Flamenco history has only been documented for the past two hundred years or so, and anything before this time is open to debate and speculation.
Much of what we know from before this time comes from stories and legends that have been passed down through family dynasties, in a similar way to the flamenco song itself.
One thing we can be sure of is that flamenco in its original form was only voice, a primitive cry or chant accompanied only by the rhythm which would be beaten out on the floor by a wooden staff or cane.
These styles are known as Palo Secos, or dry styles, and they are the oldest forms of song known today.
The Toñas are the family of songs which represent these style and they include the toña, one of the oldest known styles, the martinetes, which are the songs of the blacksmiths, the rhythm being supplied by the hammer beating on the anvil, the carceleras or prison songs, and the debla, which at one time was thought to have had connections with a gypsy religious rite.
The saeta is a song of ardent devotion, which is sung to the scenes of Jesus Christ passion during Semana Santa, and is thought to have Jewish origins. Although the saeta is not strictly flamenco, it has all the spontaneity of flamenco, and has been added to the flamenco repertoire of many jondo singers.
Cante jondo means “deep song,” and these are the styles of which most of the other forms derive.
Flamenco is made up of four elements, Cante-Voice, Baile-Dance, Toque-Guitar, and the Jaleo, which roughly translated means “hell raising” and involves the handclapping, foot stomping, and shouts of encouragement.
It whichever way jaleo presents itself, it is performed by the audience as well as the artiste and anyone else who feels the urge to participate.
The handclapping or Palmas is an art in itself, and although it may look easy, it is not, and the palmeros will weave intricate rhythms around the bases of the song, and in the tablaos this is used in conjunction with the zapateado.
The zapateado is the tap dance style of footwork, the dancers show piece where he will demonstrate his skill with his feet, and the noise created by this and the palmeros will be ringing in your ears long after you have left the tablao.
The addition of the guitar is surrounded in apparent mystery as the exact date is not known, but gradually the guitar was introduced as an accompanying instrument for flamenco.
Another important component of flamenco is the element known as duende, and this is shrouded in as much mystery as flamenco itself.
Writers and poets over the years have given duende a magical and mysterious
meaning, a spiritual significance that goes beyond human understanding.
The poet Federico Garcia Lorca romanticized duende saying, “Duende could only be present when one sensed that death possible.”
Many will say that duende can only be experienced in certain surroundings like an intimate flamenco session where a singer will be possessed by the dark tones of the song and the spirit will enter the mind and soul of anyone who opens up to it.
“Duende a strange presence that everybody senses but no philosopher can explain ,” or, “All that has dark sounds has duende.”
What ever you believe, duende does exist, and to experience it, is one of the wonders of this mystical art we call FLAMENCO!