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Complete draft dissertation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 5448 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Chapter One


Music can provoke different responses because of the way its message communicates and gives meaning to peoples’ lives. Ned Rorem stated, ‘music is the sole art which evokes nostalgia for the future’ (Shuman 1997: 140). The music scene is testimony to the way in which old musical genres have either provoked a sentimental nostalgic response in wanting to maintain and preserve a traditional sound, or a pragmatic artistic response which chooses to use the memory of an old musical message and sound to inspire new, creative innovations.

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Flamenco is no exception. Throughout its history there are those who have sought to encase it, referring to it with notions of romanticism and sentimentality, and those who have embraced its evolving nature. The first is true of intellectualists Falla and Lorca, who sought to preserve cante jondo -the ‘deep song’ of the outcasts by hosting festivals strictly for traditional artists to display its ‘purity’. It is also evident in the attraction of the rising middle classes in Andalusian cities toward the tragic song of flamenco. Flamenco provided a romantic perspective of the past, a ‘folklore-like’ history to provide a distinctive identity for Andalusians, also allowing them to express their sympathy for the downtrodden. The poor, for their part, embraced the ‘romantic’ song style of flamenco because it expressed their anguish, and also allowed them in hindsight to have a rosier slant on their miserable pasts ‘holding out a hope, however faint, that the sincerity of their song would qualify them as bonifide cultural heroes in the future’ (Washabaugh 1996: 55). Since flamenco evokes ancestral history, the art form can encase and preserve these memories, only to re-live them through melancholic sentimentality. Conversely, Vélez suggests that ‘the pleasures of the past are not lost to the present, but are transformed into radically different aesthetics by the manifold forces that operate through time’ (Vélez 1976: 25). This approach recognises the contributions of the past that keep giving to the present, allowing the process of musical evolution to keep an art form alive and developing. In this way, ‘each generation builds new pleasures on top of old, and adds fresh memories to existing recollections’ (Featherstone 1991: 32). This is true of modern flamenco artists, who seek to recognise their ‘roots’, while introducing their own interpretations and often experiment with other musical sounds. Globalisation has meant that the product of this approach is seen in a fusion of elements with very diverse musical styles. Modern flamenco fusion band Ojos de Brujo share this approach:

Flamenco is in many places and it can evolve in many ways… we draw from the same source and we have the same love and the same respect for this music

(Flamenco World 2002).

This dissertation will examine the main perceptions of flamenco; an older, traditional perspective that views flamenco as ´dead´ and another younger perspective that argues flamenco is still a vibrant and living art form. It will account for aspects within the raging debate over flamenco’s historical purity, studying how it has remained a constant, changing and evolving art form.

Chapter Two will examine the ´purity´ of the history of flamenco, considering the four main perspectives through which it has been viewed. Chapter Three studies the significance of the message and emotion characterising flamenco, and the way in which the song forms serve as a window into the lives of the flamenco community. It also accounts for the fact that though traditionalists contend for one ‘pure’ song form, there are in fact many branches within the genre. Chapter Four describes the journey in the modernisation of flamenco, considering how traditionalists blame this era for the ‘degeneration’ of flamenco, whilst modernists praise it for its progress. Chapter Five analyses the two groups that have emerged in the flamenco scene, the purists who insist that ‘true’ flamenco resides in the past, and the modernistswho look embrace the evolution of the art form.

Chapter Two

The History of Flamenco

Flamenco holds many threads of history. Depending on who is narrating its past, the ´proper´ and ´true´ history of flamenco can be found in various long-lived and widespread claims. Washabaugh identifies four main ideologies held by flamencologists; ‘Andalusian’, ‘Gitano’, ‘Populist’ and ‘Sociological’ (Washabaugh 2006: 32). This chapter will consider the debate over the purity of the history of flamenco and examine the four main varying perspectives through which its origin has been viewed.

The line of ideology emphasisng the Andalusian character of flamenco music conveys its deeply-rooted and cultural musical characteristics only formed by Andalusia´s unique history and demographic make-up that created the conditions which birthed a very distinct art form.

Unlike the constructions of Spanish nationalism, especially in the Basque and Catalan regions, Andalusian identity was not predicated on the notions of racial purity, Andalusia´s unique identity was often defined by the very multiplicity of cultural and racial layers from which it had evolved

(Brown 2007: 230).

