Voyage 4. THE INDO-IBERIAN ARC
IT’S A PLEASANT SURPRISE when you meet the familiar figures of ancient Hellenes emerging from the pages of books about other peoples’ ways of life and expression – such as fado and flamenco – and also playing leading roles in legends that are probably unknown to modern Greeks (see the previous Voyage 3).
“Casting” those heroic Hellenes in the dramatis personæ of other peoples’ mythologies, of course, is not too strange a phenomenon. It is a measure of the splendour of ancient Greek civilization. What is quite unexpected is to find such legends in books dealing with music.
Indeed, there are so many legends, stories and tales about Heracles, Odysseus and, even more, Alexander! And it’s no coincidence at all. It’s them that have defined our common historical background: the westward voyages of Heracles and Odysseus and the eastward drive of Alexander outline this wider area, the one that, schematically more or less, I termed as the historical space of the Mediterranean.
Alexander’s exploits in the Orient are still widely acclaimed and echo in so many legends about Iskandar. In the western Mediterranean, on the contrary, the whole picture is rather obscure; it lacks clarity. It was quite natural for me to focus my attention there for one more reason: until recently almost everyone spoke of the Eastern Mediterranean as if it was not just the “gravitational” centre of this historical space, but as though it constituted an area totally apart from both the western half of mare nostrum and the eastern extension of the Mediterranean space into continental Asia.(a)
Well, I searched for evidence to the contrary; and I arrived to the conclusion that there’s no better and more convincing example than the music – or, rather, culture – of Andalusia: the western end of our historical space has received – and repeatedly indeed – so many cultural elements from its eastern end, the Indies, that the wide scope of exchange becomes more than obvious. If the Greeks have also been involved in this give and take, so much the better…
Andalusia, the western end of our historical space, has received so many cultural elements from its eastern end, the Indies, that the wide scope of exchange becomes more than obvious.
However, apart from les enfants terribles de l’antiquité (see Voyage 2), there are some others, as well, that outline our historical space; a people quite humble who, without having bequeathed to mankind splendid monuments of art and literature, were able to leave their indelible mark wherever they passed through, despite the relentless persecution they suffered. I’m talking about the Gypsies, the Roma who, in their own way, remind us that civilization is not only high art and culture, but also the primitive but authentic way of human expression – which, we need not to forget, was the starting point of every art form.
So, let’s go and meet them remaining on Iberian soil: from the world of fado in Portugal we cross into that of flamenco in Andalusia – and what we hear first of all are… passionate disputes about the origin of flamenco! It is an old controversy still going on strong between the advocates of an Andalusian birth certificate and those who see the genre as a Romani creation.
Even prejudiced persons are obliged to recognize that the Gypsies – or at least some of their tribes – have an innate talent for music. They are quick though to assert that the Roma are not distinguished for their creative inspiration, but just for their skill in the execution of music. Although self-contradictory, this view was expressed in all seriousness, even from authoritative personalities, perhaps with good intentions. It’s true such controversies erupted in countries, like those in Eastern Europe, with a strong gypsy presence during the formation of the so-called “national schools”. But the root of the problem goes far back:
Music was not a lucrative – and hence respectable – occupation for centuries, when the only professional musicians around were Gypsies. After the economic conditions had changed and many locals had become musicians, it was almost impossible to “purify” the local musical idioms…
Music as a profession was not a lucrative – and hence respectable – occupation for centuries, when the only professional musicians around were Gypsies. After the economic conditions had changed and many locals had become musicians, it was almost impossible to identify and set apart the indigenous musical elements from the gypsy additions – or, with a different phraseology, to “purify” the local musical idioms. Of course, we cannot accuse the Gypsies for this “problem” (if there was one)…
“Contact with foreign material is also a stimulus for new styles. Racial purity means stagnation: well-assimilated foreign impulses offer possibilities of enrichment.” (Béla Bartók)
“Contact with foreign material,” according to Béla Bartók, the celebrated Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist, “does not merely imply the exchange of melodies, but – and this is even more important – is also a stimulus for new styles to arise… The current situation of Eastern European folk music can be summarized as follows: As a result of the continuous interaction of several peoples’ folk music, a tremendous wealth of melodies and melody types has arisen… Therefore, the lack of racial purity that’s appeared as a final result has had crucially beneficial resonances. A complete separation from foreign influences means stagnation: well-assimilated foreign impulses offer possibilities of enrichment.”
