This article is Chapter 1 in a series on Flamenco Music written for Guitarra Magazine in 1981 by Alain Gobin. This was translated from the French by Alfred Valario. Please see the end of this article for links to all the chapters in this exciting series!
To begin with, if flamenco awakens curiosity, it will often stumble rapidly upon underground rules which are presented helter-skelter. It will also clash swifty with obscure precepts to which an accented esotericism is added. These obstacles are truly more apparent than real. It is easy to understand flamenco as long as we proceed by stages which makes the approach become very simple.
Also, according to this view, some particulars
and definitions are necessary as a preamble to
As we begin, we notice that the most complete
confusion reigns over the exact meaning of this
music. Should we speak of "flamenco," "Andalusian Song" "gypsy song," or of "cante jondo?"
For the layman, all these names have the same
meaning. Yet, they each cover precise distinctions.
1. Some natural differences.
The Andalusian song is made up of various
musical forms directly traced to specific folklore
of Andalusia. It should not at all be confused
with the “gypsy song."
Andalusian folklore had established itself
long before the coming of the gypsies to Spain.
It had its roots very deep in the multiple sedimentation contributed by the Indus through the
Arabs and going from the Celts to the jews.
It is from this common background that early
in the fourteenth century a number of songs
called "flamenco" sprang — especially the Fan-
dangos, Tarantos, Villancicos, Livisnas, Serranas,
Nanas, Sevillanas and the Petenera.
The "gypsy song" distinguishes itself from the
"Andalusian Song" in two different ways.
It is a matter of either complete original
mentions by gypsies of good stock such as the
Sorongo, the Aiboreas, the Sambra, or an interpretation of an Andalusian song, characteristically
marked by the gypsy seal. The musical material
utilized is specifically quite gypsy but there have
been creative transformations. This fundamental
duality often explains the parallel existence of
two versions of the same song, one more “gypsy,"
the other more "Andalusian," yet both of them
What does this "flamenco" term that reappears
The exact origin of the word remains unknown
and many theories are being formulated on this
The question is, whether or not the name is
that of the wader (longlegged bird), described as
an eighteenth century singer with a long silhouette. Is it possnale to associate this with the
word ‘flameante" which means flamboyant?
These interpretations sem somewhat whimsical.
Even so, it is necessary to return to the Flemish ("fhe Flamencos") who came to Spain with
the influx of Charles V (Charles Quint's army).
This is the hypothesis strongly supported by
As it is, one must rely on the opinion of
Father Garcia Matos. According to him, flamenco
is a slang word of the seventeenth century
that would have meant “to brag" or "to boast."
Indeed, it would ultimately be necessary to re-
search Arabic etymology.According to P. Barrusio,
flamenco would derive from a contraction of ‘fela
mengu” (literally wandering man). But we cannot
brush aside "falai khun" which means peasant, nor
the word for singer, flahencon."1
Whatever it may be and in spite of these ety-
mological uncertainties the term "flamenco"
includes the two traditions; namely gypsy and
The scholarly poet Ricardo Molina justly states
in regard to this subject that "flamenco" was
formed by the Andalusian gypsy song.2
2. Qualitative Gradations
The natural differences that separate the
"gypsy song" and the “Andalusian song" are
grafted and qualitative distinctions and can be
applied to one as well as the other. Thus we
can bring out three successive stages.
The “jondo song" still called "cante grande"
(grand or great song) is the flower of flamenco
art. It represents the summit of the qualitative
hierarchies. The major part of the songs that
form the repertoire are of liturgical origin.
The exact meaning of the word jondo remains
somewhat ambiguous because it could be
a distortion of the word “HONDO" which means
profound, or on a contraction of the Hebrew
term “JOM TOD" (day of joy to God).
The two etymologies are equally satisfying because they evoke the intense and internalized
feelings that distinguish the "jondo songs" from
The others! They divide into two great categories. The "intermediate song" (cante intermedio)
and the "inferior song" (cante chico). The "cante
intermedio" receives this title because it is situated half way between the complex techniques
of "Cante Jondo” and the easiness of the "Cante
Chico." This latter is easily identifiable by light
songs and dances, such as "Farrucas," "Sevillanas" or "Bulerias."
Credits to Presses Universitaires de France
Postscript 1: Etmological research can lead very far. Thus, a thirteenth century courtly novel of
Provence entitled "Flamenca" tells of the misadventures of Sir Archabaud de Bourbon and his wife
"Flamenca" who, irritated by his jealousy, ends up by actually cheating on him.
Postscript 2: However, such is not the opinion of Antonio Mairena, who, researching the forgotten
styles and studying their original purity, describes "flamenco"as the "Andalusian Song" commercialized.
Thanks for reading! Below, we've assembled a list of all the chapters so far in this exciting series!