Flamenco is as much a part of the fabric of Andalucia as its Moorish heritage and its famous “white pueblos”. And although flamenco can be heard and seen throughout Spain, and has become famous throughout the world, its roots lie firmly in the arid soil of the south of Spain.
Club La Costa World guests heading off to enjoy a flamenco show are enthralled by the colour and spectacle. But few are aware of its complex and dark history, and for many years it was performed in secret. Some believe that the word flamenco originates from the Hispanic-Arabic word fellahmengu, meaning expelled people.
The conquest of Spain by the Moors brought together mixed cultures and religions and during that period Muslims, Christians, Jews and gypsies happily co-existed. But by the time of the re-conquest, all had to be Christian. The Jews found themselves banished, the remaining Moors had to convert and the gypsies were hounded. Many went into hiding or were imprisoned and they sang songs that reflected their grief and heartache. Flamenco was born out of that pain, and was performed behind closed doors. It was not until 1782 that the Leniency Edict of Charles III permitted the gypsies to perform in public and by the 19th century the gypsies were taking their music and dance to the cafés and plazas.
Flamenco, with its songs, guitar and dance, became an important part of Spanish culture and nowadays performers such as dancer Joaquin Cortes and the late, great guitarist Paco de Lucia are world famous names. But what of the gorgeous flamenco frocks, that are an iconic symbol of the art form? Their origin lies in the work dresses worn by Andalucian women in the 19th century, when they accompanied their livestock trader husbands to Seville’s Feria de Abril (April Fair). They were simple calico with few frills but prettily coloured. By 1929 Spain’s upper class women had adopted the dress, which became a must-have accessory at feria.
The guitar shape of the traditional frock was designed to enhance the female form, and over the years the dress has changed according to prevailing fashion. In the 1940s and ‘50s the dresses were long and frilly and women added combs, flowers and hidden money pockets. By the ‘60s it was shortened to halfway up the calf, or even the knee, and over the decades the dress has been constantly reinvented. It has even found a place in the world of haute couture with designers such as Armani and Vittorio & Luchino creating outfits. Annual turnover in the flamenco fashion industry has been put at a staggering 120 million euros.
Each time feria approaches and Spaniards get ready to party, shop windows are full of each year’s flamenco designs. And should anyone want to join in the fun and dress for the occasion, you can even order a flamenco frock from Amazon!