Only racists would reject such important conclusions. But nationalism is also a problem, especially in an area like Eastern Europe as it was described above. Even Bartók was not immune to such “national sentiments”. When he realized that Hungarian folk songs traditionally employed by “classical” composers were not autochthonous, he decided to make a research. In 1908, he and Kodály, his colleague and compatriot, travelled into the countryside to collect old Magyar folk melodies, which had previously been categorized as “gypsy music”. In contrast, they discovered that the old Magyar folk melodies were based on pentatonic scales, similar to those in Asian folk traditions, such as those of Anatolia, Central Asia and Siberia.(b)
In a country with “gypsy violins” famous worldwide, playing mainly heptatonic scales, a controversy broke out in 1933 regarding the point at issue. When Bartók intervened, he claimed that:
“If we want to be precise, the term ‘gypsy music‘ is incorrect, and what is described as gypsy music is in reality nothing but Hungarian music played by Gypsies”…
Alas, this “contact with foreign material” seems rather a “great idea” as long as it excludes the Romani contributions! Mind you that any “pure”, autochthonous melody anywhere in the world would be tantamount to a musical “Grail”…
Let’s return to Andalusia and to flamenco to go into the substance of this point at issue. Here the cultural substratum is far richer in finds with the successive layers of several civilizations. It’s obvious how inadequate the dilemma: “Gypsies or locals?”, “black or white?” is – and if you don’t suffer from colour blindness, you realize very soon that this can be nowhere true.
“In flamenco music”, according to Christian Scholze, “there are elements of Arab, Indian, North African, Greek and Jewish influence, and the respective proportions of these are hotly debated by flamencologists. What they do agree on is that the roots of flamenco lie in the suppression of the Gypsies. Wherever Gypsies found refuge and shelter over the centuries are today’s centres of flamenco.”
Voilà! There’s also Greek influence detected in flamenco! Most important, though seemingly paradoxical: among all those cultures referred to by Scholze, the only one that did not have “bearers” actually present in Andalusia in the 16th century, when flamenco’s formation began, was Hellenic culture. At that time, additionally, both the Byzantine Empire and Hellas were not on the map having lost their independence…
I mean to say that then in Andalusia, apart from the local andaluces, there were Arabs and North African Moors; there were Gypsies (as “bearers” of North Indian culture) and also Jews. It was the heterodox people that the decrees of Ferdinand and Isabella had declared personæ non grata in the name of religious “purity”, a kind of racism, in order to enforce the “new (Catholic Castilian) order”. That was the end result of the Crusades: the sanctified ethnic cleansing!
The dilemma was clear-cut: convert to Catholicism or get the hell out of here! And “for fear – even terror – of the Jews” and the rest of the heterodox people, the infamous “Holy” Inquisition began a persecution spree “in the name of God”. Most Arabs and Jews (the Gypsies had no… address and it was difficult to track them down!) were forced out of their homes, finding refuge mainly in Morocco and hoping that they would soon return (a hope shared by all refugees such as those from Asia Minor). Others (mainly Jews, not Moors who found themselves in a familiar environment in Maghreb) chose to emigrate and ended up in lands that until recently were Byzantine but had already passed under the control of the Ottomans – inter alia, in Thessalonica.
Those who stayed in Andalusia without changing their religion or the others, who were judged as insincere in their “repentance”, went underground, lived together and closed ranks out of necessity, despite all their differences, in order to confront the common enemy. Very soon this unlikely mixture of people was enriched with “new blood”: the Andalusians, who in turn passed to the other side due to various problems with the new authorities. The conquest of America e.g. started then, and the necessary “manpower” was recruited mainly in Andalusia.
Flamenco was born in such circumstances from these fugitives. But where were the Greeks? And how did they manage – being absent and from afar – to exert their influence? There can be only one answer: thanks to the splendour of their civilization – even though it was already a relic of the past…
An eristic could possibly dismiss scornfully Christian Scholze. His view, however, is not new-fangled. It is shared by most musicologists who say more or less the same. The editors of the Classic CD magazine e.g., publishing an interview with the guitarist Paco Peña, epitomized the origins of flamenco as follows:
“A synthesis of several styles, the music of the Gypsies at the base of the Iberian Peninsula comes from Moorish, Byzantine and Jewish sounds, and at a certain point of its evolution it acquired the name flamenco.”
