Sal's flamenco soapbox

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 Mystery concept one - The arrogant gypsy

(Only Spanish gypsies can perform "REAL" flamenco)

Since becoming involved with flamenco I have met my fair share of gypsies. Not a lot. Just enough to keep me interested. Most of them, I'm pleased to say, have been very friendly. Sadly, I have also met the occasional flamenco gypsy who carries around a somewhat elitist, almost cynical attitude towards outsiders trying to learn the art form.


He or she may imply (or even tell you directly) that only gypsies who are born and bred in a flamenco environment can interpret flamenco with the required level of passion and grace. This is the great mystery. Why is it so? The implication is clear. Due to their cultural background, they have been somehow blessed with a divine stamp of approval, which endows them with the special and mysterious gift of duende. The strange logic which underpins this attitude goes something like this.


"Only a true gypsy can reach deep enough within to gain the necessary inspiration from his ancestor spirits to sing, dance or play "true" flamenco. A unique form of enchantment takes place as they enter a trance, and the body then takes on magical abilities which are out of reach to the ordinary mortal like you or me."


Let me put it another way. It's a clear case of spirit possesion and may require the services of a good exorcist. The only thing I find mysterious about all this is how anybody could be so rude and unfriendly toward a newcomer. I'm a sensitive sort of person, so you can imagine how I felt when I heard this for the first time. What was I supposed to do? Stop playing flamenco on my guitar and take up singing the blues. It is indeed a fascinating concept, but I finally came to the conclusion that this attitude is purely ego based and amounts to nothing more than a form of snobbery. In other words, it means nothing.


Mystery concept two - The teacher
(Flashes of insight come only to the worthy)

Have you ever met a non-gypsy who is absorbed in the idea that flamenco can only really be understood after years of pondering and diligent study? Intuitive flashes of understanding apparently occur when the student is ready, and not before. Such an attitude could be held by a teacher or by an intellectual know-all. This type of mystery vendor is much more common and is not exclusive to flamenco. This also amounts to a form of ego based snobbery. My guess is that the student will soon sense that information and 'secrets' are being withheld. The ultimate result is that the student parts company with the teacher and goes in search of another.


Mystery concept three - The dreamy academic
(We may never know)

Amazingly, book authors have also been known to peddle the mystery idea. The truth, if we could be bothered looking for it, is often far less appealing than the romantic notion of something being lost forever in the mists of time. (An audible sigh can almost be heard as the writer sheaths his pen and staples his manuscript together ready for the publisher) It's a nice way to give a book a flowery ending. All you have to do is say, "Oh! Well. We may never know."


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