Flamenco especiales »

El Flamenco, Patrimonio Inmaterial de la Humanidad. - FLAMENCO DECLARED WORLD HERITAGE

November 17, 2010





Text: Estela Zatania  

No one is indifferent to the historic announcement.  The great majority of flamenco followers, performers, producers, agents and other individuals involved in flamenco are today still celebrating the official naming of flamenco as cultural World Heritage by the UNESCO, a public objective since about seven years ago.

The first attempt was rejected for a variety of reasons.  What most circulated was the word that “they never give it the first time around”.  But another aggravating circumstance was that inclusion in the list of World Heritage cultural traditions was contingent upon being something in danger of extinction.  Oddly enough many of today’s flamenco followers and artists claim just that, that flamenco is in danger of disappearing, and today’s euphoria is not shared by everyone.

As always, it all comes down to definitions.  If “flamenco” is everything everyone wants to label in that manner, then it could easily be said the genre enjoys the best of health.  But for those people who need cante, compás, recognizable palos and classic forms, it could be demonstrated that flamenco is indeed in a precarious situation.

There is every viewpoint imaginable as we were able to observe this morning at the Centro Andaluz del Flamenco where an encounter was held with personalities from the world of flamenco to evaluate the impact of the UNESCO announcement.  Artists such as maestro Antonio Fernández “Fosforito”, Jesús Méndez, Paco Cepero and Angelita Gómez, José María Castaño from Jerez radio, Antonio Carmona, Isamay Benavente, director of the Festival de Jerez, Olga de la Pascua, director of the CAF and María Ángeles Carrasco, director of the Agencia Andaluza para el Desarrollo del Flamenco.

In an informal roundtable talk, each member voiced his or her opinion.  A brief documentary included clips of beloved artists from the past such as José Vargas “El Mono” and Tío Juanes, images of a traditional zambomba, the central market with old people singing and dancing…

José María Castaño said being selected for the list is not an achievement, but a starting point, adding that it is a positive action no matter how you look at it.  Young singer Jesús Méndez asked for applause in memory of our beloved Fernando Terremoto whose absence is so sorely felt, and quoted Enrique Morente who has said the “the world is now a heritage of flamenco”.

Paco Cepero pointed out that Fosforito, who was seated by his side, knows well what flamenco artists went through years ago, the roadside bars, the cabarets, the whims of some rich people…and said that “this will give a boost to up-and-coming flamenco artists…it’s the icing that was missing on the cake”.

Director of the Festival de Jerez, Isamay Benavente, said it was welcome news and reason to celebrate, while veteran dance teacher, and recent winner of the Demófilo prize, Angelita Vargas, said “we didn’t invent flamenco, we were good students and learned from the elders”, adding that now young people should learn from their elders too, “please, don’t be in such a hurry, remember to respect flamenco”.

Fosforito expressed the idea that “flamenco has existed ever since the cry of human suffering…we all knew flamenco was already appreciated the world over.  Now it’s a trademark, there is no suffering as before.  This status gives a touch of dignity, we must all congratulate each other”.

And lastly, the director of the Agencia, when asked “and now what?”, answered that there are some 300 projects, nearly all from young people, waiting to be evaluated.  Various representatives of the Cernícalos flamenco club, the oldest in Jerez, complained that the flamenco sent abroad is “decaffeinated”, and called for more support for flamenco “peñas” in general, to which Fosforito added “peñas are sanctuaries of flamenco”.   Dolores Barroso, head of cultural issues in Jerez, said that indeed it is necessary to study better ways of cooperating with the peñas.

The encounter came to a close with some improvised bulerías with Jesús Méndez singing, and Paco Cepero and Angelita Gómez keeping compás.

Since the official announcement two days ago, Deflamenco has requested commentaries from a variety of people involved in flamenco.  What follows are the messages received by the editorial department.  More than congratulations they are observations, some dissident, all interesting….

