Saturday, April 30, 2011

Flamenco, its older than you think. An interlude on ancient music. part 1

      I find this essay of interest. Many have only been exposed to the modern interpretation of the history of Flamenco. Here is a different and more comprehensive look into the subject. This is a long essay which will appear in several parts.
     Guitar and Flamenco music  a period art form in the Medieval and Renaissance era.

    It is the general consensus today that guitar music and the form of music called Flamenco are not in the medieval or renaissance period. Most conjecture is that they are Baroque and later developments.  This reasoning is based upon the fact that very little has been recorded or written at all on this subject or the subject of music. We must attempt to uncover what we can on this subject through piecing together history and folklore as well as rumor and legend, in order to discover that Flamenco and differing forms of guitar music where regularly practiced in the medieval and Renaissance era.
     The general accepted belief is that Flamenco music came about in the nineteenth century in its modern form, but this is not the whole picture. The first cafes Flamenco opened at this time, but the music was practiced long before. The evolution of the music came together even in the seventeenth century, but anything like what we know today was apparently not even vaguely documented until the eighteenth century. The Gitane or Gypsies hold that it is much older, as do others. Many believe that it dates back to ancient Rome as do other forms of Mediterranean music.
     In Spain all cultures, east and west, north and south meet. It was in Andalusia that the open civilization of the Moorish rulers of Iberia allowed an exchange of culture on all levels, from traders with their economies of the day, to religion and  art. This is the Flamenco form, and where all guitar music came from. This is the joyous way to while away the evenings, a form of culture that was possibly not cultured enough for the  intellectuals who had failed to undertake the discipline of music.
      Possibly, these fine thinkers who snubbed their own languages for highbrow greek, and its later replacement latin, could not lower themselves to the mirth making forms of the people. Possibly they had forgotten that they too were people. In a time where specialization kept many in darkness, we do not see open-mindedness reappear in history until the renaissance. It was then that one could be a man of letters, a scientist, a mechanic, a musician and painter of fine art. As in Rome at its height, the renaissance provided us with the ideal of the classical education, what we today call the Renaissance man, but sadly are abandoning for the specialization of the feudal era.

           This dumbing down was not prevalent in the Renaissance. From the Thirteen-hundreds until the nineteen-eighties, a well rounded education was seen as an essential. The movement towards specialization started in the late nineteenth century, when industrialists met with government to force compulsory education upon the masses so that they could have a labor force easy to educate in the service of their industrialist masters, thereby ending the freedom of the individual. Before then, most people were self employed. Since then a new form of feudalism has evolved, and those who start fights and rule are far richer than any robber baron of ancient days could have dreamed of becoming.
     Yet in the early Renaissance, even up to the time of the reconquista in the late 1400’s , they had to give good cause for bloodshed, and the theft of other peoples wealth. Men were more inclined to be self employed, and it took a pretty good reason to get them to go to war. This eventually was side stepped with the advent of professional armies which gave organized crime, I mean ‘local government’, the almighty nation state; the right to “establish the right and just causes” of the nation, which often included the proper teaching of the three Rs; raping, rioting, and robbing, with the usual absolution of sins for the perpetrators.
     You cannot escape from history, and in that, warfare. There is even a tradition that the term Flamenco comes from returning fighters in the Flemish lands, though some people attribute the name to the fact that Flamenco musicians, singers and dancers were so proud that they were like Flamingo’s., hence the moniker. Stories hold that even those who came to watch Flamenco were proud. There is a stream of thought  which believes that Flamenco comes from the fact that Gypsies, Jews and Arabs spoke a foreign language, and in the case of the Gypsies the thought was that they came from Flanders, therefore in Flanders they spoke German, and the Gypsies didn’t speak Spanish, then they must be speaking Flamenco, some barbarous language the Spanish could not understand.
