Voyage 4a. THE INDO-IBERIAN ARC | Jondo
IT’S A PLEASANT SURPRISE whenever 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.
“Casting” all 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 (see the previous Voyage 3).
Indeed, there are so many myths, 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 described 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 an extra reason: until recently almost everyone in Greece referred to the Eastern Mediterranean,(a) not just as the “gravitational” centre of this historical space, but as though it constituted an area apart from both the western half of mare nostrum and also the eastern extension of the Mediterranean space into continental Asia.
Well, I searched for evidence to the contrary; and I arrived to the conclusion that there’s no better and more convincing example than music – or rather, culture – of Andalusia: the western end of our historical space has received – and indeed repeatedly – so many cultural elements from its eastern end, India, 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, India, 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 great 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 is… passionate disputes about the origin of flamenco! It’s 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 community, 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 blame the Gypsies for this “problem” (if, indeed, there was one)…
“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 emerged… Therefore, the lack of racial purity that’s appeared as a final result has had crucially beneficial resonances. A complete separation from foreign influence means stagnation: well-assimilated foreign impulses offer possibilities of enrichment.”
“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)
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 Zoltán 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 these folk melodies were based on pentatonic scales, similar to those in Asian folk traditions, such as those of Anatolia, Central Asia and Siberia.
● First of all, the Magyars themselves are anything but autochthonous: they came from the Urals to what is now Hungary rather recently: in the 10th century CE. The Roma perhaps arrived there somehow later but without plundering the area around, as the Magyars did! (Alas, this is the reason why there’s no Roma state today…) Why, then, should the Magyars care so much about indigenity? What Bartók and Kodály proved after all was that old Magyar folk melodies originated in Asia, and therefore, were not autochthonous either!
● And what about the rest of the melodic treasures of this area? “As a result of the continuous interaction of several peoples’ folk music, a tremendous wealth of melodies and melody types has emerged.” All of these melodies and melody types have been neither Austro-Hungarian, nor Czecho-Slovakian, nor Serbo-Croatian, nor Romanian or even Romani (as the Gypsies have also participated in this give and take). They belong to all without exception – and this is quite annoying to all Eastern European nationalists!
● As regards the erudite compositions implied above, the “classic” example is Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, which he based on popular tunes and melodies performed by Romani bands of the time. Another famous work (by a non-Magyar composer) is Brahms’ Hungarian Dances – his most profitable, although only three out of the 21 dances (11, 14, 16) are his own compositions!
In a country with “gypsy violins” famous worldwide, playing mainly heptatonic scales, a big 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 is 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”, says 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 is 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 when flamenco’s formation began, in the 16th century, was Hellenic culture. Additionally, at that time both the Byzantine Empire and Hellas were not on the map, having lost already their independence…
What I mean to say is that, apart from the local andaluces, there were at that time in Andalusia Arabs and North African Moors; there were also Gypsies (as “bearers” of North Indian culture), and Jews. They were all the heterodox people that the decrees of Ferdinand and Isabella had declared personae non grata in the name of religious “purity”, a kind of racism, in order to consolidate the “new (Catholic Castilian) order”. That was the end result of the Crusades: a 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 the Maghreb) chose to emigrate and ended up in the 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, you see, 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.”
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, Origin and Background, ends up 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, rather picturesque (e.g. Flemish, flamingo, flame, etc),(b) 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 surely know what they’re talking about. Well, how about Federico García Lorca, his friend and teacher, Manuel de Falla, or his master’s master, Felip(e) Pedrell?(c)
García Lorca used the title Poema del Cante Jondo for a collection of poems in 1921. 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 point of view perhaps corresponding to the realities of the interwar period (Lorca will soon present his own well-grounded explanation).
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 ecclesiastical 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 gitanos, who began arriving in Spain more than five hundred years ago. Lorca, on his part, 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 local elements, there is also Graeco-Byzantine, Arabo-Moorish,
Indo-Romani, perhaps even Jewish influence 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 Roma’s contribution, Lorca evaluated it in its proper dimensions, avoiding to advocate 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 (he’ll deal about that later, as well), Lorca 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 the 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 musical culture. We can now enjoy their sparkling beauty thanks to the Roma, the Anatolians and the black Africans – those that played the role of a catalyst in the processing and refinement 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, the villain was Timur. For the Anatolians, it was Kemal. For the blacks? Here we lose count!
Lorca also analyzed 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 the siguiriya gitana, an appropriate song to express sorrow, deep pain, despair. According to Falla, it is the archetype of cante jondo, as Lorca defined it in 1931, in another of his lectures, entitled Architecture of Cante Jondo. Whether the 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 can be said to have been fully introduced.’
“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, Algeria and Tunisia 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:
“Chanting is the earliest form of language.” (Falla, García Lorca)
“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 can parallel this incantation-recitation with the so-called paracatalogé (παρακαταλογή) of ancient Hellenic tragedy, “a kind of melodramatic recitation of tragic and pathetic parts”, as Giorgos Iohannou says, “something intermediate between the catalogé, i.e. the usual recitation of chants, and the proper song, the ode.” Note that Iohannou defines as “chant” even the catalogé. Let us not forget that the ancient drama was all in verse. That’s why 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 within 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, the usual recitation of chants, and the proper song, the ode.”