Fiery Flamenco

Our tour tonight was across the river to the neighbourhood of Triana which has a very rich and colourful history.

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Until the 1850s, the district of Triana was linked to the rest of the city by a single floating bridge made from boats tied together side by side.  It was a place where ‘undesirables’ were sent to live.

The river was the great divide between the sevillano and the trianeros.  If you lived in Seville it would have meant that you had a bit of cash, maybe you were a merchant, you might have been royalty or nobility?  If you lived in Triana, you were more likely to be part of a religious minority group – Jewish or Muslim, an outsider – Romani or perhaps just a bit hard on your luck…  This is where flamenco was born.

For centuries, the bulk of Triana’s population was Romani (not to be mistaken with people of Romania). The Romani (or Roma) are an itinerant Indo-Aryan ethnic group.  The have been known as ‘gypsies’ in the past, (possibly because they travelled to Spain from Egypt) which is considered derogatory.  They lived in communal compounds of small, crowded houses arranged around a multi-purpose courtyard that they used as a laundry, a meeting area, a workplace and a performance space. Some of these houses are still around today that you can sneak a peak through the gate and into the courtyard.

The story that we were told is that after a hard day the residents of these shared houses  would be going about their business in the courtyard…. somebody would be sweeping, another person, scrubbing clothes, a man might have been cleaning his shoes and all of these things made a sound – the sound of percussion.  Then as somebody started to ‘sing the blues’ about their day, dancers would freestyle to the rhythm.  The songs would generally be about hardship and heartbreak, and the dancing would translate the story into dramatic, emotional, passionate movements (including the stomping with their feet)…. and thus Flamenco was born. You can see this being made into a musical, can’t you?

The sound of Flamenco song is like melodic wailing and sounds a bit like the muslim call to prayer.  The guitar is something out of this world and to be able to play efficiently takes years and years.  The singer, the percussionists and the guitar players are all a backdrop to the main attraction of the Flamenco – the dancers.  Their movements control the music, rather than the other way around.

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So how did it get the name ‘flamenco’?

One theory is that the word is a derivative of the Spanish word meaning “fire” or “flame”. It could also come from a word derived from the Hispano-Arabic term fellah mengu, meaning “expelled peasant”, referring to the Andalusians of Islamic faith.  It may also have been used for fiery behaviour, which could have been applied to the guitar players and performers.  Something else I read was that the word is Spanish for “Flemish” (meaning “native of Flanders, Belgium”, at one-time owned by the Spanish).

But, I think that’s reading way too much into it….. flamingoes live in the saltpans of Cádiz – which is where the Roma would have entered Spain from Egypt…  I mean, they would have walked right past them.

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Now look at this side by side below and judge for yourself!

Now, having explained all that – we went to a Flamenco show with our lovely guide, Chris.  We walked to the other side of the river – via a new stable bridge and she explained the intricacies of Flamenco and the history of Triana.

This is the theatre we visited. You are not allowed to take any photos of the performance and quite frankly there wouldn’t have been a chance because the show was so energetic you couldn’t take your eyes off the guitar players fingers, the dancer’s feet/facial expressions or placement of fingers, or at time the singers floppy fringe (will he flick his head again? I wish I had a clip to lend him….. #thoughts).  Honestly, we were exhausted when it finished!

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Afterward we tried a couple of tapas restaurants to sample a few dishes.  I wish I’d taken photos of them. Can you believe I didn’t, in this day and age?  Anyway, one of the restaurants was this little place that has it’s own flamenco tablao, which is a stage designed to amplify the sound of the dancing.

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Then we wandered down along the river and over a different bridge – there are so many to choose from nowadays and slowly meandered home.

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The verdict: We were very happy that we saw authentic Flamenco in its birthplace of Triana and we were in awe of the way the dancers could move their feet so quickly as well as tell a dramatic story with their face; we were amazed by the guitar player’s expertise playing so well and so spontaneously and we were impressed by the singers voice and his ability to keep his fringe mostly out of his face and I loved the costumes. However…. as with all traditional/national/folkloric performances, I can’t say (and I strongly feel that Me Jenny would be in agreement) that it would be my go-to.

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