Contributing to this melting pot, the 800 year reign of the Moors tolerantly allowed other diverse culture groups to cohabit within their society; Arabs, Jews and Catholics all contributing to the rich mix found in multicultural southern Spain. However, the Christian Reconquista in 1492 brought a new era of hostility to the region, driving out all Jews and Muslims who refused to convert to Christianity, alongside gitanos who refused to conform to sedentary occupations. This expulsion united the persecuted cultures against the Inquisition who now shared a muliticultural common life. An intense blend of Muslim, Jewish, Indian and Christian cultures characterised these underground communities, producing a fusion of distinct musical sounds which formed what we now call flamenco, here, in the midst of the minorities. ‘And there it stayed, performed in the privacy of their houses or caves unknown to the world until the end of the eighteenth century when it began to be heard in the taverns and other public places’ (Totton 2003: 15).

There is a vivid debate between the gitanos and payos over the origin of flamenco, both people groups insisting on their contribution due to their cultural bonds. ´The majority of non-gitanos do not deny the role of the gitanos in the enriching and developing process of the flamenco art, but they are very absolute when it comes to the origin, Andalusia (Papapavlou 2003).

Many composers and philosophers such as Manuel de Falla were keen to preserve a musicological perspective that contributed to a Spanish identity based on the romanticism of Andalusia’s origins as a primitive artefact. Writers and philosophers´ diverse assertions of a distinct Andalusian identity give varying emphasis to oriental music through Indian (the gitanos place of origin) and Arab roots, Sephardic Jewish music, as well as influences as far back as the early Greek, Roman, Visigoth and Byzantine rulers. These concepts are all based on the diverse musical influences that can be traced in the flamenco cante, baile and toque; its very un-Western chant like melodies and long melismatic wails, its strong twelve-count compás which provides a driving underlying rhythmical structure with syncopated accented golpes, as well as the exaggerated upper body movements and stamping zapateado created by the bailaor. Altogether these speculative transferring influences are said to play a part in the evolution of flamenco. These claims also contain cultural connotations that provoke issues of race and identity, which seek to shape Spanish cultural consciousness and identity. In this way, ´the anthropomorphised Andalusia – passionate, musical, changing, and anarchical- had become the true source of flamenco´ (Deutsch 2004: 220).

‘Though Lorca contends that flamenco has to do with a purely Andalusian canto which existed in embryonic form before the gypsies arrived, others think that flamenco is the ethnic music of the gitanos’ (Steingress 2003: 154 quoting Lorca 1984). The active participation of the gitano community created a phenomenon by virtue of their extraordinary facility for adaptation which brought the diverse cultures of Andalusia finally into harmony (Leblon 1994: 72). Cante gitano refers to the songs that expressed the pain of the gitanos under persecution. They were kept alive ‘underground’ and performed in the gitanos notorious family gatherings and fiestas where the atmosphere was conducive to spontaneous song and dance. These performances were so intimate that the distinguishing lines between audience and performer were blurred. Their strong oral traditions and ´gritty´ songs of old provided a strong identity amongst the Andalusian gitanos, the reason why writers such as Álvarez Caballero believe they were nothing short of the prime movers of flamenco (Caballero 1988: 70 Washabaugh p.34). To many, therefore, the word flamenco has become a synonym for the gitano. This is helped by the fact that thiscommunity is still a very visible sector of society. Although historically by the nineteenth century the gitanos were now an integrated part of Spain, they represent a people group with a uniquely separate racial status, while still forming an integral part of Andalusian culture (Brown 2007:230).

The gitano perspective is not without criticism, however, and there are debates about attributing the entire creation of flamenco to the gitanos, some flamencologists even questioning the very nature and instinct of the gitano to be able to create an art form. Ruiz, amongst others, believes that the gitano by nature does not create, but assimilates and integrates, contributing, rather, his influence in this way (Ruiz 2007). Similarly, Totton believes that the gitanos did not bring their music to any country they settled in. Instead, they adopted the music of that country, adapting it to their own particular style of musicality, their strong rhythmic sense, and their tendency to dramatise. In this way he believes that ´the gitanos have been the catalysts, but flamenco developed in the melting pot of Andalusia´ (Totton 2003: 14).