Hope and optimism is what I most want for the coming years in flameco…

That some day in the not-too-distant future, counsellors, delegates and cultural secretaries and ministers may know enough about Flamenco to carry out their jobs appropriately as this genre deserves…

Like the song says, “Gracias to life for having given me so much…”



JUAN DE LA PLATA, Cátedra de Flamencología:
This recognition is truly important for the most universal and richest home-grown music that exists in Europe and the world, because every human emotion is represented.  Love, loneliness, suffering and death.

And I think this Cátedra de Flamencología which I direct had some part in this because we’ve put our grain of sand in trying, over a period of 52 years of selfless struggle, to elevate flamenco in all its cultural dimension.  It came up out of the mire in which it was, at a time when many Andalusians still considered it a genre of prostitutes, homosexuals, drunks and gamblers.  From something despicable, the Cátedra placed it on a pedestal of dignity of the art and culture of the Andalusian people.  The same people who now so justifiably recognize it as an intangible world heritage.

CARLOS LEDERMANN, Guitarrista (Chile):
It seems to me that ever since flamenco broke out of Spain it’s been a heritage of humanity, but this recognition had to be made official, because today flamenco belongs to all the people of the world, and many of us cultivate, respect and spread the art-form, dedicating out lives to this profoundly human, incomparably expressive hot-blooded genre. 

 “Ya llegó la hora / la horita llegó”, [“The time has come, it has finally come”]…the famous verse of siguiriyas sung by la Niña de los Peines half-way through the last century.  That was ages ago!  Better late than never.  The UNESCO declaration, even being so important, is only one facet of this extraordinarily rich culture.  The interpreters, those people who are the main administers of this art-form, know what they have, and offer this historical continuity to a delicate creature which they have endowed with life and day-to-day evolution.  Investigators and experts who are even more conscious of this, offer analysis and observations.  Will this recognition serve to open a new era of reflection upon what is being done and taking stock?  Today we are celebrating, but tomorrow is beginning very soon….today.

First of all, my congratulations and best wishes for the new rush of recognition for flamenco.  In my opinion special attention should be paid to teaching and learning activities, professional preparation that would provide flamencos of the 21st century with the necessary tools to be up to the level of other musical genres such as jazz or classical music.  The repertoire of classic flamenco must be duly transmitted in cante and guitar, as well as in dance.  The School of Spanish Music advocated by Soriano Fuertes in the mid-19th century is more necessary than ever, to recuperate, if it’s still possible, the “bolero school” which is clearly the root of many music and dance manifestations of flamenco, to reinterpret, with a flamenco perspective, the immense repertoire of academic music with similarities to flamenco such as the dozens of Andalusian operttas (zarzuela), and hundreds of lyrical songs, some of them very flamenco, that are gathering dust.

Congratulations to everyone in flamenco, and may it be all for the best.  Let’s hope the politicians don’t base everything now on merchandising, the ceaseless quest for novelty and cult of originality, because we run the risk of classic cante, guitar-playing and dance becoming diluted (the process is already underway) in stereotypical soleá, siguiriya or cantiñas.

It is a great satisfaction that flamenco has been declared a world heritage, but I think it already had that status, because I’ve spent a lifetime in flamenco, as a dancer, travelling the world, helping to show it belongs to all humanity.



ROMUALDO MOLINA, Flamenco fan and researcher:
If it is true that UNESCO has declared flamenco a world heritage (whatever that means), it becomes important to find out who owns that property, controlling its life and vitality and taking a corresponding percentage.  And of course, it’s absolutely necessary that the proposed Academia Internacional del Flamenco control any manipulation or repression of the interpreters, audiences and investigators might suffer in detriment to the freedom of creation, listening and research.

MARIANA CORNEJO, Cádiz singer:
Flamenco is universal and touches the heart of the entire world.




TERE PEÑA y ALFONSO GARCÍA, Journalism and production:
CONGRATULATIONS TO EVERYONE. These awards, with a certain amount of buttering-up, as in the prizes of this or that institution, have healthy intentions and give relevance and encouragement to that which is honored.  One consequence could become VERY IMPORTANT: the announcement by the president of the Andalusian government that flamenco be studied in school like any other subject.  This will bring knowledgeable followers of the art and flamenco musicians who complete their studies in conservatories and can rub shoulders with those of any other specialty, with or without written music.  The future can be incredible.  The classical music people have their Mozart, and we’ve got la Niña de los Peines…it’s so great!  We mustn’t get involved in politics: people disappear, art is forever.