And if that is not enough for you, here’s the American flamencologist and guitarist Donn E. Pohren, author of a trilogy on flamenco (The Art of Flamenco, Lives and Legends of Flamenco, A Way of Life) translated into many languages, and teacher of the Andalusians in Jerez de la Frontera’s Cátedra de Flamencología – but without “lecturing” at all, as he experienced flamenco’s way of life side by side with the Gypsy and local performers of this music before it became fashionable:
“Contrary to a widespread belief, the Spanish gypsies were not the sole creators of the mysterious art called flamenco. Rather, it is generally agreed that flamenco is a mixture of the music of the many cultures that have played important roles, directly or indirectly, throughout the centuries in Andalusia, the most important of these being the Muslim, Jewish, Indo-Pakistani and Byzantine.”
It’s the very first paragraph in the main part of his book dealing with The Art of Flamenco when he sets out to examine it. This chapter on Origin and Background ends with the etymology of flamenco: “Where did the term flamenco come from?”, Pohren wonders. “Again, no one knows, but theories abound”… We have already met the fugitives who probably created flamenco. Dismissing several theories about the origin of the word (e.g. Flemish, flamingo, flame, etc),(c) Pohren presents the most credible:
“Possibly the most likely theory states that the word ‘flamenco’ is a mispronunciation of the Arabic words ‘felag’ and ‘mengu’ (felagmengu), which means ‘fugitive peasant’. It is likely that this term was borrowed from the Arabs (Arabic was a common language in Andalusia at that time) and applied to all the persecuted people who fled to the mountains. Through usage in Spanish ‘felagmengu’ was transformed into ‘flamenco’, until eventually the term flamenco was adopted by the fugitives themselves and in turn applied to their music.”
If all the above are again not enough for you, I need to resort to… indisputable sages – meaning in other words to invoke the views of acclaimed Spaniards who know what they’re talking about. Well, how about Federico García Lorca, his friend and teacher, Manuel de Falla, or his teacher’s teacher, Felipe Pedrell?
García Lorca used the title Poema del Cante Jondo for a 1921 collection of poems. The next year he helped Falla in the organization of the Concurso de Cante Jondo held in Granada on 13 and 14 of June 1922 with a memorable series of performances held at the Alhambra. Cante jondo or grande (deep, great song) is the most breathtaking of the flamenco forms, the most authentic and pure and, in the interwar period, the most marginalized. That’s why the two friends tried to support it. The other two forms – cante (inter)medio and chico (intermediate and small) – were considered as rather vulgarized forms, a view perhaps corresponding to the realities of the inter-war period (Lorca will explain why).
To promote the Concurso, Falla wrote an essay, El cante jondo (canto primitivo andaluz), in which he presented the results of his own research indicating that the primary foreign influences contributing to the origins of flamenco music and dance were three: Byzantine church music coming from the eastern Mediterranean; Moorish music from North Africa and Arabia; and especially that distinct music of India and its rhythms brought by the gitanos who began arriving in Spain more than five hundred years ago. On his part, Lorca gave a lecture on 19 February 1922. Citing Falla, he also put forward these three historical events that shaped jondo:
• “a) the Spanish Church’s adoption of [Byzantine] liturgical chant;
• “b) the Saracen invasion; and
• “c) the arrival in Spain of numerous bands of Gypsies.(d)
“This mysterious migrant folk”, Lorca went on, “arriving in Andalusia, united ancient indigenous elements to what they themselves had brought, and gave cante jondo its definitive form. That is shown by the qualifying term ‘gitana’ which the siguiriya retains. This is not to say, of course, that cante jondo is purely Gypsy, since Gypsies exist throughout Europe and elsewhere in our peninsula, while these songs are only nurtured in Andalusia. It is a cante purely andaluz, the seeds of which existed in this region before the Gypsies arrived.”
Except the local elements, there are also Greco-Byzantine, Arabo-Moorish, Indo-Romani, and perhaps even Jewish influences detected in flamenco (García Lorca, Falla, Pedrell, Pohren, Scholze, et al.)
In Falla’s conclusions, as well as in Lorca’s lecture, we find the same factors in the formation of flamenco; with the only exception that Jewish influence is conspicuously absent… Regarding the contribution of the Roma, Lorca tried to evaluate it in its proper dimensions, advocating neither in favour of an Andalusian parthenogenesis – for the Gypsies “gave cante jondo its definitive form” – nor in favour of a Romani birth: despite the many similarities he cited among the key elements of cante jondo and some Indian songs, mostly love songs (we’ll deal about that later, as well), he persistently insisted that “jondo is a cante purely andaluz”.
