|Steve Edwards' website|
Flamenco is an extremely vital, vibrant music.
Not only is the sound colorful and lively, its practice is that of a living artform; neither a relic of Spanish times past, nor a display for the amusement and exploitation of the foreign traveler. Though popular with tourists, flamenco is even more popular with the Spanish people. This was true, certainly, in Seville, where I lived for the first half of 2001.
One indication of the indiginous popularity of flamenco is in the bar/venue Carboneria there in Seville, a noted tourist hotspot in the historic Santa Cruz district. One can hear the locals there, clapping hands in perfectly divided countertime "las palmas." One can see them too, gathering off to the side during intermission to sing along with a guitar singing songs with which they are all familiar.
Some of the best flamenco is in very small and informal venues. One performance I saw, with my friend and co-worker Eugenia, consisted of two Gypsy gentlemen at Bar Pata Negra on Plaza San Leandro. One of them played guitar, the other a bongo. The man on bongo sang. He also joked, laughed, danced, dressed in a space-alien mask, and, later, acted out a robbery the pistolero in a felt hat, running through the crowd to make "escape" coming back with hat in hand for donations.
Another "performance" was not a performance at all, but some people playing music in a tiny bar. Eugenia and I were out again, this time just seeking different places, and found Bar El Firoela. The place was minuscule. There was a guitarist, a singer, a guy playing the bottom of an ornate silver teapot, and three foreign women who had been studying flamenco dance. Eugenia and I took places on the narrow, steep stairway, the only remaining place to sit. Miguel we met him later sang beautifully, in the mournful fashion of a music born of Gypsy suffering. And flamenco guitar is powerful. The women, though shy, danced after some encouragement. Catherine, a Scandinavian woman, was lovely and talented.
Flamenco, apparently, has in recent years regained the enthusiasm of younger Spanish people. It is no wonder, either; it is a profoundly affective music. The mournfulness of its more pained incarnation has a depth of mood to it that is not unlike the old blues of black America; its happier tunes are absolutely florid.
It is reportedly difficult to export flamenco as live performance the Spanish like it so much that it's hard to pay enough to bring the musicians out of the country.