What is the flamenco “duende”?

 In Flamenco in Seville

Each music and dance has its own language and flamenco is one of them. Thanks to its multicultural origin (Muslim songs, African rhythms, etc.), it has an exceptional richness that is reflected on the stage through the flamenco duende: from the steps of a dancer, the playing of a good flamenco guitarist and the expressions used.

Understanding flamenco goes beyond knowing the rhythms and the style of flamenco that is being played, as it is an art form that is full of feelings, so it is better to see it and feel it, than to want to categorize it. However, we are going to make an approach to the purest flamenco, the “duende“. Read on to find out everything about it.

The theory of flamenco “duende”

One of the most used words both inside and outside flamenco is “duende”. The origin of this expression is as curious as its meaning.

In flamenco duende there is also a reference to bullfighting. Throughout history, flamenco and bullfighting have gone hand in hand on numerous occasions, even making shows in which they were combined. Some experts claim that both are a profound art that expose feelings.

Carmen Latorre’s fashion show on the Simof in 2016

Even other of the most typical expressions of flamenco, the “olé”, is widely heard in the bullrings when the bullfighter makes movements with his cape.

The poet Federico García Lorca developed a theory in 1933 within the conference entitled “El teatro y la teoría del Duende” (The theatre and the theory of the Duende), given first in Buenos Aires and then in Havana. Lorca, a flamenco enthusiast, whose work is reflected as “Poema del Cante Jondo”, wanted to explain what this word means and why it is directly related to flamenco:

“This mysterious power that everyone feels and that no philosopher explains is, in short, […] the same flamenco duende that embraced Niestzsche’s heart, that looked for it in its external forms on the Rialto bridge or in Bizet’s music, without finding it and without knowing that the duende he was chasing had jumped from the mysterious Greeks to the dancers of Cadiz or to the Dionysian throat-curling scream of Silverio’s siguiriya”.

Thus, the “duende” is something that can hardly be expressed in words, which is why it is said that “either you have it or you don’t”. Continuing with Lorca, the art inspired by the duende “communicates to us the essence of the world, as happens with the music of flamenco singers“.

Until now, we have spoken of flamenco duende as a feeling, but there is research, like that of the psychologist from Granada Elvira Salazar, in whose work “La huella psicológica del duende flamenco” (The psychological imprint of flamenco duende) analyses in a physical way the changes that occur in dancers when they are in a flamenco show.

In it, 10 professional flamenco dancers from the last year of the Granada Professional Dance Conservatory who had been dancing for at least a decade were subjected to physical tests in which their temperature was measured while they were resting and while they were dancing.

The result of this study showed that there was a direct relationship between the dancers’ body temperature and their technique or “flamenco duende”. In other words, “the body temperature of the dancers experiences significant changes between a state of rest and after the execution of a dance, but not after a sporting activity. This shows us that dancing is not a mere physical exercise but something more. Or something different.

flamenco instruments

“The decrease in the temperature of the buttocks and the increase in the temperature of the forearms is related to the high empathy of the dancers to perceive emotions and, in turn, to the appreciation of others that this dancer has a greater goblin,” Salazar states in the conclusions of his research.

In fact, another interesting piece of information that the study reveals and which, on the other hand, is known within flamenco, is that “not because you have a better technique, you have more duende”. And the fact is that, although technique is important, it is still the thread of a dance that is based on a deep feeling, the “pellizco” (the name given to the way of transmitting, whether through dancing, singing or playing). The depth and personality has a great influence on the creation of this pinch).

Olé ese duende!” is already an expression that is taking shape and that we can already define as “a reference that is made to a person who has a special talent – in singing, dancing or playing – to transmit his or her feeling through his or her art.

References to “flamenco duende”

Numerous artists have been asked what they understand by “duende flamenco”, in an attempt to bring us closer to this concept that is so deeply rooted in flamenco culture. Below, we have compiled some of the best answers and their author:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet: “The duende is a mysterious power that everyone feels and that no philosopher explains”.

Manuel Torre, flamenco singer, listening to “Nocturno del Generalife”, by Manuel de Falla: “Everything that has black sounds has a flamenco duende”.

Manolo Caracol, flamenco singer: “There are days when I sing very badly, it seems I’m drunk. There are moments and days when everything goes wrong for me, because if I knew what the duende was and when it came, then one would say: let the duende come now”.

Diego El Lebrijano, flamenco vocalist and guitar player: “On the days I sing with duende there’s no one who can beat me”.

Antonio Mairena, flamenco vocalist: “There are days that he comes and days that he doesn’t. Days that you want to sing and you can’t do it. Days when, on the contrary, it seems like it’s going to be a night of tinkering and ends up being a great night”.

The flamenco duende is more than a word, it’s a feeling, a lament, a pinch. It expresses depth, feeling, strength and purity. If you want to see it up close, come to the Tablao Cuna del Flamenco, in Seville. We are waiting for you!

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