Flamenco en Cadiz

The flamenco is something that a lot of people recognize as something traditionally Spanish, but its origins aren’t so clear. It is still a very Spanish tradition, but it’s constantly been changing and influenced by different groups such as the Muslims, Jewish and slaves from Cuba. Regardless of its origins, flamenco is something very easy to find and enjoy in Spain. Some groups are even starting to merge it with other genres such as rock or jazz, creating a modern hybrid of genres.

Poster for Flamenco Concerts

For those who don’t know, flamenco uses a few key instruments: the guitar, palmas (palms), the voice, sometimes castanets and the cajon. The cajon is a more modern addition to flamenco, coming from Paco de Lucia’s trip to Peru. He was referred to as one of the greatest flamenco guitarists and when he went to Peru, he encountered an instrument there that he wanted to adapt for flamenco. A cajon is a type of hollow box that produces different sounds when you hit it in different places and is now a very popular instrument for flamenco. In the workshop we attended, with Maria la Monica, she brought along a cajon that she used for making her music.
When it comes to the dancing, the feet could also be considered an instrument. Just like the palms, they can keep the beat. The dancer and the person keeping beat just have to be careful not to stray off tempo and move too quickly. They have to keep with the guitar and whatever other instruments are there, so they all work together. This seems complicated, especially when it’s a spontaneous art form that depends on the moment rather than rehearsal.
Flamenco is more similar to jazz in the sense that it’s more spontaneous, in the moment and based off of how the artists feel. Our workshop with Maria la Monica felt kind of like a “jam session” because there was no organized piece of music, just what they felt like playing in the moment. In the lesson, we were taught an expression that is used when the artist does something unexpected with the music, “olé”. An olé has to be spontaneous and genuine, even though we practiced a planned one to understand the basic idea.
For our workshop, Maria explained that she comes from a “flamenco family”. Basically, this means that her family lives a flamenco style life. There were jam sessions and spontaneous music and dancing while they had a sort of different attitude about the music. They see it more as a way of life than a kind of music, they “live flamenco” in their everyday. Now this is by no means the situation for every family in Spain, but it is really interesting to think about how there’s nothing really similar in the U.S. to this style of living. The emphasis on freedom, music and expression does sound a bit like the 1960’s in the states but it’s the modern reality for families like Maria la Monica’s in Spain today.

Influences on Cadiz

I’ve never been anywhere like Cadiz before. I’m not sure there is anywhere like Cadiz other than Cadiz. It’s a city with a rich and complex history, full of mixes of different cultures and influenced by every nearby former empire that ever existed. There are Roman ruins, Catholic churches, castles with remains of ancient mihrabs and statues of Hercules… things I had never expected to see in the same place. There are still aspects to the city that match up with what I expected from Spain but mostly my experience has been full of wonderful surprises everywhere we go.

For example, the catedral de Cadiz. On the outside it’s already a remarkable building, but as a group we got to go in and take a tour around. The building is just as beautiful on the inside, full of statues to commemorate saints and Popes, as well as a lower level that was just as interesting to explore. Beneath the altar, in the lower level was the crypt, while upstairs in the main level were the various statues and paintings as well as vestments and a place for silent prayer and meditation. When we got back, my host family informed me of how they worked to restore part of the stone ceiling. Due to the building’s age, it needed a bit of upkeep to keep it safe for visitors. To do that, they injected liquid into the stone to help it solidify once again. This way, the cathedral can remain as beautiful as it is for more visitors to get to see for a long time to come.

El Catedral with distinct styles in its design.

With how many different groups had power over Spain, it’s actually rather remarkable that anything belonging to a former culture or group remained behind at all. This cathedral is actually just as great a symbol of the various influences as anything else in Cadiz. There’s a clear difference in the styles of the cathedral, which was built over a period of 116 years. Over all this time, the project was picked up by different architects, who all shifted the style to what they wanted to do instead of what it had been. So, the cathedral starts in the baroque style but ends up neoclassical- a common theme across a few of the buildings in the area. One of our other excursions was like this as well, the castillo in La Puerta de Santa Maria. For the Castillo San Marcos, the different styles were thanks to the various cultures that came in and used the base of what was there for their purpose instead. The Castillo actually has the remains of an ancient mihrab that was preserved by the church covering it to reorient the building to the town instead of towards Mecca. So, they built a wall and preserved it very well, building on top of what had been the mosque, which was built on top of the roman base. Just walking around Cadiz, the influence of all of the groups that have been here is clear. All of the different styles of architecture and different materials used gives Cadiz a really unique feeling as a city.

Arches that remained from the mosque and the uncovered mihrab in el Castillo.