A foreign fascination
Flamenco, originating from the gipsies in the southern regions of Spain, captivated foreigners long before it became a national symbol. However, within Spain, the relationship between flamenco and Spanish national identity has been contentious for over a century. The art form was once considered vulgar and pornographic, but its shifting fortunes reflect the evolving complexities of Spain’s national identity. From cultural stigma to UNESCO recognition, flamenco continues to fascinate and challenge perceptions.
Vulgar origins and shifting fortunes
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, flamenco faced criticism from Spanish elites who associated it with the ostracized Gypsy population and seedy urban areas. Foreigners played a significant role in linking Spain with flamenco, perpetuating stereotypes that simultaneously celebrated Spain’s authenticity while undermining its modern progress. The negative portrayal fueled Spanish elites’ disdain for the art form, leading them to combat flamenco’s popularity as it came to represent Spain’s declining status as a global power.
Various groups, including the Catholic Church, left-leaning intellectuals and politicians, and leaders from workers’ movements, saw flamenco as a detriment to societal progress. It was viewed as a distraction from solving Spain’s political, economic, and cultural issues, and as an exploitative form of entertainment that perpetuated poverty. The critique of flamenco was deeply intertwined with dissatisfaction over the ideological and structural changes brought about by the French and Industrial Revolutions, as well as the infiltration of modern mass culture into everyday life.
Flamenco as “High Culture”
The international recognition of flamenco at World’s Fairs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries elevated its status, with European avant-garde artists embracing its primal and authentic nature. This support from outside Spain transformed flamenco into a “high culture” for Spanish artists and intellectuals. However, during the Spanish Civil War, flamenco performances declined significantly, and the Franco regime disavowed the art form, promoting folk dancing and singing instead.
From disavowal to a tourism boost
In the 1950s, the regime shifted its stance to boost Spain’s tourist industry, embracing flamenco and capitalizing on tourists’ fascination with Spanish stereotypes. The Franco regime actively promoted flamenco through clubs, advertisements, and film appearances, attracting millions of tourists and stimulating Spain’s economic growth.
After Franco’s death in 1975, flamenco’s role underwent another transformation. The movements for regional autonomy within Spain and the rise of world music culture complicated flamenco’s relationship with Spanish national identity. While entrepreneurial endeavours have exploited foreign depictions of Spain as the land of flamenco, there has also been a resurgence of serious study, artistic appreciation, and historical preservation of flamenco’s significance.
Today, flamenco exists in a complex space, experiencing both commercialization and renewed artistic and academic respect. It continues to reflect the intricate tapestry of Spain’s national identity, demonstrating how an art form born from marginalization can transcend boundaries and challenge perceptions.
Sara Baras at Starlite Festival, Marbella
One of the most renowned contemporary Flamenco dancers is Sara Baras who has performed around the world, including at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, the Royal Albert Hall in London, and the Expo 2008 in Zaragoza, Spain. We’ll now have the pleasure of having Sara Baras in Marbella, during the Starlite Festival. She’s coming up with a show ‘Alma’ that will transmit the essence of its roots and expand its trajectory on its stages. A show in which flamenco embraces the bolero to turn it into a seguiriya, soleá, caña, garrotín, bulería… In short, a different and unique creation that covers traditional melodies from a completely new perspective in which Sara Baras performs surrounded by her unbeatable dance troupe and a talented cast of musicians.
Watch her on Wednesday, August 9, 2023 – click here to buy the ticket.