Flamenco: Passion, Politics, and Popular Culture

Flamenco: Passion, Politics, and Popular Culture

Flamenco: Passion, Politics, and Popular Culture

Flamenco: Passion, Politics, and Popular Culture


Flamenco is renowned for its passion and flamboyance. Yet because it generates such visceral responses, it is often overlooked as a site for subtler discourses. This absorbing book articulates powerful and convincing arguments on such key subjects as ethnicity, irony, authenticity, the body and resistance. Franco's 'politics of original sin' had left its mark on every aspect of Spanish life between 1936 and 1975, and flamenco music was no exception. Although widely portrayed as an apolitical, even frivolous form of entertainment, flamenco is shown here to have played a role in both the strategies of Franco's supporters and of those who opposed him. The author explores how the meaning of flamenco shifts according to the social, cultural and historical contexts within which it appears. In so doing, he demonstrates that flamenco is an ideal subject for analyzing the construction and appropriation of popular culture, given the way in which it was developed for middle-class audiences, converted into grand spectacle, and conscripted to serve political ends.


Flamenco music is recognized by people all over the world. From New York to Tokyo, enthusiastic crowds have acknowledged the power of Paco de Lucía's guitar and have responded to the passion of flamenco dance, whether in the self-controlled movements of Antonio Gades or in the vintage style of Carmen Amaya, with her inexhaustible passion and penetrating stare. Familiar too, though less so, are the songs--really the wails--that ground both the instrumentation and the dance. These flamenco songs, woven around Haiku-like verses, form the core of the music. Packaged together, the voice, the dance, and the guitar constitute this highly visible and easily distinguished style of popular music.

In North America, flamenco enthusiasts gather their roughand-ready knowledge of the flamenco style from a variety of sources. Books of many stripes have helped to shape popular knowledge. Guitarists playing both conservative sounds, like Pedro Bacán, and fusion sounds, like Ottmar Liebert, have helped to make flamenco guitar artistry as recognizable as it is. Films from Carmen to Strictly Ballroom have played up different features of the flamenco style, and flamenco performance groups in many American cities put time and sweat into educating and edifying the American public.

Despite--or because of--this welter of influences, reactions to the style are sharply contrastive. Americans either love it or they hate it. Few people are lukewarm. Ambivalent reactions are rarer still. Some folks celebrate the flamenco style as if were a gospel, a sacred text and a holy ritual all rolled into one. Other folks regard it as if it were the quintessence of kitsch. They find it noisy, gaudy, frivolous and inane.

These rifted reactions suggest something of the importance of flamenco as a cultural phenomenon. Flamenco performances are cultural moraines. They are gathering places for not-yet-well integrated cultural forces. They present divergent messages, and, inevitably therefore, they generate divergent reactions, pro-

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