It’s the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge, so I thought I’d focus on one of my favourite subjects: Guitars. Care to join me?
Born in the southern plains of Spain, Flamenco is an art form completely unto itself. Music, dance, fashion, it is the heartbeat of Andalucia. Situated on the Mediterranean Sea, Andalucia has been a crossroads of sorts for a variety of cultures. Moors, Jews, Christians, Gypsies. Each have called the region “home” and have left memories of their culture behind and those memories have helped to flavour the music of the region and flamenco in particular.
Flamenco is fiery, passionate and exuberant, all of which erupts in a high percussive and flamboyant style of dance. The music, likewise, is exuberant and tends towards being highly percussive. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a traditional flamenco performance in Seville and it is an experience I will never forget. The dance itself, whether performed by a man or a woman, is sensuous and fierce, energetic and altogether mesmerizing. Coupled with the efforts of the guitarists and singers, the overall effect is primal and, dare I say it, sexy as hell.
I’m not going to pretend to be able to tell you all the technical aspects of flamenco guitar or of playing flamenco music. I’ve never studied the form, and can tell you for a fact that my hands do not move that way. In fact, I am convinced that flamenco guitarists have extra knuckles someplace because I cannot for the life of me figure out how they manage to pull off such a highly arpeggiated style. It is a beautiful style of music and one I honestly wish I could play. I’ll be content to admire it, though.
The guitar itself is very similar to a classical guitar with a few differences. If the ability to cut through orchestral texture is crucial to classical guitar, it is even more so to a flamenco guitar, which much be able to carry above the highly percussive foot stomps of the dancers, as well as the nasal vocals of the singer and even hand claps. The top of the guitar, which includes the sound hole and faces the audience, is thinner than that of a classical guitar. This gives the guitar a much brighter and percussive sound. The guitars are also fitted with tap plates over and below the sound hole, and they function similar to pick guards, protecting the guitar face from the finger taps that are also characteristic of flamenco music.
I’ll admit I don’t know very many flamenco guitarists by name, but Rene Heredia is local to the Denver area and I have heard him play on occasion. He also taught Dave Beegle how to play flamenco. The Dave Beegle piece (“Shake It But Don’t Break It”) isn’t technically a flamenco piece, but he uses a lot of flamenco technique in playing it and many similar chord structures.
If you ever get a chance to hear a good flamenco guitarist play, don’t pass it up. And if you get a chance to see a flamenco dance, be prepared to be amazed.