RAÚL COMBA, Flamenco fan, producer and agent:
I think the declaration is a good thing, and the global flamenco community has something to celebrate.

If the designation of flamenco as a world heritage helps to perpetuate the struggle of Andalusians to come to grips with what flamenco is and can be, then I am totally supportive of the UNESCO decision."  

Flamenco is a state of the soul.  Which is why it has an affinity with all humanity.  Its recognition as world heritage is a source of pride for everyone who feels flamenco as a way of life.




Dra. JAN FAIRLEY, Ethnomusicologist/journalist Scotland, UK) and
MA MARÍA 'TOTE' CONTE, Dancer/artistic director, Hispanic Arts (Scotland, UK):
At last, a rich and profound culture that has become enriched over the centuries, from the primitive to the most contemporary and sophisticated, surviving on the edge fed by the voices, hands and bodies of so many families and individuals who have constantly reinvented it, to achieve the status of world heritage which it has always deserved.

The naming of Flamenco as World Heritage is the ratification of years of hard work by so many masters of the art who gave everything for it.  Let’s hope that now flamenco will move up to a higher level and broaden the touring circuit.  Viva Flamenco, heritage of the universe!



MANUEL MORAGA, Flamenco journalist:
We mustn’t forget the system of oral transmission which for so long was the principle means of creation and flamenco communication: the gypsy families.  During this entire campaign I barely saw or heard the words “gypsy” or “Andalusian gypsy”.  For this reason it is necessary to defend gypsy identity – not exclusive, but indispensable – in this happy universal recognition.  Now flamenco is a world heritage, but somehow the gypsy element got diluted along the way.  Sometimes it’s what you do, other times it’s what is omitted, but we all know that without them, without the gypsies, flamenco as we know it would simply not exist.

It’s a good thing the Unesco awarded this status to Flamenco.  It is recognition of an entire musical tradition that is very rich, and which forms part of my life.

BROOK ZERN, Lecturer, author of the U.S. section of the original UNESCO petition, recipient of Spain's Cruz de Isabela la Catolica for contributions to the diffusion of Spanish culture in the U.S.
Ole!  A memorable moment.  And let's remember that this great honor is intended to recognize the world's most precious traditions.  In our era of novelties, fads and fusions, I hope the Patrimonio will underline the value and the need to support and conserve the traditional flamenco that is under increasing pressure every year.

I am thoroughly delighted, moved to tears and thrilled that UNESCO has declared flamenco a World Heritage.  I can’t help thinking how, for two-hundred years, this issue was niggling at Nitri, Silverio, Patiño, Torre, Chacón, Cepero, Terremoto, Manolo de Huelva, Sabicas, Camarón, etc…  Just think what would have happened if UNESCO had decided against the recognition…my God, what would we have done?! 

Let us all be grateful….to Señó Molina, Joaquín el de la Paula, Enrique el Mellizo and Antonio Mairena, Carmen Amaya, Farruco, Chocolate…and so many others who have made flamenco what it is....without its even having the title of World Heritage…

A grand satisfaction and source of pride for all flamencos.

JAVIER CONDE, Guitarist:
Today is an important day, although for us, the interpreters, flamenco was already a World Heritage.  But if the powers that be have officially decided to give it that status, that’s fine, and let’s just hope that from now on local, regional and national institutions from all Spain pay more attention, act a bit more chauvinistically, or at the very least, respect flamenco as much as it is respected abroad.



RAFAEL INFANTE, Coordinator of the program “Flamenco y Universidad”:
In the aftermath of the UNESCO recognition of flamenco as an Intangible World Heritage, one of the objectives is to reinforce awareness of flamenco as an identifying characteristic of the people of Andalusia, as it is described in the Statutes of Autonomy.  To this end, perhaps as a result of my profession as a teacher, I think we must continue to support and increase the study of flamenco at every level of education, beginning with primary school, but Flamenco must not be directed at training performers, because this could be rejected by the students, but rather a combined study for children, without tiring them, in order to become familiar with the art-form little by little.

