As you know, we have a show coming up on August 20th called Cultural Connections: From Flamenco to Salsa. When David told me about this, I immediately went online to find out what this “Flamenco Rumba” thing was, (I mean really, doesn’t Flamenco + Afro-Caribbean sound just too good to be true?), but there just wasn’t much to find. So, I went out in search of some help.
Tony Dumas is an ethnomusicologist from UC Davis and an expert on flamenco hybridity. I know, I know, he sounds like the luckiest guy alive. He was gracious enough to contribute this post to tell us more about this tantalizing style of music/dance. I hope this is only the first of many such in-depth and interesting articles. If you have comments, questions, or an article you wish to contribute, you can contact me at [email protected] Now, all you music geeks, Enjoy!
Flamenco developed in the nineteenth century in a region of southern Spain called Andalusia. A syncretic genre, this music and dance form blended the musical and emotional sentiments of an economically depressed, and politically marginalized, conglomerate of Jews, Spanish Gypsies (gitanos), Muslims, and the Spanish underclass. From this cultural milieux arose over fifty styles (palos) of flamenco that are characterized by their meter (duple, triple, twelve-beats, or free-form), tonality (major, minor, or modal), emotional depth (cante jondo – “deep song,” cante chico – “light song”), or point of origin (gitano, Middle Eastern, regional, etc.). As early as the 1850s, Latin American musical influences, particularly from Cuba, found their way into flamenco’s repertoire as cantes ida y vuelta (return songs). Today, flamenco fuses instruments and musical styles from around the world – Hindustani, salsa, Native American flute, heavy metal, hip-hop, and Korean pansori, to name a few – revealing a cosmopolitan attitude among contemporary performers of what is now a globally marketed genre.
Interestingly, the flamenco rumba bears little resemblance to its Cuban namesake. In Cuba, the rumba is an improvised acrobatic dance with extensive hip and shoulder movements. It is traditionally accompanied by multiple percussion instruments that perform highly syncopated rhythms in duple meter. The main instrument in flamenco rumba, however is the guitar (although palmas (clapping) and the cajon (box drum) are very common). Rhythmically, the flamenco rumba is based on a modified tresillo rhythm (an Afro-Cuban rhythm) that groups eight beats into a repeating pattern of 3+3+2. Golpes (tapping/slapping the guitar) are used to create syncopation and add to the overall rhythmic density. It is common for the flamenco rumba to include a recurring refrain (instrumental or vocal) that alternates with sung verses or instrumental improvisations. More overtly sexual than other flamenco styles, the dance is characterized by rocking hip movements and frequent over-the-sholder flirting. Furthermore, unlike other styles of flamenco, the flamenco rumba is not limited to any one tonality or key; rumbas can be major, minor, modal and in any key.
The driving rhythm and open form of the flamenco rumba has made it a globally popular style yet its place in the flamenco repertoire is controversial and even contested by some who dismiss it as inauthentic or superficial. Despite this criticism, the flamenco rumba plays an important role in the vitality and diversity of the genre. More rhythmically accessible than some other styles of flamenco, it gained mass appeal during the flamenco opera era (1920s to 1950s); a period that first brought international attention and wealth to flamenco. Since then, it has retained regional popularity outside of Andalusia, particularly in Catalonia and southern France. It first gained international acclaim however, in 1975 when famed guitarist Paco de Lucia released Entre dos Aguas (Between Two Waters), a hugely popular instrumental piece that exemplified the artistic potential of flamenco fusions. This marked a new era in flamenco, a surge in hybrid flamenco styles, and increased interest in flamenco by non-Spanish musicians (largely from the United States, Germany, and Japan) whose thirst for all-things-flamenco had a profound effect on how flamenco is now distributed, taught, and lived.
Tony is currently working on his dissertation: (Re)Locating Flamenco: Bohemian Traditions and Cosmopolitan Styles in Northern California. Expected completion Fall 2011.