Indeed, flamenco was impossible to be born in India; but, without the Roma, not even in Andalusia; just like rebetiko was impossible to be born in Asia Minor; but, without the Anatolian refugees, not even in Greece; or just like blues was impossible to be born in Africa; but, without the black slaves, not even in America. If this is true about the blues, an almost exclusively black music, you can imagine how much more relevant it is in the cases of flamenco and rebetiko where two locals became leading figures: Paco de Lucía and Basiles Tsitsanes.
Flamenco was impossible to be born in India; but without the Roma not even in Andalusia. Rebetiko was impossible to be born in Asia Minor; but without the Anatolians not even in Greece. Blues was impossible to be born in Africa; but without the blacks not even in America.
“Every cloud has a silver lining”: the truth of the apophthegm is revealed in these diamonds of our musical culture. We can now enjoy their sparkling beauty thanks to the Roma, the Anatolians and the blacks – those that played the role of a catalyst in the polish of these diamonds of the Orphean art – who, nevertheless, suffered tremendously. Of course, some people had to play the role of the villains. For the gypsies, among many others, it was Tamerlane; for the Anatolians it was Kemal; for the blacks? Here we lose count!
Of course, Lorca also spoke about the difference between cante jondo and flamenco in general – “an essential distinction based on antiquity, structure and spirit”:
“The essential difference is that the origin of cante jondo must be sought in the primitive musical systems of India, that is, in the first manifestations of song… It is cante imbued with the mysterious colour of primordial ages; flamenco is relatively modern and it cannot be said to acquire its definitive form until the 18th century… Spiritual colour versus local colour: that is the profound difference. Cante jondo is, then, the rarest specimen of primitive song, the oldest in Europe, bearing in its notes the naked shiver of emotion of the first oriental races. Manuel de Falla affirms that the Gypsy siguiriya is the only genre on our continent that preserves in all its purity the primary qualities of the primitive songs of the oriental peoples.”
Let’s have a closer look at siguiriya gitana, the appropriate song to express sorrow, deep pain, despair. According to Falla, it is the archetype of cante jondo, as Lorca defined it in another lecture, as well, entitled Architecture of Cante Jondo in 1931. Whether siguiriya is gitana or “purely andaluz” we better leave it to the Spaniards. For us, outsiders, far more interesting is the common position of the three musicians mentioned above, namely Pedrell, Falla, and Lorca (he was also a musician, let’s not forget). I quote from his lecture of 1922:
“The great master Felipe Pedrell, one of the first Spaniards to treat questions of folklore scientifically, writes, in his magnificent Cancionero popular español: ‘Musical orientalism survives in various popular songs and is deeply rooted in our nation through the influence of ancient Byzantine civilization on the ritual used in the Spanish Church, from the conversion of our country to Christianity until the 11th century when the Roman liturgy [Gregorian chant] can be said to have been fully introduced.’
“Manuel de Falla adds to this statement of his old master, specifying the elements of Byzantine liturgical chant revealed in siguiriya, which are: the tonal modes of primitive systems (not be confused with those known as Greek modes), the enharmony inherent in those modes, and the lack of metric rhythm in the melodic line. ‘These same properties characterize certain Andalusian songs which appeared long after the Spanish Church’s adoption of Byzantine liturgical music, songs which have a close affinity with the music which in Morocco, Algiers and Tunis is still called… «the music of the Moors of Granada.»’ [Siguiriya has] ‘specific forms and characteristics distinct from its relationship to sacred chant and the music of the Moors of Granada.’ [Falla] has found an extraordinary agglutinative Gypsy element… of Indic origin.”
Hence we can also speak of siguiriya griega or bizantina, not only indiana or gitana! But the findings of this triad (Pedrell, Falla and Lorca) go far beyond the relatively recent past, to prehistoric times. Lorca explains:
“Many suppose that chanting is the earliest form of language.”
“The essential similarities that Manuel de Falla notes between cante jondo and certain songs of India are: ‘Enharmonics, as in intermediate modulation; a restricted melodic line, rarely exceeding the compass of a sixth; and the reiterative almost obsessive use of a single note, a process proper to certain forms of incantation, including recitations which might be termed prehistoric, and have led many to suppose that chanting is the earliest form of language.’(e) In this manner cante jondo, especially siguiriya, creates the impression of sung prose, destroying all sense of rhythmic metre, though in reality its literary texts are assonant tercets and quatrains.”
