During my time in Andalusia it was music that came to symbolize the rich beauty and depth that is to be found in the blending of cultures. I didn’t expect to start exploring a new genre of music—it simply happened.
The Flamenco music scene is defined by reinvention and revitalization. My days in Andalusia may have been spent uncovering layers of confusing architectural history but my nights were spent exploring her sounds.
Seville is the capital of Andalusia and with high-speed rail you can reach the city within 90 minutes. The leafy streets of her Jewish quarter are narrow and my first impressions of Santa Cruz are her shadows. In 1391, the entire Jewish community and most of the thirty three synagogues were destroyed during a pogrom. Today one can still visit the remains of three Sevillian synagogues. The oldest synagogue is in Plaza Santa Cruz, and was demolished in 1810 by the French. The remains of the other Synagogues can be found inside Santa Maria la Blanca Church and Convento Madre de Dios in Calle San Jose. During my stay in Seville I participated in numerous tours and while some of the guides went to great efforts to explain the historical significance of the Jewish history of these sites, others completely overlooked it. It soon became apparent that to uncover the cities Jewish past I had to know where to look.
The Centre de interpretation Judeiria de Sevilla is a small museum dedicated to Jewish life in Seville and the powerful collection of original medieval documents took me completely by surprise. The range of documents are broad but the ones that fascinated me the most were the Limpieza de sangre or Purity of Blood documents. These documents deleted a person’s Jewish ancestry and ensured they would have more opportunities and an easier life. The museum also introduced me to fascinating characters such as Sosana. The Legend of Sosana came to symbolise the horrors that were about to engulf Spain.
Cordoba is is approximately 45 minutes fast train ride from Seville. Her Jewish quarter is more atmospheric and less commercial than the quarters of Seville. The most impressive building in Cordoba is the eighth century Great Mosque of Cordoba (La Mezquita). It is made up of 900 arched pillars and is truly spectacular. Cordoba is also the home to one of three Spanish pre-expulsion synagogue (the other two are in Toledo.) This small synagogue was built in 1315 and was declared a national monument in 1985. Casa de Sefared – Casa de la Memoria is a Sephardic museum that contains items from local pre-expulsion Jewish homes. There is also an exhibition on the Sephardic tradition and an area dedicated to Sephardic Ladino Music
No one understood the complexities and Incomplete Exposition of culture (and sound) as well as the great physician and philosopher Maimonides (Musa bin Maymun). Maimonides was born in Cordoba and was fluent in both Arabic and Judeo-Arabic.
Granada is 201 km from Cordoba. In 1898, Federico Garcia Lorca was born in a small town a few miles west. Lorca was obsessed with Flamenco and the Cante Jondo or The Deep Song on which it is based. For Lorca, the roots of the Cante Jondo were in Arab, Indian and Andalusia folk music. In 1922 he and the great Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla, organised a festival of Cante Jonte at The Alhambra in Granada.
“Seeking the Duende there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the geometry we understand….”
“The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ”The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation … everything that has black sounds in it, has duende.” *1
The Oxford English Dictionary defines duende as both a ghost and an evil spirit and as a creative destructive force “magic and fire.” It is greeted with cries of Allah or Viva Dios (God lives) and does not come until one embraces the reality of death. It can be found in bullfighting, in the paintings of great Spanish artists like El Greco and Velazquez and the mysticism of the founders of the Carmelite movement.
Lorca became increasingly involved in the Spanish avant-garde and was a member of the Generacion del 27 which included Dali and Bunuel. The concept of Deep Song deeply influenced much of his poetic works. Lorca’s first major work called Poem of the Deep Song was based on saetas, soleares, and siguiriyas. It was written in 1921 when he was twenty-three years old but was not published until a decade later, in 1922 Lorca presented a lecture on Deep Song *2. By1929– 1930 he was in New York and was deeply influenced by Jazz and Blues music. He continued to develop his his theory of the “dark sounds” and their relationship to life and art.
Australian music artist Nick Cave discussed his interpretation of duende in his 1998 Vienna Poetry Festival lecture titled “The Secret Life of the Love Song ” in which he describes duende as being a howl in the void for love and comfort. Leonard Cohen’s “Take this Waltz” (1986) was recorded in Granada. It is a homage to Lorca’s great poem “ Little Viennese Waltz” which was was first published in Lorca’s famous book Poeta en Nueva York.
It is no surprise that Lorca like so many great artists and musicians are inspired by Andalusia and its blending of cultures. Lorca would have been acutely aware of the Alhambra decree of 1492 and was profoundly affected by the death and suffering of The Expulsion and Reconquista.
The Spanish Jewish community of Andalusia is currently regrouping itself as a congregation called Beit Rambam. In recent years there has been a strong interest in the revival of Spain’s Sephardic Jewish community and Andalusia has been home to a range of fascinating Jewish and intercultural conferences. Camino de Sefared (a public not for profit association) aims to defend the urban architectural historic artistic and cultural Sephardic heritage of Spain. They have organized concerts of Sephardic music and the performances are truly moving
Spain was greatly reduced by the expulsion. Of the 100,000 or so that remained, many converted to Christianity while others became Converso’s or hidden Jews. In 2010 UNESCO declared flamenco as one of the Masterpieces of The Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
In music theory, the flamenco mode is also known as the Major Phrygian mode and it is the chords and their relationship to one another that reveal the true tensions of flamenco. The Phrygian dominant scale is the fifth mode of of the harmonic minor scale. It is a scale which occurs in Indian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Flamenco music. In Arabic and Egyptian music it is known as Hijaz-Nahawand or Bayati maqam. In Hebrew prayers and Klezmer music, it is known as Ahava Rabbah, Freygish or the “Jewish scale.” In Iran it is called Dastgah e homayoun it is also the scale used in the classical North Indian classical raga Vasant Mukhari and the South Indian raga Vakulabharanam.
Perhaps the lessons of Andalusia (if one is silent for long enough) can be found in her scales and dislocations. The quest for religious and ethnic purity is one that has reoccurred throughout history, yet the lessons it has taught us continue to evade.
*1 Federico Garcia Lorca from his essay Theory and Play of The Duende
*2 Deep Song by Federico Garcia Lorca