          When the Moors ruled, the Jews, Gypsies, and Arabs could come together, and would share their culture. People in Andalusia walked about, would hear music played, and join in singing, clapping or with their own instruments of choice. During the time of the Moorish rule, the peaceful coexistence of differing peoples was encouraged and allowed, it promoted exchange of ideas and trade. The Jewish Cantor would come upon a tune and be moved to sing, or a singer would hear a call to prayer for the local Mosque, and be inspired to sing in a certain praying fashion, a way to encapsulate the inescapable sorrow’s of life. An Oud player might play his distinctive style, and a player of guitar would hear it and copy it in his own way. If no drummer was around, people would clap, or bang on boxes.
     The Gypsies were their own bosses, or so they thought. They often did not like to mingle with others having rules of purity amongst themselves. In Emma Martinez’s book , Flamenco, she notes that the Gypsies were probably from the warrior cast (Kshatriyas) of northern India-Pakistan, who left because of some defeat, or they simply felt like living in the open. It is known that the Celts traveled far and wide throughout Asia, so this behavior was not uncommon. It was considered to weaken the blood if one married outside the tribe/cast. They considered themselves an elite cast, and traveled about led by a Duke, who would introduce himself as such upon entering any country, seeking letters of travel from that countries ruler. They were often metal workers, and were known as tinkers who fixed metal objects for people as they passed from town to town. This mentality could have come from when they were actively part of the warrior cast. The knowledge of metals, especially steel was essential for the traveling warrior, farriering horses was also a necessary skill. Like the Mongols, they liked to keep moving, and sleep under the stars in the open air, untainted by the stench of cities, which was common then.
     The importance of the Gypsies to this essay is that they carry the roots of the music form into the twentieth century. They in this time remember the mystical roots of their traditions. For example, in defining how it is that the music is good as opposed to mechanical, as they might consider someone who reads from sheet music, you had to learn to improvise, and in this inspired state you came out with something unexpected, sublime. This is what inevitably brought me to this form: to me it blends east and west, and the north and south of the Mediterranean cultures. In my own musical development I came to realize that prewritten music was lacking. It did nothing to inspire me, whereas, when I played unrehearsed, when the inspiration came through, the music was somewhat new and entertaining  to me as well as everyone else, far more than something rehearsed, it was a surprise to all. This does not mean that there are styles to learn, and ways of playing or riffs, that one picks up from others. All this is the basis from which one improvises.
     This from Martinez’s book; “ Antonio Mairena used the term La Razon Incorporea, roughly “Disembodied Reasoning,”which he claimed was something only Gypsies possessed. He was the first to talk about this ‘Gypsy lore’, and it seems he was trying to express a concept which is very hard for Gypsies to talk about. According to Mairena, it's the creed by which the Spanish Gypsy lives: “It is our honour, the basis for Gypsy culture, all of our traditions and ancient rituals. It’s something only a Gypsy can understand, as God decrees, and which only Gypsies live... it’s something untransferable, and unintelligible to outsiders... it is the source of our inspiration for el cante and the Gypsy cantaor, and he expresses it in an intuitive way, via the duende.”Mairena believes that non Gypsies cannot sing and perform Flamenco well.
     Not being a Gypsy, I will never know if this is true. Having had no exposure to their ways I cannot tell, though they sound very much like the Israelites, who had an inspired tradition as far back as David, who danced and performed music for God, shamelessly and innocently. The mystical ideal is part of music, that is why God chooses David as his King, because of the sensitivity he could project through his music, it is also why King Saul could only be soothed by the music of David in the Kings time of tribulation. We see this thought expressed in many cultures, this exclusivity of intuition, which is available only to the inspired.
     I have though had a long interest in the mystical, and have found that music is a mystical practice. Though there are technical  musicians who sound nice, they often cannot take you to the mystical place that the composer intended. Neither can they do this with their own music. Being raised in a classical education from a German background, I look at most things learned as a discipline to be conquered. I have a very warrior-like approach to all pursuits and did so in the beginnings of musical study. As I learned about mysticism and practiced it, I did so with Military order, I began to get results from the practices. From these results a new view of all things came about. I learned that in all endeavors there is an inspired approach which was far superior to the martial discipline, though it had its purpose too. In a kind a mystical state, you could control a horse, he could feel you and all of the commands you issued through your body to his, could be almost non-existent, sometimes entirely non-existent. When I would shoot, when I would write, when I would paint or play music, all was better in this difficult to point out inspired state... and all time disappeared. This was a profound way to experience things, and it made the normal way pale, the normal being a sacrilege, even though the mystical way is not always reachable every time you practice an art. I believe this is what the Flamenco’s call Duende.
