In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, PS will host the performers Undebel Flamenco at special assemblies in Fellowship Hall on Friday. An art form originally from Spain but which has captured the imagination of people around the world, flamenco has been described as “magical and curious,” but it has a complicated history.
You may associate flamenco predominantly with dancing, but it is a complex folk music tradition that today incorporates poetry, song (cante), guitar playing (toque), dance (baile), poly-rhythmic hand clapping (palmas) and finger snapping (pitos) as well as audience participation (such as the familiar chant Olé). Although begun in Southern Spain, it has been shaped by musicians and performers in the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe.
As a way to celebrate cultural diversity, local artist, Mercy Saez (aka MercyFlamenca) shares her love of dance and honors her Spanish heritage by performing flamenco to local nonprofits. This week, she shared her passion with PS students.
Flamenco dancing is very, very passionate and at one time, was shunned by the Spanish elites. Dancers were ostracized Gypsy (Roma) populations that lived in seedy urban areas. The artform was seen as a lifestyle that exploited people’s poverty, social, political, and economic inequality. It wasn’t until the early-twentieth century at the World’s Fair that the performers became more popular. Flamenco today has undergone renewed artistic and academic respect, demonstrating its complex relationship to Spanish national identity.
Research has shown that flamenco was created through the fusion of the Jewish, Arab and Romani (in Spanish referred to as Gitanos) cultures in Southern Spain, in the regions of Andalusia and Murcia, as early as the 15th century. This is when the Romani people arrived in the Iberian Peninsula, after a certain diaspora in which they traveled across different lands including most likely India, Iran and Egypt (similar to some Indian temple dances, hands and fingers draw symbols in the air). Andalusia was under Arab rule at this time, but it was not long before the Jews, Arabs, and Romani people were all to be persecuted by the Catholic Church and the monarchy. They fled to the mountains and lived in harmony, creating a fusion of their music and dance traditions that became flamenco. In the 18th century, when attitudes toward Romani people relaxed, these populations returned from the mountains and flamenco music became celebrated by the Romantic writers of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was not until the 20th century and the support of Europeans outside of Spain that the culture of flamenco attained regard by Spanish artists and intellectuals (this mirrored the European support of African-American jazz and blues that helped it gain popularity in the U.S.). Later in the 20th century, flamenco was highly commercialized by the Franco regime as a tool for tourism and nationalism. Despite flamenco's complex relationship with Spain and the Spanish national identity, today artists, scholars and historical preservationists study the art form and promote its historical and artistic significance for Spain and Andalusia. In 2010, UNESCO recognized flamenco as “One of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
In 2016 Saez founded UNDEBEL FLAMENCO HOUSTON. A high caliber Flamenco production company that aims to promote arts but also to educate and empower the community. She partners with business owners from restaurants, wine bars, coffee shops, nonprofits, clothing stores, etc. around the city to produce wonderful events to bring a big crowd. Although her focus is to produce shows locally she also produces shows internationally, working with artists from all over the world! It is her goal to empower the community presenting world class performances that will include local artists to celebrate greater cultural diversity.