en mi ventana. Of Barcelona gold/ a ring I promise/ if you tell me in the morning/who is that sings/during the night at my windows

Soleares, the important and solemn:

Los aires llevan mentiras/el que diga que no miente/que diga que no respira. The winds carry lies/he who says he doesn’t lie/let him say he doesn’t breathe.

The siguiriya, tragedy:

Me asomé a la muralla/me respondió el viento/pa qué vienen tantos suspiritos/ si ya no hay remedio. I looked at the wall/ the wind replied/ why so many sighs?/ if there’s no longer a remedy.

Ad so, it would continue with the nearly fifty palos of flamenco. Of course, these lyrics are just an introduction, since it would be impossible to detail in just a few lines, the complex relationships between a very limited number of styles and thousands of compositions in those styles. This combination forms, according to Sevillian writer Rafael Cansinos-Assens, “The real soul of Andalusian”.



Gypsy Passion

Flamenco music is often wrongly identified with Gypsy music. The Gypsies did not bring Flamenco to Sapin, just as they  weren’t creators of  popular Hungarian, Russian, or Romanian music, nor the music of  the other countries in which they travelled or settled. However, Flamenco cannot be understood completely without recognizing the fundamental role that Andalusians Gypsies had and still have in the existence and vitality of this unique art.

It is not a coincidence that the first Flamenco forms, crearly differentiated from the traditional Andalusian folk forms, had started to emerge at the end of the century, coinciding with the Pragmatica of 1783 by King Charles III. This royal decree was intended to promote the idealistic notion of assimilation, but in reality, it forced the Gypsies to abandon their traditions, their way of living and specially, their nomadic existence under the threat of severe punishment. It is also not a coincidence that it was mostly Gypsies who were the best known and most important performers at that time.

There are several reasons for the appropriation of Flamenco by the gypsies although to be truthful, it is absolutely necessary to point out that this appropriation only occurred in certain regions of Andalusia and in select group of Gypsy families. Gypsy culture, which has traditionally been conservative and marginal, has been often descriminated against. This families responded with an increased devotion to the traditional forms of life, forgotten by most of the Andalusian people, and the developpement of professions, some of them artistic (musicians and comedians), that were not well regarded by some segments of Andalusian society. In many cases, these artists and their work were prohibited or repressed by public authorities.

The patriarchal nature and strong cohesion of the Gypsy clans have also been important factors in the cultivation of Flamenco art in the Gypsy family environnement. In the castellanos (the Gypsy word for Spaniards who are not Gypsies), individuality is encourgaed, while Gypsy families maintain their tradition in many cases throughout a continuous genealogical line, generation after generation. The primary teachers and transmitters of Flamenco were the important families of artists deeply rooted in numerous Andalusian towns, like Lebrija, Utrera, Alcalá de Guadaira, etc., and specially in the Triana, Santiago, La Viña and the Sacromonte districts, in the cities of Seville, Cádiz, Jerez and Granada, respectively.

The strong and swift social transformations that have taken place in Spain and Andalusian during the last decades, have caused the near disappearance of the Gypsy communities, leading to emigration and dispersion of most of the former inhabitants. Nevertheless, there are still small groups of these Gypsy Flamenco clans in some of those towns and cities, combining their cultural traditions with the discipline of an artistic profession that becomes increasingly international and individualistic.

This brief summary would be incomplete without remembering some of the main families that are still active: Maya, Amaya, Habichuela. Cortés, Morao, Parrilla, Montoya, Fernández, Vargas, Salazar, Peña and Sordera. All of them nurture and spread the inextinguishable flame of Flamenco in both Gypsies and payos.







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