‘Free from exoticising clichés, this is the real story of flamenco told through film.’
Camelamos naquerar (We Want to Speak) is an adaptation of the theatre play of the same name which was born out of a collaboration between Romani poet and university professor José Heredia Maya and Romani flamenco dancer and choreographer Mario Maya; the latter also performs in the piece, along with other artists. The title in Caló, the language used by Gitanos, translates as ‘we want to speak’, a revolutionary message that illustrates the efforts to reclaim a place in Spanish history for the Roma people and denounce the institutional injustice suffered by the community. It takes as its starting point the Pragmatic decrees signed by the Catholic monarchs at the end of the fifteenth century, which heralded the long persecution of the Roma people, and continues right up to the twentieth-century Francoist laws.
The film was released in 1976, a year after Francisco Franco’s death and the end of decades of dictatorship; it was to became a first important vindication by and of the Roma community in Spain, thus setting a milestone for the Roma emancipation movement. As Pepe Heredia, a sociologist, documentary director and the poet’s son put it: ‘Camelamos naquerar was a play turned into a political tool at the service of a community and its claim for dignity’.
Far from the folkloric representations which were popular at the time, Camelamos naquerar constitutes an experimental work built through the juxtaposition of texts narrating the laws against Roma, flamenco scenes that answer to these and documentary vignettes of the life of contemporary Roma. Historical footage provides proof of how little the discriminatory practices against the community have changed over the many centuries. Reciting or singing Heredia’s poems while representing the content through dance, all with the barest of staging, underlines the urgency of speaking for themselves. The cantaor (flamenco singer) and dancers create a very strong narrative, without any sort of mediation. At the same time, the oral nature and immediacy of this act contrasts strongly with the written texts of fragments of anti-Roma laws that appear on the screen as an impersonal message – whereas the actors/dancers prove to be the agents of this change. The cinematography supports this message. The camera is positioned close to the subject, establishing intimacy and stimulating empathy in the audience.
Today, both the play and film of Camelamos naquerar, are a reference point for the Spanish Roma social movement.