Paco Peña: Flamenco and the Question of National Identity in Spain

41V5TSYKGHLOn the 1st of June 1942, the Spanish Flamenco composer and guitarist Paco Peña was born in Córdoba, Spain. Regarded as one of the world’s foremost traditional Flamenco players, Peña began his professional career very early in life. He learnt playing the guitar at the age of six, and by twelve he made his first professional appearances. After touring with various groups as an accompanist, he eventually settled in London where he began a solo career. His television appearances in the 1960s brought him significant public acclaim. He is responsible for founding the international annual Córdoba Guitar Festival, visited throughout the years by such Flamenco masters as Manolo Sanlúcar and Paco de Lucía. He has also played concerts with the Classical guitarist John Williams. His Flamenco guitar performances are inspired by the so-called compás, the rhythm of the earth.

In one of the interviews Paco Peña stated: “I like all kinds of music so I am tempted to go off into many different directions. It is a challenge, yet it is softened, because I do not have to be a professional in any other form but for flamenco. So my true challenge comes from within world music, and for that I like to be myself and have something to say.” (Julia Crowe, My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords from 70 Legendary Musicians). He also noted that solo guitar has been a relatively new phenomenon in Flamenco: “Solo guitar was not done where I grew up. Solo flamenco guitar came later. You could play it but nobody was interested.” (Crowe)

51X+XJ1k4wLFlamenco originates in the region of Andalusia, southern Spain, and, according to tradition, it combines cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance) and palmas (handclaps). First mention of this genre comes from the second half of the eighteenth century, and is often associated with the Romani people of Spain (Gitanos). Since the eighteenth century, Flamenco music underwent a significant development, forming an autonomous branch within the style and becoming eventually an international phenomenon. As noted by Professor William Washabaugh “If flamenco music had ever been considered quaint and exotic, it is no longer. Now in the twenty-first century, it has gone global, with the result that flamenco is arguably a world-music as much as it is Spanish style. More importantly, it has gone patrimonial. It is now a heritage style, a governmentally approved and supported musical genre that is intended to enrich and solidify a national citizenry. Given these changes, scholars are quickly learning that flamenco is something much more than an odd treasure. Its global appeal and its national value demand a more thoughtful characterization of its nature as a musical style and a more sophisticate appreciation of its role in current political developments.” (Professor William Washabaugh, Flamenco Music and National Identity in Spain).

51bvLyVkXILFor a long time, Flamenco has been used, or abused, as a symbol of either national or regional identities to support certain political ambitions and ideas. “In the wake of Francisco Franco’s extreme centralist nationalism that dominated Spanish politics between 1939 and 1975, Spain’s parliamentary monarchy, which was mapped out in the constitution of 1978, aimed to achieve a new kind of political balance by developing a quasi-federal union that unites Spain’s seventeen autonomous regions.” Therefore, “[i]t is important to note… that flamenco song and dance was conscripted by Franco for use as a symbol for Spanish national identity. Now in the twenty-first century, its rescripting as a distinctly Andalusian symbol strikes some as awkward and others as deeply unsettling. The flamenco that was a Spanish national symbol not so very long ago is now being reconstructed as a distinctly non-national and emphatically regional cultural marker. Flamenco is currently being used to oppose the political interests it once served.” (Washabaugh)  

Film Credit: tmjcbs