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Antonio Campos Muñoz

Granada Flamenco: Ignored and Underestimated

Enrique Linares | Group of Roma flamenco artists performing "Zambra Gitana" in Granada | postcard | Spain | 1910 | fla_00023 Rights held by: Enrique Lineares (photo) I Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) | Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)

Flamenco came into being in Andalusia, Spain: from the mixture of its cultures and the genius of its creators were born forms that were unique in the world. The western Andalusia region gives us the ‘triangle’ of Seville, Jerez de la Frontera and Cádiz, whose importance is undeniable thanks to its contribution of a melting pot of Roma songs including those in the soleá and siguiriya styles. Nevertheless, history has often overlooked the fact that on the other side of the map of Andalusia there is an area which has been profoundly influenced by flamenco: Granada. It is a first-class setting for flamenco which has generated a rich variety of flamenco and Gitano songs and played a pioneering role in understanding flamenco as a professional art form.

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the development of many cantes [songs] that were practiced within families. This was a period when the various palos [forms], rhythms, instrumentation, ways of delivery, structures and cadences were transformed, formed and consolidated – a process that still continues to this day.

It was around then that Silverio Franconetti became an outstanding artist, producer and businessman who gave flamenco the opportunity of becoming professionalised and opened up the music for the public at large.

‘History has often overlooked the fact that on the other side of the map of Andalusia there is an area which has been profoundly influenced by flamenco: Granada’

Nevertheless, history is once again unfair, highlighting some figures and forgetting about others. Few people know that years before Franconetti opened his famous cafés cantantes, a Roma visionary called Antonio ‘El Cujón’ had already made flamenco famous in Granada; many people would journey to the Camino del Monte (also known as Sacromonte or Valparaíso) in search of the art of the Roma people.

Granada- Danza de Gitanos | postcard | Spain | 1880 - 1910 | fla_00005 Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)

Thanks to romanticist French and English writers, in the 1820s not only Granada but also the Gitanos there began to be known throughout Europe. The romanticist European travellers visited southern Spain and northern Africa in search of the exotic ‘Oriental’ culture. This international fame led authorities and influential figures in Granada to contract Roma artists for their parties as a special treat for visitors. The Roma in the city were already well known for their music and their particular style of dancing: pre-flamenco native forms that were destined to be the source for other, later kinds of flamenco. Ever since the Roma first arrived, and thanks to the fusion with other cultures (namely Arabic and Jewish), Granada has been the cradle of flamenco that rocks Cante Andaluz [Andalusian singing].

Photography of a Roma flamenco group "Zambra Gitana" in a cave. | postcard | Spain | 1900 | fla_00022 Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)

That was where a Roma from Ítrabo called Antonio Torcuato Martín came in; nicknamed ‘El Cujón’, he was a blacksmith, singer, dancer and guitarist. He realised that the movement of artists, travellers and aristocrats had the potential to become a little business, and so he decided to assemble neighbourhood artists from the caves at the foot of his smithy in Plaza de Humilladero. There they created a unique show based on Roma wedding rituals which was presented as La Zambra gitana del Sacromonte. In this way, between 1840 and 1850, the category of Zambra Granaína came into being to define the group of Roma dances based on the Roma wedding celebration. From 1961 onwards, the term zambra began to circulate in Spanish theatres.

Many artists worked with ‘El Cujón’, such as La Gaviria, La Cogollera, La Follaica, Diego el Talones, Frasquirri and his wife La Pella, La Saena, La Chulenga, the first Golondrina, La Chata, La Jampona, La Cotorrera, Manuel Tapia and Marín el Cañero.

unknown | Photography of the Roma flamenco dancer " La Golondrina" | postcard | Spain | 1920 - 1930 | fla_00006 Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)

This would be the first zambra in the heart of the city, however the first on Camino del Monte itself was that run by the brothers Manolo and Juan Amaya.1

In 1862, when Isabella II visited the city, the first photographs of flamenco in the Alhambra were taken by Charles Clifford. That same year Jean Charles Davillier wrote of the famous Roma dances of Sacromonte.2

Zambra Gitana 1890 | photography | 1890 | fla_00240 Rights held by: Gonzalo Montaño Peña (reproduction) | Licensed by: Gonzalo Montaño Peña I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International I Provided by Gonzalo Montaño Peña - Private Collection

Just imagine the impression it must have made upon someone arriving in Granada in those years – to first discover the Alhambra in a city of such great beauty, then to find a Roma community that lived in caves, beside a steep river bank between gigantic agaves and cactii, exhausted and with little to eat. People were stupefied to encounter such primitive ways of living and feeling. Anyone looking to find ‘Orientalism’ really found it in a kind of psychedelic dream – which explains how artists and writers such as Paul Gustave Doré, Charles Clifford, Jean Charles Davillier, Claude Debussy, Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka and many others were completely enthralled.

