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Flamenco - A Cross-Cultural Art Form


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Flamenco is an art form rooted in the Spanish culture for generations. Today, flamenco is popular all over the world. This film documents a Colombian flamenco guitarist living in Seville, Spain. Explore the passion and power of flamenco and its cultural influence around the world in this lesson.

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Soleá, the title of the film, is the Spanish term for one of the most basic forms of flamenco music originating in the southern region of Spain. Soleá, or "soleares" is referred to as the "mother of flamenco" since many forms of flamenco derives from it. Soleá comes from the word "soledad", meaning loneliness or solitude.

According to the book Flamenco: Passion, Politics and Popular Culture, the Gitanos, or gypsies living in Andalucía, were fundamental in maintaining the form of flamenco through generations. The Spanish Inquisition of 1492 persecuted and expelled the Gitanos, denying public expression of their culture or beliefs. The Gitanos were able to carry forward a sound that expressed a spirit of desperation, struggle, isolation, and pride reflecting this history of persecution and social exclusion. In the late 19th century, the flamenco sounds heard on the streets voiced by vegetable vendors were brought into cafés, the “café cantantes”, and publicized the form into what is now known as the Golden Age of flamenco.

The original form of flamenco was only a voice accompanied by the rhythm of a wooden cane beating against the floor. Today, the components of flamenco include: singing, guitar playing, dance, and handclaps. One essential part to flamenco is the live interaction between the dancer and the musicians. 

UNESCO declared flamenco in 2010 as one of the Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, which raises awareness on cultural heritage. 

Poet and playwright García Lorca, who grew up in the southern Spanish city of Granada, published an essay about the oldest strand of flamenco. This article from The New Yorker describes this old form of flamenco and quotes Lorca who said, "I can tell when a guitarist hasn't played for singers, because there's no sensitivity or sweetness. I can hear when a guitarist hasn't played for dance, because there's no rage, there's no anger, there's no power. I can be very musical and very lyrical, but without rage and sweetness you aren't complete."

Explore this article from The New York Times, which highlights people flocking to southern Spain to train as flamenco dancers. These foreigners are helping the local economies and taking flamenco back to their home countries, including England, Germany, Israel, and Japan. 

Paco de Lucía, who was mentioned in the film, was acclaimed to be one of the greatest flamenco guitarists. He died in 2014. Read more about his life and listen to some of his music in this NPR story -  Paco de Lucía, Modern Superstar of Flamenco, Dies.

How can music, and the history with which it contains, make us feel more alive? Watch this TED Talk with Michael Tilson Thomas - Music and emotion through time.

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