Going way back into history, we need to parallel this incantation-recitation with the paracatalogé (παρακαταλογή) of ancient Hellenic tragedy, “a kind of melodramatic recitation of tragic and pathetic parts”, according to Giorgos Iohannou, which “was something intermediate between the catalogé, i.e. the usual recitation of chants, and the proper song, the ode.” Let us not forget, by the way, that the ancient drama was all in verse. It’s not a coincidence that the modern Greek word for song, tragoudi (τραγούδι), comes from tragedy, while out of paracatalogé the word paralogé (παραλογή, ballad) was coined. The paracatalogé was accompanied, usually by aulos; in this sense it differed from the catalogé; as a melodramatic recitation, it was not a sung recitative; it also differed from the ode because there was no melos (melody), other than a certain rhythmic emphasis and the tonal or pitch accent of the ancient Hellenic language, which was musical, not dynamic like modern Greek. The tragic and pathetic effect was achieved by inserting paracatalogé in the middle of sung parts (ἐν ταῖς ωἰδαῖς). This technique enhanced the dramatic appeal of the text.
In Hellenic tragedy, “paracatalogé, a kind of melodramatic recitation of tragic and pathetic parts, was something intermediate between the catalogé, i.e. the usual recitation of chants, and the proper song, the ode.” (Giorgos Iohannou)
García Lorca gave another lecture in 1930 on Theory and Play of Duende – a keyword in order to get to the bottom of the essence of flamenco, of music in general, and to penetrate the core of all the arts, especially the so-called performing arts. According to dictionaries, duende means “fairy, demon, ghost, devil, goblin, spirit – holy or evil.” Dictionaries rarely make things clear on concepts related to music and culture. And why should we let ourselves in the mercy of lexicographers when we have Lorca as a guide? Let’s listen to him with due attention as we are introduced to the magic and mystical duende:
“All through Andalusia… people constantly talk about duende and recognize it wherever it appears with a fine instinct… The old Gypsy dancer La Malena once heard Brailowsky play a fragment of Bach, and exclaimed: ‘Olé! That has duende!’ but was bored by Gluck, Brahms and Milhaud. And [flamenco singer] Manuel Torre, a great artist of the Andalusian people, a man who has more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalife spoke this splendid phrase: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende’… – agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’
“All that has dark sounds has duende.” (Manuel Torre)
“I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘Duende is not in the throat: duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation. It is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched Nietzche’s heart as he searched for its outer form on the Rialto Bridge and in Bizet’s music, without finding it, and without seeing that the duende he pursued had leapt from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cádiz and the headless Dionysiac scream of Silverio’s siguiriya.”
The “Dionysiac” and “mystic” Hellenes are here again in full force. Their theatre of action is now Cádiz, the ancient Gadeira (Gadir), or Roman Gades.(f) To this port of Andalusia on the Atlantic, just outside the Straits of Gibraltar, the Pillars of Heracles, we will return shortly. For the time being, we continue listening to Lorca spellbound:
“For every man, every artist called Nietzsche or Cézanne, every step that he climbs in the tower of his perfection is at the expense of the struggle that he undergoes with his duende, not with an angel, as is often said, nor with his Muse… Angel and Muse come from outside us: the angel brings light, the Muse form (Hesiod learnt from her)… While duende has to be roused from the furthest habitations of the blood. Reject the angel, and give the Muse a kick… The true struggle is with duende.
“The great artists of southern Spain, Gypsy or flamenco, singers, dancers, musicians, know that emotion is impossible without the arrival of duende. They might deceive people into thinking they can communicate the sense of duende without possessing it, as authors, painters, and literary fashion-makers deceive us every day, without possessing duende: but we only have to attend a little, and not be full of indifference, to discover the fraud, and chase off that clumsy artifice.
“Emotion is impossible without duende.” (García Lorca)
“Once, the Andalusian ‘Flamenco singer’ Pastora Pavon, La Niña de Los Peines, sombre Spanish genius, equal in power of fancy to Goya… was singing in a little tavern in Cádiz. She played with her voice of shadows, with her voice of beaten tin, with her mossy voice, she tangled it in her hair, or soaked it in manzanilla or abandoned it to dark distant briars. But, there was nothing there: it was useless. The audience remained silent… Pastora Pavon finished her song in silence. Only, a little man… sarcastically, in a very soft voice, said: ‘Viva, Paris!’ as if to say: ‘Here ability is not important, nor technique, nor skill. What matters here is something else.’