Others believe that the origins of flamenco matter not, and that flamenco is not just the music of southern Spain but forms a way of life that influences the daily activities of many southern Spaniards. Moreover, one does not have to be a performer of flamenco to be a flamenco. ´A flamenco is anyone who is emotionally and actively involved in this unique philosophy…an outward expression of the flamenco way of life´ (Pohren 2005: 9). This ideology is also held by the populist point of view which sees flamenco as a voice of resistance. Instead of emphasising its ethnic origins, flamenco primarily is seen to have been used as a means by which to express an outcry from the conditions of oppression in which marginalised people found themselves. This account merits these oppressed artists as the creators of flamenco, their cante jondo marked by a deep and moving performance brought to life by duende. ‘For Lorca, the supernatural force of the duende enters human beings and possesses them as they create inspired, deeply moving work’ (Hayes 2009: 40). A performance which lacks the essence of duende would be considered as shallow and ‘unpure’; a common accusation of the flamenco purists of modern, more commercial, performances. This populist account suggests that the flamenco style persisted in Andalucía for nearly 500 years. However, ‘during the nineteenth century that resistant song of the lower classes began to lose its bite with the commercial developments of the art form’ (Washabaugh 1996: 36). Still others argue that the spirit of duende continues.

The sense of Andalusian oppression has been a central theme in flamenco, and the present political freedom and crisis of mass emigration have, if anything, intensified the use of flamenco as a vehicle of social commentary – both through text content and, less overtly, through stylistic innovations

(Tong 1998: 176).

The sociological perspective is that flamenco is a phenomenon that brings classes together, and disagrees with many populists’ assessment of the ´degrading´ transition flamenco went through in its commercialism. Flamenco remained a voice of the lower classes though it became popular and began to be heard by the upper classes in the ´golden age´ of the cafes cantantes. It was on this stage that performers were able to vent their tragic past to their audience of wealthy oppressors. Washabaugh explains that ´the song, on this account, performs a double catharsis, exposing and relieving both the pain of the poor and the guilt of the wealthy´ (Washabaugh 1996: 36). In this way, flamenco is a means of connecting both sectors of society as both poor and wealthy can walk away from the performance psychologically unburdened by the awareness of their different social standings. Focussing on the sociological history of flamenco, this perspective coincides with what is described as the ‘second wave’ of the genre, a time when flamenco embarked on a process of what Biddle and Knights term as ´re-Andalusianisation´, finding its identity in both a local and global dynamic (Biddle and Knights 2007: 14). Though this point in flamenco’s development is seriously criticised by flamenco purists, for sociologists it was here that flamenco truly came into being, reaching the popular scene, and finding its ´Golden Era´. In this way, some authors believe ‘there is no point in searching in the distant past for origins or a genre that really did not come into being until the middle of the last century’ (Leblon 1994:77).

Upon reflection, the tradition of flamenco has not enjoyed the same faithful written record as other classical forms (Hayes 2009: 53).

The origins of flamenco seem likely to remain shrouded in mystery for some time to come, due to the circumstances surrounding its birth and musicologists´ unwillingness to tackle the question. As long as the only efforts made in this field have as their sole aim the ruthless elimination of a given community from the competition, there is no chance of our knowledge progressing

(Leblon 1994:73).

To conclude, this chapter has exposed the variation in the historic accounts of flamenco, and the ideologies that have emerged from four different perspectives. It is therefore evident that flamenco has not followed a ´pure´ linear history, but has encountered many different components equally indispensable to the process of its creation.

Chapter Three

The Voice of Flamenco in Society

Flamenco has been described as ‘a way of life, a way of perceiving and interpreting daily existence’ (Martinez 2003: 5). Its central position in its communities distinguishes the art form from many other musical genres, and only in understanding its voice in society can one appreciate the passion that flamencos feel for their music. This chapter therefore sets out to discover the significance of flamenco and its legacy by studying the messages that its song forms carry, which serve as a window into the lives of the flamenco community. It will also examine the importance of personal expression channelled through the three musical elements of flamenco: cante, baile and toque. Furthermore the chapter accounts for the different subdivisions of the genre, also suggestive of the fact that there is not one ‘pure’ form of flamenco but many branches that serve as a reflection of different flamenco communities.