Drawing of a group of Roma artists performing a dance | postcard | Spain | 1890 | fla_00039 Rights held by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) | Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)

The zambra has been a source of inspiration for even the greatest flamenco artists. One of these was Antonio Chacón, who learned much from the artists of Granada, particularly the singer África la Peza.3

We know that the early zambras were staged as a Roma wedding with a series of dances that had not existed until then. This means we are talking about the first flamenco choreography.

With regard to instrumentals, it is important to note that Granada has some of the best schools for string instruments in Spain, something which made the zambras even more special than the flamenco or pre-flamenco being performed in other areas. The use of the lute, banduria, tambourine and castanets in the zambras undoubtedly reflects their Arabic heritage.

Enrique Linares | Zambra Gitana at the Roma Neighborhood in Granada | postcard | Spain | 1910 | fla_00026 Rights held by: Enrique Lineares (photo) I Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) | Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)

As far as the vocals are concerned, at that time the songs were sung in a group, leaving no room for individualisation; the melodic mimicry which emerged left little opportunity for development. This leads us to believe that there was minimal variation in the songs by comparison with the versions nowadays.

Therefore, the repertoire of these zambras is mainly based on two types of local songs: the tangos and the fandango abandolao of the region.

Granada and its province are very rich in local fandangos, yielding a rich folkloric variety which has also given us great artists such as Frasquito Yerbabuena, Paquillo el del Gas, el Calabacino, el Tejeringuero and Rafael Gálvez. However, the great flamenco treasure of Granada is undoubtedly its tangos, a stylistic variety that once again has been unfairly forgotten or only mentioned briefly in numerous flamenco writings. Noteworthy are the tangos de íllora, tangos de la morería, de ‘El Petaco’, tangos de la vega, tangos picantes, tangos paraos, tangos del camino, tangos del cerro, tangos del rio, tangos de la volaera, tangos de la flor, tangos canasteros and salve gitana del Sacromonte.

In addition to the aforementioned local fandangos and tangos, a great number of garrotínes and farrucas were sung and danced (depending on the requirements and conditions) in the zambras on the Camino del Monte. Later on, siguiriyas, soleáres, fandangos naturales, etc. were also added.

Rafael Señán | Photography of various Roma people in Granada | postcard | Spain | 1890 - 1910 | fla_00038 Rights held by: Rafael Señán (photo) / Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) | Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)

We cannot really say that flamenco was already being practised then in Granada as we know it today, although flamenco forms were already circulating in the city, and in some cases many years before its existence in other flamenco regions – for example, the local tangos which were not in full circulation elsewhere until the arrival of ‘El Mellizo’, Manuel Torre and Antonio Chacón.

Flamencology has deliberately and unfairly ignored these pre-flamenco Granada forms. Were pseudo-flamenco or pre-flamenco forms being sung in Granada before they were created in other places? The answer to that is the zambra, the primitive archaic variety. There are several pre-flamenco forms that appear in Granada before they are seen in other flamenco regions. Not only the zambras, but also a number of songs were distributed throughout the province. Granada already presented flamenco to the romanticist Europeans in the 1840s as a local product from a specific area: as flamenco de Graná.

  • unknown | Roma cave in Granada | postcard | Spain | 1880 - 1900 | fla_00001 Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)
  • Rafael Garzón | general view of the Roma neighborhood in Granada | postcard | Spain | 1890 - 1920 | fla_00002 Rights held by: Rafael Garzón (photo) / Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) | Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)
  • unknown | Roma Gitanos family at their cave door in Granada | postcard | Spain | 1900 - 1915 | fla_00013 Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)
  • Enrique Linares | Group of Roma flamenco artists in Granada | postcard | Spain | 1910 | fla_00014 Rights held by: Enrique Lineares (photo) I Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) | Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)
  • unknown | Gitanos de Granada postcard | postcard | Spain | 1850 - 1900 | fla_00027 Licensed by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (reproduction) I Licensed under: Rights of Use | Provided by: Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco (Jerez de la Frontera/Spain)