This article from 1981 is Chapter Two of an in-depth series on Flamenco music written by Alain Gobin and translated by Professor Alfred Valerio. Learn about how arabic music influenced Flamenco, or read chapter one!
If generalities are forsaken for the specific, and we examine the structure of a song, a certain number of inherent rules can be detected in all "cante." Though they are not imperative, to respect them is worthwhile because they assure the coherence of the song. In fact, all composition must develop in time and space according to momentum and successive gradations.
The "cante" begins by a grasping contact with the rhythm "compas" —and the tonality. This introduction is called the "temple."
For the singer, it corresponds to the first modulations, uniquely aided by a prolonged 'A', which he executes without uttering words. He gives, in this way, the dimension, frame and atmosphere in which the song will develop itself.
For the guitarist, it is the moment of inimitable "rasqueados" by which he exposes the rhythmic structure. The melody is, as yet, far away and confused. According to G. Hilaire's expression, it is in reality a matter of sonorous material in a musical matrix from which the flamenco (ore) will consequently be extracted.
Yet during this prologue, the dancer does not intervene. He is content to punctuate the rhythm with "palmas" hand clapping.
In some ways, these premises constitute an inward setting and conditioning. Its duration varies according to the inspiration and talent of the participants. In reality, and above all, it depends on the atmosphere which surrounds the interpreters.
Then follows the song which begins effectively with the "tercio de entrada", also called "planteo". It is then a matter of introducing the "cante".
At this stage, the role of the guitarist is dominant. In fact, it is he who by the choice of his variations—"falsetas"--or rhythms, assists the singer and brings him towards the song.
This "call to the song", to restate the terminology of the "aficionados", determines immediately the tone and style that will be imprinted on future developments. Until now, there is no decisiveness. Henceforth, the song begins, and it is impossible to go back. The first melodic elements are unveiled.
During this introduction, as the dancer punctuates the rhythm, he will strengthen it, or will transform it, taking hold of his "fief" (estate) by his movements and affirm his determination by the play of his "taconeo."
The "planteo" is thus the placement of all the elements that will permit finding at the proper time the artistic manifestations of its fullness in the "tercio grande."
The "tercio grande" is the keystone of the "cante". 'The themes evoked in the "planteo" are unveiled, retaken, and developed according to multiple variables. It is at this moment that the interpreter must communicate to his audience that inexplicable gushing that is the "duende". He must then show that his art possesses him entirely. "All must be said then," assert the devotees.
Once this intensity is attained, the song suddenly slackens into the "tercio de alivio", followed by a passage that carries the personal seal of the artist, the "tercio de valiente", the "cambic", or the ''remate", which is the resumption of the fundamental theme according to a different style or tonality.
The magical circle thus encloses itself. There remains only one impression, one atmosphere, an evocation of a rite. One does not know which of the participants has contributed the most to this bewitchment.
II. The Sources of "Cante Jondo"
To know the sources of the "cante jondo" is indispensable to the understanding of flamenco music. Nowdays it is established that the latter (flamenco) is indeed a fusion of several traditions, or, more exactly, of the various successive 'contributions.
To understand flamenco music is that in some way she will return and release to the Andalusian soil (properly so called) and to the nomadic people, the gypsies, that which she owes them.
The wealthy Andalusian folkloric heritage is well known in our day. Its prominent traits are originality and purity. Indeed, over the centuries, flamenco has never, in any form whatsoever, been influenced by classic or court music.
If polyphony was always out of the realm of the normally utilized technics of folklore, its connections with monophony are in turn very deep seated. This, in itself, is explained in great part by its origins, which combine the sensuousness of Arabic music to the refinement of oriental traditions and occidental integrity.
PERSIAN AND ARABIC TRADITIONS
To begin with, the Andalusian heritage and flamenco, by way of affiliation, plunge their roots deeply within the great Persian tradition. Yet, in our days, it is easy to point out the connections of the "cante jondo" with the ancient Persian songs which have survived, and more recently with the Iranians. Concerning this subject two examples are significant.
The famous Andalusian "Tonas" are often no more than a replica of songs of Iranian culture. So it is that currently one may hear in the "Soviet Aizerbardjan" songs elements that do not differ melodically from the "tonas" known nowadays. The similarities do not only hold for melodic themes, but they also include utilized vocal techniques. The profound, deep song requires in fact a vocal technique that we find again in the Persian tradition under the name of "Tahrir." This way of modulating sound high in the throat with a mobile palate is simply more rapid in Persian music.
The Persian tradition was transmitted to Andalusia around the eighth and ninth centuries. It was Ziryab who imported it. On more grounds than one, Ziryab may be considered one of the founders of flamenco vocal technique. (See Note below)
This exceptional man, ancient slave of an astonishing culture, knew how to effect a subtle synthesis between Greek and Persian traditions. He was molded by !shag, the master who crystalized the famous Bagdad school. He dropped out of school to settle in Spain around 820. It was at Cordoba that he established himself in the shadow of the Omayade's dynasty. At this time, he laid the foundation of his own school which remained famous. The historian Art Kahldun describes the tidal wave (1406) that submerged Andalusia. It is said that around 10,000 melodies were attributed to Ziryab.
His principal interest resided possibly in the technique that he developed for his students. Today all of its importance is preserved in the study of the "cante jondo." He began by dividing the study of the song into three parts: rhythm, melody and embellishments.
The first rudiments consisted of the study of words, meter, then breathing. The study of melody followed. This was orally transmitted with out the aid of a manuscript. It was fitting to fill the melody once memorized with accentuations. Finally, all was crowned by the work of the embellishments.
A story is told on this subject about a habit that he had of warming the voice of the student by beginning with repeated "ah ah alt." Then to prove the purity and the strength of the voice he would sit the pupil on a high stool in such a way that his feet were not able to touch ground.
Flamenco singers perpetuated some of Ziryab's precepts which consisted especially of bandaging the stomach tightly so as to develop power and breath, also of placing a piece of round wood in the mouth so as to bring out the sound and refine its inflections.
Without a doubt, Arabic music constitutes the most direct oriental influence on the flamenco repertoire. There is hardly any need here to elaborate for very long because it is clear that they profoundly marked certain styles. It is sufficient merely to mention in the case of each song to which part of Arabic music the song is indebted.
NOTE: On Ziryab: History of Music, Lavignac Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, 1920 ff.; S. Jargy, Arabic Music, page 46 ff (P.U.F., 1971); Ribera, Arabic Music and its influence on the Spanish, (Madrid, 1927)
(TO BE CONTINUED)
Cante — Song, singing.
Compas - Rhythmic beat—range of voice in music, voice power to express music notes — voice range space between two bars upon musical stave.
Temple — Tuning of voice literally — temperament concordance of musical instruments.
Rasqueado (rasqurado) — A basic flamenco guitar playing technique consisting generally of striking the strings with four or five fingers of right hand consecutively, which produces a rolling, drumming effect.
Palmas -- Hand clapping.
Tercio de Entrada — Entering verse (verse of entrance).