Though there is much discussion concerning the exact origins of flamenco, it is evident that, at first, it was an art form in the hands of the minorities. There are many song forms within flamenco that serve as a window into the lives of these communities. Flamenco was a reflection of social life, engaging not only with universal themes such as love or death, but also referring to religious and political issues affecting personal life. Many have examined the way in which the community expressed their ways of life through flamenco; life’s pressures, work conditions and the inequality of hierarchy in labour, social structure, and social divisions.

En este aspecto, la desigualdad es el eje vertebrador del cante a través de diversas temáticas que, aun referidas a lo universal, al amor, a lo panhumano de la muerte o el dolor, están siempre socializadas traspasadas por una experiencia cultural no abstracta ni confundible con otras: la andaluza

(Roldán : 112).

Flamenco palos, or song forms, convey these themes, many categorically giving emphasis to one theme in particular. For example, amongst many, Carceleras are prison songs, alboreás are gypsy wedding songs, and mineras are miners’ songs. Other song forms emphasising a more general theme accentuate a specific musical element of flamenco: the cante, toque or baile. Flamenco in its original form was only cante, a primitive cry or chant accompanied only by the rhythm which would be beaten out on the floor by a wooden staff or cane. These styles are known as Palos Secos and they are the oldest forms of cante known today. These including the tonás, and the saetas, religious songs thought to be of Jewish decent used during processions, improvised without any accompaniment. Other palos are above all rhythmic which have also given rise to leading dance forms, such as the soleá, and bulería.

In the revelation of these mostly tragic song themes, it is important to convey the difference between flamenco and western music, primarily in the way in which, in the west, one hears the tune first, and then only then, perhaps, the harmony, rhythm and words. To the flamenco, the tune is little or nothing, and the harmony less, being aware, above all, of the words and their rhythmic and forceful expression

(Totton 2003: 84).

Félix Grande has defined flamenco as ‘a tragedy in the first person’ and ‘a protest without hope or destination’ (Grande 2007). The siguiriya is an example of this concept, the heart of cante jondo. ‘It expresses anguish, lament, and despair, and has been described as an outcry against fate and quintessence of tragic song’ (Totton 1995: 90). It is an example of how the transmission of song serves as a window into the lives of the flamencos. The following copla from a traditional siguiriya is an example of how the history of these Andalusian communities is communicated through the art form:

Señor Alcalde mayor Lord high mayor

Y demás señores And other fine lords

Estas penitas a este cuerpo míoThe pain in this body of mine

No le corresponden Is not deserved

(Kirkland 2001 :9)

Felix Grande would respond to such an example by saying :

Listen closely to a toná, truly hear a seguiriya; let some tientos slide through the hairs of your arm. Perhaps you will sense something resembling the hand of Philip V signing a paper in 1745- surely without trembling- to authorize those pursuing a Gypsy to enter a church and take him from its protection

(Kirkland 2001: 9).

The striking imagery and emotional purity of cante lyrics is also evident in the following coplas:

El tiempo y la marea

todo me viene en contra;

los golpecitos de este mar furioso

salen por la popa

( : 94).

Hasta las piedras saben

la desgracia mía

que yo las vendo -mis desgracias-

de noche y de día

(: 95)

On one level, the coplas serve as a descriptive reflection of the lives of the flamencos, and on another, serve as a representation of complaints, hopes and vindication.

El flamenco sirve para descubrir la realidad, para exponer las formas de vida y hasta cuadras de costumbres, pero también para reflexionar sobre ellas y denunciar las desigualdades. Pasa de lo descriptivo a lo analítico sin saberlo, y a veces a lo crítico

(Roldán : 112).

It is therefore evident that the role of flamenco in society is not merely aesthetic, or for ephemeral enjoyment, but that it has become a living testimony of the flamencos themselves, and an outlet for emotional unburdenment.

No canten, pues, con el único objetivo de hacerlo mejor que la vez anterior o mejor que otros cantaores: cantan porque es sus propias carnes o en las carnes de su propio grupo social o clase han padecido marginaciones y atropellos que a su vez se convierten en exponentes y portavoces de sus propios grupos, familias o entornos.

