From time to time I re-publish an old post. The following entry is from August 17th, 2004:
Folk Music: It normally was shared and performed by the entire community (not by a special class of expert performers), and was transmitted by word of mouth.
It seems to me that Folk music is an expression of a group. It makes use of a specific melody and that melody is known to the performer(s) as well as to the audience. The audience might even sing along with the performers.
Flamenco is about the rhythm, and about the soloists depth of emotion. Often a melody is hardly recognizable, and certainly the audience would not be able to sing along with the singer. This technique is called melisma (according to the Encyclopedia Britannica melisma stems from the Greek word melizein – to sing, or melos – song.) Melisma simply means a group of notes or tones sung on one single syllable, or a melodic embellishment. Very arabic, very indian (dot, not feather).
That’s what Flamenco seems to all about, really. In other words it is an individual sport and not a team sport like Folk. Yes, the audience participates, might do palmas, might yell encouragement and offer loud praise, but they are there to have the singer express his or her emotion, which then delivers the group to a shared place. The individual performer as a conduit to the past or the pain of the whole group.
I think Sevillanas are Folk music, but Robin Totten simply writes in his book “Song of the Outcasts”: The sevillanas are not flamenco. I posted the above entry on my I-N journal about a week ago. The obvious question is, how does my own nouveau flamenco music fit into this? Well, I think my music is much more melody-driven than Flamenco. That makes my music more like Folk or Pop music. (My music contains certain elements of Mariachi music, Mexican Folk music. Listen to the melody in Barcelona Nights and the harmony in thirds – that’s very Mexican, and so is the Umpah bass in 2/4) My melodies are very defined, whereas a Flamenco guitarist will generally try to imitate the melismata of the singer by adding arpeggios and trills and other “extra” notes. Because the voice has sustain and the guitar does not, the guitarist essentially breaks down the melisma of the voice into many seperate notes.
In many cases I spent a long time breaking down a melody into its essential parts, cutting away notes that seemed superflous to me. That must seem completely alien and art-less to a Flamenco artist. Like a Moorish architect looking at the Farnsworth house by Mies Van Der Rohe and thinking that it is just a primitive box.
I feel that on La Semana I am combining these elements a little more… the melody and the melismata… There is, of course, a chorus with a defined melody – I can’t help that I love a nice chorus melody! – but I am also leaving more melismata intact. Allowing myself to be more free from the melody in the verses. I find that the opposite movement is happening with Flamenco in Spain. While the verses are still full of arpeggios and trills, more and more often there will be a more defined Chorus melody. Listen to Canto by Vicente Amigo and El Pele. On some songs El Pele sings the most amazing vocal melismata during the verses and then several voices sing a Pop chorus with a clear melody line in harmony. That creates a fascinating hybrid between the Flamenco verses and a Pop chorus.