     So who hangs out with a true Gypsy raised in a caravan, where music and dance is as important as any other serious pursuit, and where everyone was part of the entertainment, possibly with all the intuitive feel a night of entertainment might offer? I have the same biases that most Europeans do towards Gypsies, though having studied their music and their way of life has made me more open to their ways, even if, as I must admit, it might be hard for me to be very trusting of any from a Gypsy clan. Their separateness and the long traditions of mistrust are hard to overcome, but their art makes you think. It is understandable that they separated themselves from the rest of society, even though this has it shortcomings.
     That the Jews and Moslems are closely related is historical fact. That the Moslems felt that the Jews were the people of the first book (the Bible, the first dispensation of God, a people with Gods covenant.) originally left them unpersecuted, for the most part. The Moors of Spain gave them a home, and they prospered. It must also be understood that the term Gypsy could have come from the Spanish Catholic prejudice that all people from the Ottoman empire were Egyptians, but most certainly they were related to the Jews in the minds of the Catholics, and treated likewise. All had to convert, settle down, and lead what the Catholics had decided was a proper life.
     Under the Moslems the Gypsies and Jews were allowed to keep to their own ways. The fact that music and dance were important to both people shows a thing in common, at one point. The Jewish Cantor is a significant part of the religious experience, and must be able to convey the significance of the holiday observance, aiding in leading people into the passion of the time, the overall Weltschmertz as they say in German, the world sorrow. The Gypsies have a similar concept in their Cantaor, which has led many to believe that in the Spain of the Moors or even before, the two cultures had a commonality, or even possibly that Gypsies may be a lost tribe of Israel. The Gypsy voice is filled with all the sorrows of the world, and to them, only the trial of a lifetime of sorrows can elucidate the style of a cantaor. They sing with their broken pronunciations, leaving out syllables, and sometimes adding those which were not there, and this differs from the Arabic and Arabigo-Andaluz music which have rules in their changes, but most importantly that the words should be understood.
     Maybe they are by a native speaker, but all too often in the Arabic and Hebrew, all is not so concise. Yet with the Gypsy flamenco that is not the case, and often one does not have to understand the words to feel the emotions expressed. My personal taste is first with the music and then with the dance, which I find more as rhythm when playing, I don’t really care for the song. Yet when you watch Gypsies play and dance and sing the three come together quite beautifully. At this point for me the music gives a new vehicle for inspiration. They say that people used to European music (which includes most popular music in America as well) often don’t enjoy the flamenco singing as much, it is very coarse and used to express emotion.
     The book I have liked best on the subject is D.E. Pohren’s the art of Flamenco. He says that no one knows when flamenco began. That the Arabs entered Andalusia in the 8th century and that before then the people had a folk culture under the Romans and Greeks and even the Phoenicians before them. There have been found on Babylonian tablets etchings which appear to be guitars. They have found in a Coptic tomb (circa 40 a.d. to 400 a.d.) an instrument which looks like a guitar, with a flat back, and wood on the sides holding front and back together, with the distinctive curves on the sides that define what a guitar looks like today. (see . It is certain that the Arabic conquest broke the ground for the guitar in Spain, and that the Arabs brought it with them from Egypt, though I know that in the Abbasid dynasty guitar like instruments were used (8th century).
