Three Years Ago: Folk vs. Flamenco

02007-08-17 | Music | 3 comments

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.


  1. Zaya

    Sevillanas are more folk or group oriented than other types of Flamenco formats. But I think there will always be a kind of duality about Flamenco–even a kind of reliability in its art form that I don’t find in other types of music. I rely on the emotional power and strong rythyms in Bularias, Rumbas and Alegrias–these qualities also attracted my attention to your music in the ’90’s. There is a more lyrical quality to much of your music as though you’ve stripped away notes, leaving a tranquil, meditative bareness behind. Actually, your music either makes for a better meditative background or a better dancing environment! So there’s duality there too.

    The complex rhythms of Flamenco seem to be always new, always changing like a kaleidascope. Similarly, in that respect, Hours Between Night and Day, Opium or La Semana each have a unique fingerprint that define it as your creation, but no two disks are alike because each is reflection of your mind and emotions at the time of creation.
    As far as classifying your music, there have been times I have seen your music in the Jazz, New Age, and World sections of the store. Can there be any music more ambiguous than Nouveau Flamenco?

    The idea of recreating oneself gives birth to various forms of expression with the subtle flavor of Flamenco as a reference, but never as a starting point.

    hope this make some sense…

  2. Adam Solomon

    No, there are rarely recognizable melodies at a flamenco performance, but what about the palos? The folk performances you talk about might have a shared, known melody which flamenco lacks, but when the performers start to perform a bulería or a tangos or what have you, you always see the audience (at least, a knowledgeable audience!) come in with the palmas specific to the palo, and they seem to know and enjoy the particular style of the song as much as a folk “enthusiast” would enjoy a familiar tune at a show. I wonder if that is flamenco’s twist on folk.

  3. Boris

    Know I know why I loved Canto from the beginning in comparison to some other Flamenco records. I had some nice months in Spain in the beginning of 04 with this record, the Le Cafe version from the old LL and Ojos de Brujo’s Bari.


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