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A new definition of flamenco guitar as an instrument


(November 2018)

Prof. Ruben Diaz, Ph.D. Contemporary Harmony and Composition

paco de lucia-mag44.jpg

Part 9

“Obsolete flamenco means flamenco without improvisation” (Paco de Lucia)

The original newspaper in Spanish:

To give the context of this subject matter let’s start with the essence that Paco revealed in the following two videos;

I) Paco himself saying that "Flamenco doesn’t belong anymore to the people of Andalucía":

II) Paco pointing out what is the new goal in flamenco guitar:
See also Modern vs Old style of flamenco
In flamenco circles people often talk about the so called "tradition" while many of them may not know at all what the very word tradition means.

The whole thing is far beyond the mere question of who likes the new flamenco music and who doesn't - although, for sure, there's plenty of material to discuss about  that
 but if someone is blamed as guilty of rupture inside a tradition (Paco)

better first take a look at what precisely a tradition is: Etymologically, the word comes from the Latin “traditio” which means a passing on, a releasing of something older to something newer, a handing over, a heritage, a continuation.  Extradite, from the same root, tradition means bringing back.  But “tradition” also indicates a giving up, as in a betrayal (in Spanish there is the word “traición”) Actually tradition and betrayal have the same root. The ancients had a sense as if these are children of the same mother so to say; been able to distinguish one from the other primarily through the principles we project onto each.

The "authentic" flamenco was tribal in every sense of the word: very cultish, clannish, and restricted, and those are negative words in our culture, nonetheless it is the music of a secluded and isolated population. Flamenco was by gypsies, for gypsies, and about gypsies – about their own rhythms and aura, but even if old flamenco was clannish and culturally constrained it was at the same time definitely a music bursting with life and juice, back then the Andalusian flamencos themselves were typically uneducated and illiterate, and by modern standards they would have been considered to be urban primarily insofar because they lived inside of edifices rather than in tents or convoys (although some did that too)  Gypsies lived and survived in any way they could: they were laborers, farmers, small tradesmen, bakers, horse-traders, fast-talkers and con-men, none went to college, got a degree, became an engineer or a physician or a professor, ran a successful business enterprise, had a successful military or legal or civil service career, became an painter or scriptwriter, a city councilman or a diplomatic or a cop or fireman or a manager...or a trained and skilled technician, or a photographer or designer or an architect, or technologist, or anyone who was trusted with money, or who was the fitting theme of a biography.

 From the point of view of the mainstream society, these were the throw-aways. Remember that under generalisimo Franco’s repression, the “gitanos” were prohibited from higher education, although they had to go to regular school like everyone else, but they didn’t stay there too long either. Thus living inside such lack of social services, electricity, running water, dental care and basic sanitation, not unlike from being a poor Afro-American man who lived himself the harsh history of the American South. It’s not by chance that flamenco has been called the gypsy blues. Next you have Miles Davis saying that


and just like fine original blues, flamenco music also happened in secluded surroundings which may have included friends and neighbors,  it was like a "cosa nuestra" – "our thing" – and it was problematic for non-gypsies to gain admission into these circles then.

Old fashion guitar players could not read music; all music was played by ear and by feel; the guitarrist was there only to accompany the singer without ever calling attention to itself.  I think this must have a lot to do with the “purity” as spoken of by traditionalists, mainly “Peñas”  and their narrow-minded followers, if that was not enough , flamenco have been kept local and informal by the fact that it was almost impossible to make a living with it at all.  Consequently, the "original" flamencos did never tour, travel, rehearse, record, or the like. They instead used to play only for and between themselves as they enjoyed only that, besides the fact that other outlets weren’t available to them, and even if they would had been there was not any wider market of spectators for that music anyways.

