A Night To Remmber
The week began with high drama as a nearby mountain went up in flames, and then on Friday we had drama of a different kind. Although Frigiliana is only a small village, the town council is at great pains to promote the cultural history of the area as well as provide a rich cultural programme of events for the residents. Friday evening saw us seated in the patio of La Casa del Apero, the cultural centre, in eager anticipation of an evening of flamenco. This being July, we had ample opportunity to eat before setting out, as the first part of the evening, a talk on the history and development of flamenco, was not scheduled to start until ten o’clock when the heat of the day had died down. And this being Andalucia, ten o’clock was not to be taken literally, but at ten thirty, Sebastián Navas, a well-known and highly respected cantaor of the region mounted the stage to give the history of the art. It is often said that flamenco is the gypsy music of Spain, and it is true that its origins can be traced back to the cities of Cádiz and Sevilla, both of which have large gitano communities. In fact, flamenco is far, far older than this. It dates all the way back into the pre-Christian era when the city of Gadir was founded by the Phoenicians, who brought their music with them. That music represented the roots of flamenco, and the city became Cádiz, the longest established European city still in existence. Into that root stock were grafted the music of the Jews, who arrived shortly afterwards, and of the people of the Maghreb who came trading from the southern shores of the Mediterranean. The arrival, reign and ultimate expulsion of the Moors - Muslims from Arabia, the Middle East and North Africa - allowed further development of a distinctive style of vernacular music over a period of 800 years. Of particular significance at the end of this period were the sung laments or quejidos of the dispossessed Muslims, bringing the characteristic harsh and plaintive, tone which is the hallmark of much present day dante, especially the dante hondo (deep song). Sebastián then proceeded to treat us to a selection of different forms and styles of cante. The joy of this part of the evening was the fact that this was no specially designed and sanitised show for the benefit of the tourist trade, but the authentic voice of a true, dedicated cantor, singing from the heart and the soul. A brief pause while the stage was reset, and then another wholly authentic performance was delivered by dancer Joaquín Ruiz, accompanied by a guitarist, two cantaorasi(female singers) and two men on palmas (palms - clapping) who formed the percussion section. Another electrifying hour that passed all too quickly. For Joaquín, three dances required three costumes, not just for theatrical effect, but to cope with the sweat that his energy and attack generated, especially the final dance which just went on and on, endlessly varied in pace and posture, and seemingly unending. But sadly, end it finally did and we left for home at one in the morning - fortunately just a three of four minute walk away. One final piece of explanation of how flamenco developed to what it is today. It began as song, pure and simple. The rhythm that carried the song was provided by the foot tapping and clapping of the listeners. To this also were added the sounds of the bastón, a staff or walking stick pounded on the ground, and the cajón, a box used as a drum, though a box which has become more and more sophisticated down the years. The guitar did not appear until well into the nineteenth century and served two purposes - to provide the rhythm accompaniment and also to provide a counterpoint (but always a subsidiary one) to the singer’s voice. Not until the middle years of the twentieth century did the guitar become a solo instrument of flamenco.