Though flamenco is one of the most iconic elements of Spanish culture, its origins are somewhat mysterious. Most of what is known comes from oral histories, passed down from generation to generation, much like the art form itself. Scholars and practitioners agree that flamenco dance and music grew out of the influences of Indian, Moorish and Jewish cultures.
Many centuries ago, these populations migrated to southern Spain and settled in the Andalusia region. These newcomers were generally regarded as outcasts and suffered perpetual persecution. Though flamenco culture still reflects their struggle, infused throughout is a resilient spirit of pride and hope.
As part of the Florida Folklife Folk Artist Residency Program, nationally recognized flamenco artists Paco and Celia Fonta shared some of that history and basic techniques with 350 Florida State University School students.
Though the guitar is commonly associated with flamenco, Celia said the genre is inherently percussive, with castanets, hand clapping and footwork all used to accentuate the rhythms.
“We accompany flamenco songs and dances with palmas, or hand clapping,” she said.
“There are two types: We have sordas, which means muffled, and there’s also loud hand clapping, or fuertes.” She added that “the third, and maybe the most important, part of the percussion element is our zapateado, or footwork. I have special shoes with a wood heel, and it actually has nails in the bottom of it. My feet are my instrument.”
During the presentation, the students learned about the geographic context for the flamenco songs and dances they were experiencing. From Seville to Cádiz, Cordoba to Huelva, the audience was virtually transported to Spain. Third-grader Jordyn Adams found this particularly appealing. “I go to the cafeteria and, boom, I can watch somebody from a different place.” Fifth-grader Ethan Coats agreed and added, “I really want to go to Spain. Thishelped me learn a little bit more and made me want to go even more. I like that there’s so many musicians in the world and you can listen to all kinds of music.”
Flamenco music is notoriously challenging, and Paco explained the impressive and intricate strumming technique for flamenco guitar, called rasgueado. He demonstrated the finger flicks for the students, each finger working independently, allowing for extremely fast and complex rhythms. Paco was born in Jaen, Spain, where he learned flamenco singing and guitar from traditional musicians.
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