A performance style usually consisting of a specific style of song, dance, and guitar playing, though flamenco guitar has become a genre all its own. Born in Spain, it is still most popular in that country, though today it can also be found throughout the Spanish speaking world. Gypsies are very often credited with its origins, and while they certainly played a large part in its creation, folk songs and traditions of Andalusia and seven centuries of Muslim occupation of that area also shaped it.

Flamenco guitar is very fast, and flamenco dancing is characterized by amazing dresses and what I can only describe as a kind of rythmic stomping.

La influencia gitana en este arte
The importance of gypsy culture in the development of Flamenco.

It is believed that the word flamenco originated from the Arabic words felag, which means countryman, and mengu, which means fugitive. According to various sources, the word flamenco began to be used synonymously with the gypsies of Andalucia (southern Spain) from the beginning of the 18th. Century. In Spanish today the word 'flamenco' can be used when referring to someone who is cheeky.

Flamenco has its roots in Andalusian folk song and dance, but also encompasses the cultures of southern Spain of the 14th Century onwards. It developed from the 14th C. onwards as Gypsies, Arabs, Jews and socially outcast Christians mingled on the fringes of society (due to the Spanish Inquisition). However, the Andalusian Gypsies are fiercely proud of their heritage and believe that the art of flamenco cannot be acquired - it's in their blood.

For the Gypsies, flamenco has always played an important role both in their daily lives as well as in celebration. As a result of the discrimination with which the Gypsies met, the majority of Gypsy celebrations had to take place in secret, even when they were invited to play their music at the celebrations of the wealthy members of Spanish society. At these events, they played songs whose texts dealt with the injustices their race suffered at the hands of those very same people for whom they played. However, the celebrants (the wealthy Spanish) didn't realise this since the Gypsies sang in their own language - Caló.

Flamenco music developed from solely rhythmic handclapping and voice, and later the guitar was incorporated (only having been 'built' in later centuries). It was only in the 20th.C. that intricate dance steps were introduced. The three principal categories within flamenco are el cante (song), la guitarra (guitar) and el baile (dance). Almost all styles of flamenco can be interpreted either with or without dance - there are dances without song, and there are purely vocal subjects called a palo seco or a capella.

El Cante
Apart from the songs from the different regions, such as the fandangos from Huelva or the alegrías from Cádiz, there are three main categories:
(Jondo/Grande) Profound - intensely sad and dealing with themes of death, anguish, despair, or religion;
Intermediate - less profound, but also moving, often with an oriental cast to the music;
(Chico) Light - subjects of love, the countryside and gaeity.
A particular genre of cante/song is distinguished by a charateristic rhythm and chord structure, yet several types if cante may share the same rhythm but individualise it in accentuation, subtleties, and emotional content.

El Baile
IN flamenco dance the men's steps are intricate, with toe and heel clicking. Women's dancing traditionally depends on the grace of the hands and body, rather than on footwork. In the 'profound dance', the arm, hand and foot movements closely resemble those of Hindu dance. Gypsies began to dance professionally in cafés (called the 'cafés cantantes') in the 19th. C. and this is when the word flamenco became to be applied to them most.

El Toque
El toque is the the musical accompaniment in flamenco culture, which traditionally is solely the guitar. However today it incorporates many other instruments - especially percussion.

The Cafés Cantantes were, and are still today, important in consolidating professionalism in flamenco art. A café cantante is a local bar where while drinks are served, music, dance and voice flamenco (be it improv or rehearsed) is performed. They became popular towards the end of the 19th. Century.

Today, fans of flamenco are less preoccupied with pure flamenco (i.e. using traditional instruments and sticking to traditional rhythms and styles) and are more interested in incorporating other instruments and styles, and fusing it with music from other cultures to create a more modern day feel.

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