Keys to understanding flamenco
You hear some clapping and you know that it can be accompanied by a good heel, a guitar, the sound of castanets or the percussion of the cajon. Everything as a prelude to a unique cante, a dance that hypnotizes and envelops you, an expression of feeling: we are talking about flamenco.
With its own characteristics, as well as other musical styles, flamenco is recognized worldwide and considered as Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Although improvisation is what usually guides most artists when they get into a tablao, this genuine art has its own codes that allow us to know if we are before a sevillana, a bulería or a fandango.
It is the sum of melodic (the singing), harmonic (guitar), rhythmic (cajón and palmas) and metric components, which makes each flamenco palo unique and unmistakable. The lyrics are added to this, since, due to the festive character of some and the melancholic cadence of others, they are of different themes, ranging from love, death, everyday life to religion.
Flamenco experts say that there are more than 50 different styles of flamenco, although many of them come from styles considered as the “roots”. We are talking, for example, about the seguiriya or the toná, which are so old that it is not known which artists were the first to perform them. This is another detail of this art that you should know, flamenco arose in homes, in intimacy, in celebrations and family gatherings.
Hence those lyrics that reflected the daily lives of those who sang them, like the taranto, which emerged in the mining area of Almeria during the workday.
And so, we are going to continue to go into the main elements of flamenco, the more formal and technical ones, so that you can differentiate their parts while you enjoy a flamenco show.
Formal elements of flamenco
Although before the flamenco show the artists talk about the palos they would like to play that day, the truth is that many times they let themselves be carried away by improvisation. In order to do so, everyone must know the rhythms of each palo very well, as, with just a few guitar notes, a couple of tones from the cantaor or the rhythm of the palms themselves, the dancer must recognise what he or she is before.
Knowing these characteristics makes all the artists in the tablao form a unit and you can enjoy a good show of pure flamenco. So, we go into the formal elements of flamenco:
- Verse, lyrics or tercio: these are three parts to define the same thing, the sung part. The lyrics are made up of couplets, that is, small structures that, in turn, contain the verses, also known as “thirds”. If you see a written flamenco lyric, you will see that it looks like a poetic composition. Usually, they are eight-syllable verses, although you can also find six, eleven and seven-syllable ones.
- Antiphon: this is how the “ay, ay, ay” are known, that is to say, the “ayeos“ that can be heard during the performance of some flamenco forms, such as the caña or the polo.
- “Macho” or lyrics: this is the one with which a flamenco song ends or finishes off.
- Falseta: this is the piece composed for the flamenco guitar that is played between the different lyrics of a flamenco song. It is the moment in which the guitar takes on the most importance. There are different variations on the guitar, with different styles.
These elements are related to the melodic part of a flamenco show, now we continue with the flamenco dance and we will expose it in order of appearance:
- Exit: the moment when the dance begins. Basically it is when the artist starts to dance. Normally, at the beginning of a show, the dancers are sitting down, waiting for the singing or the guitar to start.
- Call: this is a sound achievement that is made with the shoes, known as heeling or tapping (or zapateo). It is called a call because it is a warning for the flamenco singer, so that he or she knows that the singing can begin.
- Escobilla: is the execution of a complete rhythmic composition, included with a zapateo. At the end, the artist increases the rhythm and intensity of the dance, culminating in a cierre or remate. This is when the dancers leave their skin on the stage, being one of the most expected moments for those attending a flamenco show.
- Desplante: normally it is the form to finish off or to close the flamenco dance. The flamenco dancer gives some strong blows with his or her feet against the floor, raising his or her arm and hand in a haughty gesture. This is where most of the “olés” are plucked.
These are some very basic notions to be able to understand what happens during a flamenco show. However, the best way to get into this art is to feel it, to see it, to let it transmit you. Moreover, flamenco is a living art, which adapts to the times without losing its essence and purity.
For those who want to enjoy a unique flamenco show from any corner of the world, we have different videos of flamenco shows that cover some of the main flamenco styles: seguiriyas, taranto, sevillanas, tango, bulerías…
All recorded in an authentic Andalusian flamenco “tablao”, with seven pure-bred artists who bring out their “duende” to the delight of the audience.
We also have two online flamenco courses for those who want to learn the technique and become a real artist. Olé!