(Gelardo y Belade :21)

This is also suggestive of the reason why purists seek to protect the purity of this expression. Clemente believes that dealing with cantes, palos, compás, and melody is like dealing with living beings, ‘they deserve the respect involved in keeping them alive’ (Clemente n.d). This reveals an intrinsic link between the lyrics and expressive aspects of the music. Early developments of flamenco show that the socio-political dimension of the art form is manifested in both these facets. Pohen (1995) believes that it can not be overemphasised that flamenco, above all the jondo flamenco, is in essence an emotional art. Moreover, the artist needs only enough technique to enable him to convey his emotions to himself and to his public:

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The improving of technique to the point of virtuosity is not usually synonymous with the improvement of the artist´s ability to communicate. Conversely, the opposite is more often true. The virtuoso often becomes a cold machine, too concerned with his technique, too complicated, too entangled in his own virtuosity, too conscious of the fact that the majority of the public is awaiting this virtuosity more than any duende he may impart

(Pohen 1995: 58).

This emotion is woven through the cante, baile, and toque, each embodying the rhythm and expressive force necessary to bring the words of the coplas to life.The cante is said to have been developed in isolation by Andalusians, and especially gitano Andalusians, ‘and which redeems humans from the prison of language and the darkening isolation of social life’ (Washabaugh 1996: 90). The flamenco cantaor recreates and embroiders the song form in a personal way, expressing to the audience what the words mean to him (Totton 2003: 84). The quejío, melisma,the manipulation of the compás, and the quality of voice itself are ways to enforce the power of the cante. The cantaor also adds emotion by spontaneously weaving his voice around the words, envoking duende. The intensity of the cante means that many cantaores prefer to sing al golpe,accompanied only by knuckles on the table and the cries of encouragement from the jaleo.

The baile also takes on the character of the coplas by concentrating on forceful rhythms. This contrasts from the graceful movements given importance by modern music academies, a feature of modern flamenco also criticised by purists.

Prejudices run deep on the subject, and the Spanish language marks the difference: the classically trained dancer (whether or not also dancing flamenco) is a bailarín; the flamenco dancer is a bailaor or bailaora

(Totton 2003: 51).

‘Pure’ flamenco baile is expected to be individual, forceful, downward, and introvert. A similar prejudice has been established between classical guitarists and a true, flamenco tocaor. The difference can be seen in the very way the guitar is held to the emotional way the tocaor marks out the rhythm and compás through plucking, strumming, tremolo and banging the wood, and also the ability to improvise, adding his own falsetas.

Toca de oído, por intuición, improvisando continuamente, y aporta, como productos de cosecha propia, las falsetas

(Ruiz 2007: 90).

Though the toque element was introduced later on in the evolution of flamenco song forms, it is still seen to be an important element.

La gran originalidad de la música flamenco de guitarra se resume en el hecho que los elementos melódicos, armónicos y rítmicos que la componen tienden a inferirse en provecho de un elemento expresivo superior que engloba y enriquece a los demás y que podría calificarse de dinamismo

(Hilaire – Ruiz 2007: 91)

Uniting all elements of flamenco, lyrical, musical and emotional, is the strong sense of tradition and heritage manifested in the art form itself. In this manner, flamenco receives and keeps giving back its communities, allowing the flamenco legacy to live on. It is important to note that until recently, music and lyrics were never written down but transmitted orally. Compositions from the past have been handed down through the generations, and the extensive categorisation of palos reveal that there are many branches of flamenco, originating from numerous communities from different parts of Andalusia and further afield, all adding their musical flavour and history. These branches can be as contrasting as the discussed traditional tragic siguiriya and cante jondo to the cantes de ida y vuelta which were exported from Spain to the New World where they acquired new influences, later to be re-imported again to Andalusia by returning emigrants. These contribute to the rich diversity of song forms which have evolved from the original palo seco to varying rhythmic song forms which incorporate baile and toque, two main elements of flamenco that were integrated later on in the evolution of flamenco. Throughout the evolution of flamenco song forms, purists insist that the ablility to evoke duende distinguishes the ‘true’ flamencos from modern, experimental musicians, due to their ability to identify with the anguished themes of the cantes, re-living these emotional experiences.