          The first migration of the Gypsies entered Andalusia in the eighth century as camp-followers of the invading Muslim forces. This is reinforced by the difference between the Gypsies of northern and southern Spain, as well as the vast difference between the eighth century Gypsies who entered Europe from the south, and the other Gypsy tribes who took the northern root of immigration through Romania,Austria,Germany,Belgium,France . The northern Gypsies are more aloof from society and typically gypsy in appearance, whereas those who entered from the south in the eighth century, have had time to mingle with the inhabitants, thereby mixing better with the culture, while loosing much of their gypsy appearance. Some Egyptian researchers have noted that the ancient Egyptian word for man was Roma, and that this is where Gypsies came from as opposed to the India source of their existence. It seems to me that these southern Spanish Gypsies may have come from Egypt, and that they had earlier roots in india. There is a school of thought that the Indian connection is invalid, that Gypsies are Egyptians. Voltaire claimed that the ancient dancers of Cadiz, the Romany of Hispania, were descendants of the priests and priestess’s of Isis, whose tambourines and castanets derived from antiquity. I don’t know how he came upon that. (see Voltaire’s Essai sur les moeurs) The adherents of the Egyptian source say that ancient Egyptian dancers had similarities to Flamenco style. Something for thought, but not easily documented. (see Moustaffa Gadhalla the main proponent for the Egyptian Gypsy source.)
     According to Paco Pena, my favorite Flamenco guitarist, the origins of Flamenco go back to the Phoenicians, native Iberians, romans, Visigoths, Moors, Jews and finally the Gypsies.
     In Andalusia the Gypsies would have been exposed to these other influences from the Jews, Muslims, local folk music and even Byzantine influences, which they successfully blended with the Indian influences and whatever else they brought with them. This came together as Flamenco music, the song and dance evolved after the music. By the time of the reconquista the element of the sorrow of persecution and the terror of the inquisition as well as the overall attempt of the government to force people to conform, developed the deep sorrow of the cantaor, and the dance. The music joined to this, and became distinctive. These three dissenting cultures were soon joined by Christian fugitives and dissenters of the methods of the new Spain and its inquisition. These four became a distinct culture. This underground culture developed the different forms of Flamenco.
     Many Spanish theoreticians assume that the Gypsies arrived with no prior musical influences or culture, and only adopted Flamenco upon arriving in Spain. It is their contribution which stands out because today most of the better Flamenco artists are Gypsy. The Moors left, the Jews departed or assimilated into Spanish culture as did anyone who decided to settle down and get a job, and follow the way of the order the inquisition had described as right conduct. This ‘Payo’ culture, was to the Gypsies a selling out. The more I read about them, they were the original beatnicks, somewhat hippy-like, and definitely Bohemian in their own right.
     In the early 1960’s D.E.Pohren met the gypsies, and him being the novelty of an American Flamenco guitarist was asked to play by them. They hit it off so well Pohren was invited to a gypsy wedding. When talking about the lack of ambition of the gypsies and their refusal to work, a gypsy replied; “ that this “ambition”. that you praise is the greatest motivating evil the world has known. One must have principles or ambition, as these two forces are instinctive enemies and are constantly at each others throats. Woe on the man, for he will have a raging turmoil inside his person. For ambition, in the modern sense of the word, is the desire to get ahead, and it is a rare man who can get ahead without sacrificing his integrity and his principles. This other thing you consider a fault, the refusal to work in some hated job that the payo takes merely to make money, or gain prestige, or get ahead, or what have you, this rejection of work is the greatest of gypsy virtues! We refuse to prostitute our integrity in this way. We prefer to obey our natural instincts, although we may suffer more and work harder in obeying them than we would taking a soft payo job and wasting away our lives. Besides, who has the superior intelligence; he who works unhappily within the system, or he who pursues his own interests and remains above the system?” This speaker was a dark-skinned young gypsy with considerable reputation as a poet. Some sort of tribal wiseman or witch doctor spoke next; “ It is clear that the gypsies have outlived their age. God meant for us to live off the fat of the land, moving from place to place feeding on wild fruits and fowl and abundant animal life, never abusing as the payo does, never depleting our sources, never causing the extinction of entire species of animals, never exploiting, but merely taking

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