Flamenco: Gypsy Soul: Searching for the real story

Assistant Producer

When people think of flamenco they might have an image in their mind of a woman in a red frilly dress twisting her wrists elegantly on a stage.

In Flamenco: Gypsy Soul, a documentary for BBC Four, we wanted to guide the audience away from this clichéd view of flamenco to the real story.

Flamenco is the music and culture created by the gypsies of Andalusia over the centuries, passed down from generation to generation within gypsy families at private gatherings in which the singing not the dancing is the most important element.

As the assistant producer and the Spanish speaker on the team it was my job to find the contributors who would allow us to penetrate this reputedly hermetic society, where outsiders are not generally welcomed in to see the ‘real’ flamenco.

A Bulería is sung in the ‘gypsy city’ of Jerez

Director Ben Whalley was always adamant that this wouldn’t be a programme full of stars on stages, he wanted housewives and children and family parties.

But would anybody allow us to come and film them in their homes and would our cameras somehow interfere with the genuineness of the event?

There is something of a Catch-22 situation for the foreign flamenco aficionado who pays to see flamenco on a stage and thus allows flamenco artists to live off their art and for the flamenco way of life to survive.

But at the same time he secretly suspects that he is seeing the sanitised version and the real stuff happens when the foreigners clear off and the real party gets going.

Luckily people were incredibly willing to invite us to enjoy their performances at their homes and their parties on our journey around Andalusia from Malaga, to Granada, Seville, Jerez and Cadiz.

They were incredibly generous and hospitable and they seemed to be keen to show us this lesser known side of flamenco by fostering a real party atmosphere.

I don’t believe that any of the flamenco we saw was in any way tame: every artist seemed to pour their heart and soul into their performances to the point where some of the most emotionally susceptible members of the team, ie presenter Elizabeth Kinder and myself, were moved to tears from the sheer intensity of the singing.

Laura’s first real flamenco party in the blacksmith’s forge

The first time I saw a real flamenco party was in the blacksmith’s forge in Cabra. The owner of the forge had invited all his friends over. The wine was flowing.

It was here that I realised how much fun flamenco could be and witnessed the sense of camaraderie amongst the men as they shouted encouragement at each other.

The five of us, the cameraman Ric Clark, sound man Ariel Sultan, Ben, Elizabeth and I were blown away by their renditions of the Bulerías – a more festive, humorous style of flamenco so different to the more emotionally charged and serious songs we had heard up to that point on the trip.

At dusk when we had packed up the cameras the men were lighting a bonfire to cook their steaks on and they broke into a song.

There was a part of us that wished we could quickly grab the cameras and preserve yet another incredible moment but none of us moved, we knew that this was just for us to see and it felt like a gift.

What we had filmed was already so special and perhaps we had to be resigned to not being able to capture every moment.

We left thrilled with what we had done but reluctantly all the same; as we packed up the van we could still hear them and we knew they would be there singing and dancing long into the night.

Laura Kaye is the assistant producer of Flamenco: Gypsy Soul.

Flamenco: Gypsy Soul is on Sunday, 25 August at 9pm on BBC Four.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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