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Guide to Flamenco
Flamenco dancing is not only an art with history and tradition behind it, but it is a passion. Flamenco dancing is one of the greatest traditions of the Spanish people, it is truly a great spectacle.
This introduction is mainly directed to people who are not very familiar with this art form, but do want to know a little more about it. Flamenco is a very special kind of music. There are a number of things that make it special:
It is basically a nonwestern form of music, but it lives in the west.
It is one of the few forms of music where not only music and singing interact on the level of improvisation, but the dance also does.
It is one of the few forms of music where dance is also serves as a musical instrument (percussion).
It is one of the few if not the only folk music that evolved to level of quality and complexity comparable to jazz and classical music.
Finally there is the unique character of flamenco: a combination of intensity, melancholy, pride and joy of life Flamenco forms Very important is the notion of forms in flamenco: a more or less distinct set of properties such as rhythm, harmony, tempo and spirit differentiates these forms.
Embellishments and Rhythm
The way in which embellishments are used is probably what makes flamenco unique in a musical sense, and what links it to the gypsies. Typical of Gypsy music all over the world are the mostly simplistic harmonies (often of local music) that are used, combined with the extensive use of embellishments. Another Gypsy thing is that whenever they play a piece, it's never the same twice; improvisation plays a major part in this music. Something else typical of flamenco (and probably also due to the influence of the gypsies) is the way the rhythm is felt and done. Western music is often felt from beat to beat, with few (usually two or four) counts and one beat per measure. Flamenco is felt from measure to measure, with up to twelve counts and several beats in a measure. In flamenco each measure is a rhythmical phrase, with a "question-answer" structure, and the more surprising the answer, the better. Especially in phrases that run over several measures, the feeling of resolution at the end can be very strong. In western music this building up and resolving of tension is mostly done by melody, the rhythm alone is usually not very interesting. In flamenco it is almost the other way around, while the melodies are linked to the rhythmical phrase and made interesting with embellishments.
Instruments in Flamenco
The three main instruments are (in order of importance) singing, dance and guitar. Everything started with only singing and dancing (with some hand clapping, known as "palmas"), the guitar came later. The extensive use of footwork common today is a development of this century. The most complete form of flamenco is where these three basic components are used. There are however a number of songs that are done without dancing, and even a few dances that (at least traditionally) are done without singing. Also, any form that can incorporate dance, can also be done without dance. Finally there are some songs that are done without any accompaniment.
Flamenco solo guitar
Flamenco solo guitar is a special case: it can in itself not be considered representative of flamenco as a whole, but it is a manifestation of the continual development of flamenco guitar. Flamenco guitarists have a need to demonstrate their ability and creativity. The result is instrumental flamenco, which is very nice, and since dance doesn't come across very well on an audio-only recording, it is one of the two most common ways flamenco reaches the public (the other being singing and guitar).In flamenco solo guitar, singing and dancing can be used as an extra, but always in service of the guitar (in normal circumstances the guitar serves the singing and the dancing). Solo flamenco guitar can be very useful when learning flamenco (for listening as well as playing), just don't forget that it's actually the singing and dancing that it's all about (even when you don't understand what they are singing about)
Instruments in modern flamenco
In modern flamenco some more instruments are used: fairly common is bass guitar and "caja" or "cajon", basically a box with a lose front panel, that is played while sitting on it. A variety of percussive sounds can be produced with this instrument. In addition, sax, flute and other percussion instruments can be used. Occasionally you can hear strings (a complete orchestra sometimes) or even something exotic like a sitar (Middle East string instrument). Extremes in this respect are metal-string- and electric guitar, synthesizer and drums.
Our Live Entertainment section will inform you of all the Local Flamenco Shows.
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