Flamenco, described by the playwright-poet, Garcia Lorca, as “one of the most gigantic inventions of the Spanish people”, is the art form most readily associated with Spain and in particular the south. Its specific origins, although shrouded in much myth, undoubtedly lie in Andalusia, nurtured by its sizeable Gitano (Gypsy) community.
The Gypsies’ presence in Spain dates back to the 15th century, when they largely settled in the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, later occupying the areas vacated by the Moors upon their expulsion from Spain by decree of Philip III in the early 17th century. Although it is unlikely that they brought flamenco with them to Spain, the gypsies quite possibly synthesized their own musical forms with those of the Moors during the near two centuries of their cohabitation in Andalusia.
Nowadays, with flamenco’s fame at an all-time high among a growing international audience, many come to seek out its roots and soul in the cities and towns of the south. Some of the great figures of flamenco dance, guitar and song, past and present, hail from the region. Seville, Jerez and Cádiz are perhaps best known as its most vibrant centres, but Granada and Córdoba also have substantial followings. In Granada, for instance, the Sacromonte distict, a semi-rural neighbourhood on the city’s eastern flank, is renowned for its cave dwellings and a gitano community that although diminished in numbers from its peak in the mid-20th century, is still thriving. Seeing a zambra (series of local dances, generally up-tempo and which often feature in weddings) is a unique experience given that it is performed in the setting of a cave house, with the performers within ear-juddering and toe-treading proximity to the audience. Seville and Córdoba offer the more formal version of a tablao – where the stage offers space and therefore scope for more participants and variety – and throughout all the regional capitals festivals such as “Flamenco Viene del Sur” fill local theatres and venues especially during the winter months.