Around 1930, time of pronounced distress in Spain, some of the prominent flamenco artists formed groups themselves and traveled or started playing gigs or shows in other countries; these travelers gave the world its first taste of the regional folkloric flamenco, and by doing so they created some audience around, is important to notice that those first shows were stage performances – an entirely new phenomenon with ticket sales, a starting time, a program of set pieces, showy costumes, and in some cases shows with an eye-catching finale at the end, anyways something had been created that amused and which gave some people way to get a living which they wouldn't have had previously otherwise . Old flamenco was never something that started at 9p.m. on Thursday the twenty-first and ended ninety minutes later in a theater.

By the way, the “upcoming” of flamenco shows began about the same time that the classical guitar player Andres Segovia was touring the world, thus for first time exposing audiences to the classical guitar repertoire itself, and its possible that Sabicas from seeing Segovia playing all around may have also gotten the idea to play himself just like him, so Sabicas started selling some guitar shows outside of Spain , gigs based on guitar solos only,  but this time in theaters instead in the usual “tablaos” bars, or private parties.

All this aspects were there along with the invention of nylon itself, which eventually became the material of choice to make guitar strings. It was the DuPont Company in 1930 that unintentionally discovered nylon; at first, they had no idea what to do with that new synthetic material which could be stretched into very thin but strong filaments; they tried various things (including nylon hosiery) and eventually discovered that they could market this product as fishing line. Remarkably enough , it was by fact the fishermen/musicians in the seaports of Southern Spain (the flamencos) who first thought to put as strings that fishing line on their guitars:  it was low-cost and they certainly lasted longer than the other strings made from animal gut.

Nowadays:  the Italian string brand “Aquila”  lead by Mr. Mimo Peruffo

 have created many different synthetic materials to emulate gut strings and beyond, in 2018 Mimmo also created some fantastic strings made out of  Sugar, those are really excellent strings

but in  the past the only option for strings was gut strings,  therefore in a sense we are indebted  to the “flamencos”  for  their sudden finding  and in a historical manner so to say to the Augustine strings which was the first company to popularize nylon strings for guitar through Andres Segovia’s endorsement.

Now getting back to my preceptor Paco de Lucia
ruben and paco grande 2000
his main contribution is that he iincluded the improvisation factor in flamenco
and of course he carried the thrust to make flamenco respectable many steps further than his predecessors,  Paco made flamenco respectable by insisting that it should be included in more “formal” musical programs (i.e., that were more in line with the musical tastes of the middle class then) and that the flamenco artists should be paid at least the same as other performers.

As prove of my teaching:
 and formal exploration of Paco de Lucias’s compositional and improvisational style  and that related to my research of his technique, here you have a link to my YouTube  channel with +2,500 videos about the subject.
Next are some important words of Paco which people seems to forget nowadays:
1) “I leave Spain because the atmosphere here is unbreathable for me… The prejudices, the flamenco orthodox people, the tradition…  I don’t like any of that.  I want fresh air. I need to work freely, without static purism which ties me up. The orthodox have messed with me nonstop since I started to have success…”

2) “Here (in Spain)  I’m always tense, neurotically thinking if I’m doing good or wrong, or if I am bothering someone with my work, I guess I will have to beg forgiveness “to Spain” because I’m a successful person…”

3) “I really want to work full-time with jazz players. I think they have a very decisive musical movement and I’m so interested in all that.  My flamenco roots will never be lost but I have so much to see and to learn regarding techniques, sounds and rhythms.”

4) “The purists want me to play the same things as always. They want me to play obsolete music without experimentation or improvisation.”

In other words Paco’s own definition of obsolete flamenco is a flamenco devoid of improvisation either be it parroting falsetasor otherwise.
I invite you to reflect deeply on what Paco said there, in contrast with some people who may also say (just for political reasons) that Paco de Lucía do represent the “new orthodoxy”,  but I believe those who say that are doing it so as a desperate attempt to justify their own mediocrity.

The reality is that today, inisde the spanish flamenco guitar comunity there is absolutely zero new ideas concepts or techniques for flamenco music creation, nowadays there is nothing around which Paco had not already done himself 30 years ago.

At present Paco's work continues to be vanguard as none of the present flamenco players today have being able (so far) to equal the complexity, mastery, deepness and beauty of Paco's music.

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Ruben Díaz 2018