Song of the Outcasts

02004-08-06 | Uncategorized | 3 comments

Music: Brian Eno – Music for Airports

I have been reading the book “Song of the Outcasts” by Robin Totten the past few days. He writes a beautiful introduction to Flamenco and its origins.

Totten seems to think that the origin of the word “Flamenco” has at last been solved. Apparently an English author named George Borrow – I assume he means this guy – commented in the 1830s that the Gypsies were often called Flemings (flamencos) and had until recently also been called Germans.This led an Italian scholar named Mario Penna to figure out the following recently:

The depopulation of Spain, especially in Andalusia where the Moors had been driven out, had been a problem for centuries. In the eighteenth century King Carlos the 3rd tried to solve this problem by hiring a Bavarian man, who called himself Colonel Thürriegel, to supply 6,000 “worthy” catholic laborers and artisans from Germany and Flanders (alemanes y flamencos). Apparently the good colonel could not find 6,000 worthy laborers and artisans and delivered riff-raff instead. They wandered about and soon reverted to vagabondage, begging, and pilfering. In time the Spanish peasants started calling anybody who didn’t have a regular job, or anybody who kept moving around – like Gypsies used to do, a Flamenco.

It would be my personal guess that Flamenco simply sounded harsher and conveyed more of the intended insult than the word Aleman, and that is why it stuck.

In other words, just like the words Gypsy or Gitano are not words the Gypsies chose (I mentioned earlier that the word Gitano stems from egyptano, meaning from Egypt), Flamenco is also not a word they picked.

While I understant Totten’s love for traditional Flamenco, I prefer to look forward in time, for as surely as the transistor radio is changing the sound of all traditional music, it will also lead to new artforms and new musical styles. For Flamenco itself is a mixture, just like Jazz is, and in time will contribute to new styles yet unnamed. In the meantime it is great that the roots of Flamenco are ably recorded by people such as Robin Totten, who cannot turn back time, or stem the tide, but who can document what they love for future generations. Thanks.


  1. stranger

    Hey, thanks for the etymology of flamenco, i am a history nut, and a nerd i guess, so i love finding out about the root of things.

  2. Anonymous

    So our German-born friend is a bona fide flamenco; not the nouveau variety!
    Cheers, Vikram

  3. Anonymous

    Pssssssst! Don’t tell Spanish people that they are faintly mixed with alemanes, they won’t believe it… and they better not know about the origins of the word Flamenco either…


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