The history of flamenco is not entirely defined since there are several theories surrounding its invention. Flamencologists, historians, artists and amateurs are still discussing their origin: gypsy, Andalusian, Arabic, African or all things at once. But the question posed by the protagonists of this report is not who this art belongs to, but why the gypsies still do not have authority when speaking about flamenco.
The philologist Araceli Cañadas teaches, at the University of Alcalá de Henares, the only subject in the Spanish university system that studies the history of gypsies in this country. Cañadas associates the creation of flamenco with La Gran Redada of 1749. Felipe V dictated the death penalty to those Gypsies who were surprised outside their neighborhood. "To metabolize fear and pain, gypsies expressed themselves through flamenco," sums up the philologist. The sociologist José Heredia points out that the first Flemish letters speak of the mines, the prison, the galleys, the boats, which were works carried out by gypsies.
For María José Llergo, that pain is still present in the community. "When they tell you I'm not a racist, but I'm like a gypsy, they're reinforcing a stereotype." And not just the pain. "The feeling of impotence in the face of privilege is universal and that's why flamenco feels so close," says Cañadas. And that marginalization suffered by the gypsy people for generations is key to understanding the transmission of this art from parents to children. For the singer, the struggle of the gypsies against oppression is similar to that of African-Americans who became the fathers of jazz, soul or blues. "It's been a town that has fought its entire history to stay and celebrate it by singing and dancing."
And that dance and that cante has a common pattern that identifies it much more than coral earrings, a shawl or flounces. Ricardo Pachón strikes with his knuckles at the table in his patio in the Sevillian neighborhood of Nervión. It is the 12-beat time that had to be learned by heart to be accepted among the most select flamenco circles. "More than an identitary symbol of flamenco, it is a threat," he laughs. And he says that for a gaché – a non-gypsy person – like him it is difficult to learn the compass, because the compass is lived. And it was not just complicated for him. When in 1989 he traveled to London with Camarón to sing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the forty musicians who were present had problems adapting to the beat. "It is very difficult to write flamenco in a score since both the singer and the accompanist border the times but always, they always return to twelve by eight", sums up Pachón.
It is a family transmission that occurs in gypsy cantaor houses and that is learned from the mother's womb, explains Heredia. That's why the bond is so strong. And not only the language of the compass matters, but the words are fundamental in that construction of the identity of flamenco. "Rosalia uses the word undevel what does God mean in [lengua que mezcla el romanó con el español]", He says the sociologist with a point of indignation. He adds: "It is a word whose use the gypsies have been persecuted for five hundred years."
The commercial and political use of flamenco's identity symbols has occurred on multiple occasions throughout history, according to Cañadas. "During the Franco era the image of Cañí Spain was promoted, that is, the gypsy Spain", says the philologist. And currently, the Statute of Andalusian autonomy specifies that the autonomous government has exclusive competence in matters of flamenco. "The Junta de Andalucía has adopted flamenco as an Andalusian identity marker and in this process the contribution of gypsies has been forgotten," explains sociologist Heredia.
Not everything can be flamenco, although flamenco can influence everything. This thesis is defended with conviction Ricardo Pachón. Although he admits that the classification should be a consensus among artists, administrations and clubs – with the presence of voices of gypsy authority – the scheme is clear. "Flamenco is the composite styles in an alternate 12-beat rhythm that combines binary and ternary beats: tonás, martinetes, seguiriyas, livianas, coridas, soleares, cantiñas, bulerías". And he points out that the music portals in streaming like Spotify or Apple Music, they have not dared to distinguish the traditional flamenco of the new flamenco, flamenco-pop, flamenco-rock and a host of possible combinations. Araceli Cañadas, round off his argument by quoting and adapting the famous quote from American writer, poet and activist James Baldwin who said I am not your black to conclude: "We are not your gypsies".