“Then La Niña de Los Peines got up like a madwoman, trembling like a medieval mourner, and drank, in one gulp, a huge glass of fiery spirits, and began to sing with a scorched throat, without voice, breath, colour, but… with duende. She managed to tear down the scaffolding of the song, but allow through a furious, burning duende, friend to those winds heavy with sand, that make listeners tear at their clothes with the same rhythm as the Negroes of the Antilles in their rite… La Niña de Los Peines had to tear apart her voice, because she knew experts were listening, who demanded not form but the marrow of form, pure music with a body lean enough to float on air. She had to rob herself of skill and safety: that is to say, banish her Muse, and be helpless, so her duende might come, and deign to struggle with her at close quarters. And how she sang! Her voice no longer at play, her voice a jet of blood, worthy of her pain and her sincerity”…
What an evening, indeed! I would love to be there… Well, here we are back to Cádiz with the captivating description of duende by Lorca. It’s where we meet again Donn Pohren, who will lead us to the ancient city of Gadir via… India!
“Today”, he says in his Biographical History, Lives and Legends of Flamenco, the second book of his flamenco trilogy, “nearly all theoreticians of the dance agree that the baile flamenco is directly descended from the ancient religious dances of the Indian Hindus… What in all likelihood has taken place is that the highly-civilized Brahmanic temple dances were adopted by a lesser-developed people, shorn of many subtleties, and returned to a more natural and primitive art form concerned only with the expression of oneself and one’s emotions.
“Let us attempt to construct a brief history of the development of these Indian dances within Spain. First of all, how did they reach Spain? Traditionally performed only in the temples during Brahmanic religious rites, these dances eventually began to be danced more popularly outside the shrines in India. It was then that they were first introduced into other lands by way of early Mediterranean trading vessels and overland caravans. The point of entrance into Spain was most certainly Gadir, later called Gades, today called Cádiz, the oldest city in Spain, founded by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC. Gadir was an extremely important city, and it is likely that professional Indian dancers were brought in to entertain the city’s royalty, probably during the time of the Greeks (c. 500–250 BC), less likely during the reign of the Romans (c. 250 BC–475 AD).(g) Hindu musicians and singers surely accompanied the dancers, and thus also introduced their art forms into Spain during this same period. This would partly explain the strong similarities that still exist between certain types of Hindu singing and music, and flamenco.
“These civilizations, with their emphasis on culture, undoubtedly introduced this religious dancing into their own temples, so that by the arrival of the Visigoths in Andalusia (c. 450–700), this type of religious dancing had already become so traditional as to be carried over into the primitive Spanish Church, encouraged and even performed by early Christian priests. ‘It is now known that the fathers of the primitive Church openly admitted, and even fomented with their examples, the adoption by the Christian cult of certain elements of the sacred oriental dances, frequently danced by the very priests themselves.’ (‘El Baile Andaluz’, by Caballero Bonald).
“The Visigoths accepted Catholicism and merged with the Hispano-Roman population, and religious dancing continued throughout their reign.(h)
“It is postulated that during the reign of the Moors (c. 711–1492) these sacred dances were danced more and more popularly outside the confines of the church, possibly even by Spain’s first gypsies, who were thought to have come as camp-followers of the Moorish armies (after having arrived in North Africa from their homeground, India, by way of Pakistan, Persia, and Arabia). As both the gypsies and the Moors already cultivated a type of dance largely derived from the Brahmanic religious dances, their arrival most certainly gave the existing Andalusian dances a shot in the arm…
“Another historical event in the development of the flamenco dance was the arrival of the second migration of gypsies to Spain around 1450, shortly before the Moors were expelled from their last footholds in Andalusia. The gypsies arrived from India by the northern route (Persia, Russia, etc), bringing with them their interpretations of Indian dances and songs, and adding fresh fuel to the Andalusian folklore…
“After the Moors were forced out, all religious connotations in the dance ceased. The dances were not only banned from the Church because of their increasing sensuality and ‘sinful movements’, but at one time persecutions were carried out against interpreters of certain dances regardless of where they were danced. It was then that the dance, together with the cante, went underground, becoming an art of the ‘lawless elements’ of society. This happened more or less simultaneously with the 16th century edicts ordering the expulsion of the Moors, gypsies, and Jews, and can probably be cited as the beginning of the formation of flamenco as we know it today.”