This chapter has discussed the role of flamenco in society through analysing the dual function of the art form. Firstly, it is evident that the genre transmits the history of a marginalised people through the coplas. Secondly, and entwined with the first, is the expressive, mainly painful, release of emotion associated with life experiences through the three channels of flamenco; cante, baile and toque. In this process, the evoking of duende is what sets flamenco apart from other musical forms, and is suggestive of the purists insistence of protecting a ‘traditional’ and ‘pure’ music. However, the many branches of musical style within flamenco also alerts one again to the fact that, though flamenco demands a purity of emotion, there is not one ‘pure’ song form and single history within the genre, but many stories with diverse themes and musical influences, inevitable in an art form of oral tradition.

Chapter Four

A New Era of Flamenco

When evaluating the different phases of flamenco, flamencologists have tried to define the time line into conveniently identifiable eras. ‘The stages flamenco has passed through until the present day are identified by the venues where it was staged, as well as the artists who were most popular at any given moment’ (Martínez 2003 :66). Biddle and Knights (2007) refer to these historical stages as ‘waves’, while Steingress (2003) refers to them as ´steps of hybridisation´, both studies highlighting exhaustive influential causes of change undergone by flamenco. The phases which have contributed to the modern evolution of flamenco are important to highlight because of the way they have changed the face of flamenco, both musically and culturally, not only adapting its sound but its audience also, taking it from the primitive privacy of the juerga to the very public showcasing platform. This chapter will examine the stages marked by three main venues that changed the image of flamenco: the cafés cantantes (1860-1920), the theatre which hosted ópera flamenca (1920-1950), and the tablaos and peñas (1950-1975). Through describing their effect on flamenco, the chapter will also study the way in which these periods have provoked a debate which accuses this period of evolution of either the ‘degeneration’ or ‘making’ of the art form. The study will account for the perspective that, whilst many look to the past to define flamenco, the genre has encountered many different components equally indispensable to the process of its creation.

The cafés cantantes laid the groundwork for what has been termed the ‘Golden Age’ of flamenco. ‘Having only existed as a way of life, little by little flamenco gained popularity, and by the middle of the last century, sharp businessmen realised that flamenco could be exploited profitably in commercial exercises’ (Pohren 1995: 146). Flamenco was introduced as a public attraction and customers flocked to witness the novel presentations of the flamencos who complied to life as a paid artist and higher standard of living.

One of the things that the café cantantes achieved for flamenco was to broaden the range of non-gitano performers who were willing to make crowd-pleasing innovations and modulations, as neither the payos nor their audiences had quite the same distaste for broad popular appeal

(Drummond 2006: 168).

Those who performed in the cafés naturally followed the tastes and whims of the customers and it is argued that thistrivialised flamenco, ‘since patrons requests favoured ‘festive’ rather than ‘deep’ flamenco performances’ (Hernández 2008: 15). Furthermore it is contested that this enforced a staged professionalisation inspiring competition amongst performers, not a feature of flamenco’s emotive purity and unconcern for virtuosity. ‘The guitar, in particular gained eminence in café performances and, from being an instrument to accompany song and dance, it became a show in itself, and solo guitar performances soon became popular favourites’ (Hernández 2008: 15). In addition, ‘artists from the different provinces of Andalusia contributed to an enhancement of flamenco by elaborating their regionally distinctive substyles’ (Washabaugh 1996: 33). An important artist to emerge from this era was Silverio Franconetti, a non-gitano who opened his own successful café cantante, and is amongst a group of flamenco ´legends´ to emerge from this era. His legendary fame for contribution to the flamenco scene, even recognised amongst gitanos themselves, however, is ironically criticised. This accounts for the parody of the ´Golden Age´. On one hand, condescension for the beginnings of crass commercialism, and on the other, an excitement for the new wave of creative and technical competence. Nevertheless, in the light of the modernisation that was to come, many ´pure´ artists were still able to enjoy the profit of this time, being able to make a decent living from what they loved most. Desperate to preserve tradition in the threat of modern change, Spanish Intellectuals Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca attempted to revitalise the ´true´ and ´pure´ spirit of Andalusian flamenco by promoting the Concurso de Cante Jondo in 1922. They rejected the name ´flamenco´, embracing the term ´cante jondo´ in order to stimulate interest in uncommercial styles of flamenco which were in decline. However, the initiative could not prevent the second wave of modernisation which replaced the cafés cantantes with


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