TV blog

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.

Comments

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  • Comment number 28. Posted by Eve A Ma

    on 20 Sept 2013 15:58

    Just for the heck of it, I've decided to add comments on a few of the comments - not on the documentary, because I haven't seen it.

    Deborahknight20 (#20) doesn't like the cante (singing) and says the verses/letras are all about "nits in the hair, women that are bad..." Well, no. I don't know who she's listening to, but in siguiriyas, for example, some of the more famous ones are about life being tragic, about being led to the executioner's block, about being in jail, about death appearing at your door, about being a stranger in a strange land. I won´t run through the other flamenco forms (enough is enough) but please, forget the nothing but "nits in the hair..." etc..

    Vigorniensis (#17) says some interesting things, but I doubt if it's only the French Gypsy family of Rayes that can be credited with the global familiarization of flamenco. What about "Rito y Geografia del Cante?" What about the señoritos? What about the work of people like Manuel Morao? Etc.

    Re Chris Downing´s comment (#13) - when you take flamenco and break it out, throwing in lots of international influences, you get something that is palatable to a wider audience and that is watered down and no longer flamenco. Don´t we already have enough fusion? Every fusion artist seems to think s/he is doing something new. No, not really.

    I won´t go on any further except to comment on rabdul´s comment (#2) - Gypsies are a race. They are not Moors and/or Jews.

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  • Comment number 27. Posted by phoenix66

    on 10 Sept 2013 17:09

    I missed it! Am particularly gutted as the presenter is a dear friend with whom I studied music :(
    Is there any way I can get to see this fascinating documentary please? I can't find it on i player

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  • Comment number 26. Posted by Sulin

    on 8 Sept 2013 21:43

    I watched this programme with my aunt- She immediately rang up her only Spanish speaking Chinese friend and said, 'I want to learn about Flamenco'. We both thought Elizabeth Kinder brought a warmth and focal point. She was a wonderful reference point and seemed really empathic towards the subject and people she was interviewing and not at all intrusive. In fact we could have done with more- we enjoyed it so much- what a great programme! Well done.

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  • Comment number 25. Posted by francescaflamenca

    on 4 Sept 2013 09:23

    I would love to know what inspired this programme. I am an English woman heavily involved in the World of flamenco, living in Andalucía. I am here studying and performing flamenco dance and have got to know som important figures in this fascinating world.
    The subject is immense and the only way to fully understand it is to be part of it. It is very difficult to be accepted as an outsider especially by the gypsy flamenco community;as quick as they will accept you, or present a friendly veneer, equally you will be rejected if you have no merit as regards your understanding of this artform.
    We are in a province where there is a raw, un commmercialised flamenco scene, I would despertartely like to speak with one of the researchers in order to present more information about the genuine essence of flamenco.

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  • Comment number 24. Posted by homefoc

    on 2 Sept 2013 17:11

    I have really enjoyed with this broadcast about flamenco music. I'm Spaniard and live in Alicante. In my city there are not flamenco shows, but we are just one hour by car from La Union, where the most important flamenco festival has place every year in August. I understand when gypsies say that flamenco is owned by them, since they have kept it alive when nobody cared about this wonderful music, but nowadays it is an universal cultural act and there are many singers who are "payos" (Gypsy word for not gypsies) and put the same "duende" and enthusiasm in their perfomances as Ana Mochón et al. I love that you haveb interviewed El Cabrero, one of my favorites "cantaores payos" and I want to congratulate you for such fantastic work. Thanks, Laura.

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  • Comment number 23. Posted by David

    on 2 Sept 2013 13:27

    Having come across this program I would say I thoroughly enjoyed it. For an hour long I think it gave a good overview to a novice on the subject like myself. I should like to learn more and visit a few of the places visited. Thank you BBC and Ms Kinder!

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  • Comment number 22. Posted by Jim Short

    on 2 Sept 2013 07:36

    I think on the whole this was a wonderful insight into the varying styles of Flamenco, which is finding new boundaries over time. I have for many years gone to a festival in El Rocio and camped to watch listen and admire the varying styles old and new that is being played. I have always been welcomed to watch and participate. Lovely memories.

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by em

    on 30 Aug 2013 21:48

    I'm originally from Seville. I have enjoyed the programme and I've learnt a lot about flamenco. However, the image this programme gives of "el polígono sur", the neighbourhood where gipsies were relocated after having lived in Triana, is a romantic view. The reality in that neighbourhood is much harder than has been portraited. It's a place destroyed by drugs and unemployment.

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by deborahknight20

    on 30 Aug 2013 05:23

    I live with Gypsies in my village, and flamenco becomes very tedious after a while, they sing a lot of incredibly boring lyrics that all sound the same. Mostly about nits in the hair, women that are bad and horses in the moonlight over Huelva, It gets worse as they get drunk. However in the Culto, (Evangelical Churches) the music and lyrics are incredible.

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by Eve A Ma

    on 29 Aug 2013 04:06

    Interesting that you should have done this documentary. I am a filmmaker, and am ALSO doing a documentary about flamenco...the traditional flamenco of Jerez de la Frontera...with flamenco cantaor/singer Antonio de la Malena. Yes, I know all the people in the screen shot of your first video, the one from Jerez. Our documentary, which will take a long time to complete (funding, funding, funding) is called Flamenco: the Land is Still Fertile (Flamenco: la tierra está viva). So far, we´ve filmed a darling little girl named Triana who dances as Antonio de la Malena sings and her mother and aunt give her palmas, plus Antonio Agujetas (son of "the" Agujetas) singing, plus an interview with Curro Cajón...and a couple of other things. You can find clips from all of the above on my YouTube channel, Palomino Productions/Eve A. Ma. I´d love to see yours, and hope you have time to check out the clips from ours. It´s good to see that another person NOT from Jerez and NOT a flamenco realizes that the singing is more important than the dancing, etc..

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