This panoramic picture of the evolution of dance from the Indian Brahmanic temples to the Andalusian gypsy camps, with all intermediate stages, has a negative side: it is one-dimensional, presenting India as the matrix of the art of dance – and even more – leading to wrong conclusions. But if, instead of the dance, we trace the evolution of the guitar, then the mosaic of the exchange becomes three–dimensional and balanced. Our guide, Pohren, as a guitarist, moves now into more familiar waters:
“The Spanish guitar”, he writes in the chapter of the same book (Lives and Legends of Flamenco) dealing with his instrument, “is the direct offspring of, principally, the guitarra latina (Latin guitar) and, secondarily, the guitarra morisca (Moorish guitar), both of which are generally believed to have descended from the ancient kithara asiria (Oriental zither).(i)
“First let us attempt to trace the kithara asiria. José de Azpiazu, in his book “La Guitarra y Los Guitarristas”, makes the observation that we must look to Egypt and Babylonia for the earliest string instruments, including the zither, from whence they passed on to Syria, Persia, India, and the Middle and Far East in general. He bases this assumption on diverse archaeological finds, principally in Egypt, singling out in particular a bas-relief, dated at 3500 BC, discovered in the tomb of one of the Kings of Thebes. This bas-relief, now in the museum of Leyden (Holland), includes an instrument somewhat resembling today’s Spanish guitar. Azpiazu also states that around the time 1000–800 BC the Egyptians possessed an instrument greatly resembling the modern guitar. This instrument could easily have been the previously mentioned guitarra morisca, or one of its predecessors in its development from the kithara asiria.
“However, in view of continued archaeological discoveries, no date or place can be irrevocably pinpointed concerning the origin of any of the ancient stringed instruments. The discovery by an English archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon, determining that the city of Jericho was teeming with life as far back as 6800 BC, makes the first Egyptian dynasty (3400 BC) seem relatively modern. In truth, the family tree of string instruments, in all of its rich variety, is as vague as civilization’s early history. Perhaps the only data available to sustain the belief that the guitar is descended from the ancient kithara asiria is the similarity and progression of the zither-guitar terminology in various languages, and the corresponding similarity and development of the instruments represented by the terms, as follows: qitâra (Chaldea – an ancient region in Southeast Asia, on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), quitar (Arabic), sitar (Hindi), kithara (Greek), cítara (Spanish) and guitarra (Spanish).
“If we wish to follow the popular theory that the guitar was derived from the kithara (there is no good reason not to), the guitar’s development in Spain can be traced in rough outline. It is generally agreed that the kithara asiria (then called the kithara romana) was introduced into Spain during the time of the Romans, sometime before the birth of Christ.(j) The kithara flourished in Spain until the fall of the Spanish Roman Empire (5th century), at which time it fell largely into disuse until the invading Visigoths were firmly established on the peninsula. The Visigoths set about reviving the old Roman culture, and the kithara again emerged. In the 7th century San Isidro wrote of wandering minstrels singing and accompanying themselves on the kithara… It was around this period that the guitarra latina, an instrument containing four sets of double strings and which resembled a small version of the present Spanish guitar, was developed in Spain, presumably, as we have stated, from the kithara romana.
“Meanwhile, in the Middle East the kithara asiria had long ago inspired the family of the guitarra morisca, an oval-shaped, three-stringed instrument introduced into Spain with the 8th century Moorish invasion. It is thought that the only significant characteristic that the Latin guitar borrowed from the Moorish guitar, in its development into Spanish guitar, was the idea of the single strings in place of the formerly-used sets of double strings.
“So by the 9th century there existed in Spain guitars not unlike those we play today, but until the troubadour period (11th through the 13th centuries) the guitar was not widely introduced to the general populace. Little structural change of any significance took place in this guitar until the 16th century, when Vicente Espinel began using a fifth string. (This was not Espinel’s invention, as guitars had existed previously with five strings. Espinel merely made the fifth string fashionable. Many musicologists express the belief that the famous Ziryab himself first innovated the use of the fifth string in the 9th century). With this development the Spaniards finally seemed to feel that the guitar was their instrument, and it was then that the guitarra latina was rechristened the ‘Spanish guitar’. Two centuries later the final radical development was made, which was the addition of the sixth string by fray Miguel García, a monk also known as Padre Basilio, an excellent classical guitarist and the guitar instructor of King Carlos IV, Queen María Luisa, and the famous concert guitarist, Dionisio Aguado. Thus, except for its growth in size and quality, by the latter third of the 18th century the Spanish guitar was as we know it today.