By the same token, with this newly earned status from the Unesco, we need to open a time of thoughtful reflection when we look to the future and plan where we want to go, to formulate a plan of action and adopt adequate means to achieve the proposed ends, but above all else, we must avoid rash action because, although it might seem to provide immediate benefits, it could, in the long run, do more harm than good to flamenco.  It is time all of us who love this art, pitch in so the title of World Heritage is not simply a declaration, but a tangible reality.

ESMERALDA ENRIQUE, Dancer, director of the EESDC (Toronto, Canada):
This distinction confirms what we all knew already, that flamenco is unequalled in the world, and it behooves us, who love and live the art, to take on the tremendous responsibility of preserving and sharing it wherever we are throughout the world.

PACO ROJI, Flamenco fan, investigator and director of Flamenka en Málaga:
This art-form is a World Heritage ever since the first cante sounded in this, our promised land of Andalusia.  It is recognition of all those who work for it…artists, fans, club members, journalists, investigators…

And a word to the institutions: stop handing so much out to the rest of the world, and let’s have more support right here in Andalusia for those who need it and work so hard.

JOSÉ A. MANCHEÑO, President of the “Pepe de la Isla” flamenco peña, Coín:
Best wishes to all.  Flamenco is like books, it asks nothing in return, only your attention.

GERHARD STEINGRESS, Professor of Sociology and flamenco investigador:
Congratulations to everyone involved in flamenco, to admirers and defenders, and to the world because a universal art-form has been gained.

SEAN O’BRIEN, Flamenco fan and record producer:
Sadly, this will only serve to reinforce the present misguided policy of the flamenco administrators in supporting big international productions, while ignoring the roots. Real flamenco is nurtured by the flamencos of Santiago, Utrera, Lebrija etc., who are abandoned. The Flamenco Peñas are starved of money, which they could use to mount performances and give work to the flamencos.

The immediate reaction to the naming of flamenco as Intangible World Heritage is that it is welcome news for all flamenco fans and professionals, because it reconfirms everything that has taken shape over the last two centuries, ever since the first flamencos came out and showed their music, singing and dancing, full of passion to the entire world.

MAYA DE SILVA, Dancer, dance teacher (USA):
I am very proud to be a part of the global community of this unique and indispensable art-form.  I am very happy Flamenco has received this recognition.  When I was manager of the Menkes shop in Manhattan for 5 years, I attended clients via internet from Iceland to Chile, from Greece to Australia.  Flamenco is loved by all the cultures of the world, and with good reason, because it represents the human condition.  I’ve been lucky enough to devote my life to this path.

FERNANDA MONTORO, Daughter of singer Fernando Montoro:
A prize for all Flamencos, for those who are here and now, and also for all those who have departed and struggled to put the art-form in its rightful place.

FRANCIS CUBEROS, Agent, producer:
I feel fortunate to be Andalusian and part of this culture of ours, because Flamenco makes me happy, I’ve contributed my grain of sand beginning with Flamenco Viene del Sur at the Festival Espárrago.  Ever since then I’ve worked with great artists and newcomers to this art, always believing in the tremendous economic potential.  Long live Flamenco!

ERNESTINA VAN DE NOORT, Artistic director:
Since 2006 the Dutch Bienniel has opened a space for flamenco in the Netherlands and neighboring countries as a heritage with tremendous vital force, an art-form that transcends frontiers.  On the eve of the third edition, we are very happy that the Unesco has formalized the specific identity of flamenco, a melting-pot of cultures with unmatched global force (and which provides energy to members of the global community who were not fortunate enough to have been born into flamenco).

DR. KELI, Production, percussion:
Finally we have begun to acknowledge the worldwide importance of this unique art-form, so anchored in the human soul.  This is a moment to be proud of.

ELVIRA LÓPEZ HIDALGO, Organizer of flamenco events:
This world-class recognition is a positive thing for flamenco.  Now all that’s needed is that here at home, in Spain as well, its cultural importance be recognized.