“Now that we know something of the development of the guitar, let us look into the development of the music. According to Lévi-Provençal (La Civilización Árabe en España), the great tradition of Andalusian music was molded together and developed in the Cordovan conservatory of music established and directed by the Mesopotamian musician, Ziryab, in the 9th century. (Ziryab arrived in Córdoba in 822, in his early thirties, and remained there the rest of his life). What he must have done was gather, and become proficient in, the Andalusian folklore of that period, which was, of course, highly Oriental in nature, and conserve and teach it to attending minstrels and nobility in his conservatory. As he had spent years in the courts of Baghdad, and was the supreme musician of his time, he undoubtedly added to, and purified, what he found. Ziryab, in fact, is credited with having played the major musical role in making Andalusia the outstanding cultural center of the world at that time.”
“Ziryab played the major role in making Andalusia the outstanding cultural center of the world in the 9th century.” (Donn Pohren)
In this monumental mural painted mainly by Lorca and Pohren, with all the others contributing, we only need to apply some extra brushstrokes to… exonerate the Assyrians, who became notorious in history mainly for their cruelty, but also to show that in social processes parthenogenesis is out of the question in all places and all times – even in the case of the ancient “Hellenic miracle” that has been feasible due to borrowing know-how and intellectual “goods” from the Orient.
The kithara was an instrument of the professionals, while its little sister, the lyre, of the amateurs. According to the Encyclopedia of Ancient Hellenic Music by Solon Michaelides (the source of much information during our Voyages), the kithara was called Άσιάς (Asian). Plutarch (1st–2nd century CE) maintained that “it was called Asian because it was used by the Lesbian kitharodes [citharoedes or citharedes: kithara players who also sang] dwelling close to Asia”. This is, of course, a pretext – even if Lesbos is actually close to Asia Minor. We learn the truth from Hesychius of Alexandria (5th century CE), who explains that the kithara was defined as such “for it was invented in Asia”. The adjectives Άσιάς and Άσιάτις (Asian, Asiatic) were used not only in relation to the kithara, but also to music as a whole; as Strabo points out: “all music is thought to be Thracian and Asian”. Ancient Thrace, of course, was not a part of Hellas.
These instruments of the kithara and lyre family have been extinct for centuries now because they were left behind in relation to the development of music, becoming inadequate and unable to satisfy the needs of the people – musicians and listeners. They are now rarely found still in use among primitive tribes, primarily in northeastern Africa – and this is indeed a pleasant surprise! Some German ethnomusicologists e.g. recorded, among others, the sound of a lyre played by a cattleman, member of the Hamar tribe of Ethiopia, and put his photo on the album’s cover. Isn’t it impressive? The symbol of so many “serious” music institutions, the “musical instrument par excellence” of the ancients, the celebrated Chelys of Hermes, who offered it to Apollo (to atone for stealing his oxen!), to be “mislaid” in the hands of primitive Africans, and also been made with a tortoise shell? It can’t be, these Germans should have been certainly related in some way with… Fallmerayer!
In conclusion, if we assume that the guitar descended from the kithara, the latter must have been combined with some kind of lute – that is, with an instrument having a “neck”: the guitar belongs to this lute family. The only similar instrument in ancient Greece was the so-called tríchordon (three-string), or pandura, panduris, panduros and phanduros. In Alexandrian times there was already a whole family of such instruments that became later even larger with the additions of the erudite thambura (tambur of Constantinople), folk tambura, and also bouzouki.
As regards the origin of the instrument, Pollux (2nd century CE) informs us: “tríchordon, which the Assyrians called it pandura; it was also their invention.” Thus, pandura, as a term and as an instrument, was Assyrian. It’s possible, therefore, that the kithara asiria, which Pohren referred to, was associated with pandura. The term tríchordon that the Hellenes used for the pandura means that the latter was also a tríchordon, that is, a three-string instrument. Let’s not forget that the guitarra morisca, a kithara asiria descendant, was also a tríchordon.(k)
It’s thrilling to imagine that the starting point of all these instruments was the primitive hunter’s bow; that in time of rest could become a musical bow…