One of 2019’s trending topics in my universe has been Diversity & Inclusion. I consider myself lucky to have looked at D&I through many lenses at work, like Gender, Ethnicity, LGBT+, Disability, Social Equality or Age. So following the theme, I asked myself the big question: is there D&I in flamenco? In search for the response, I re-visited my flamenco journey and remembered the moment I first heard flamenco and was so shocked /amused / mesmerised that I just wanted more. I wanted to know more about the singer (happened to be the one and only Camarón I first heard), I wanted to know more about flamenco, I wanted to know everything. As I immersed myself in the world of flamenco, I realised that the more I read about the history and origins of flamenco, how it started and evolved over centuries, who it’s famous representatives have been and are today, the more I wanted to know. The more I listened, the more I realised how little I understood this world of rhythm and how far my musical experience has been from flamenco so far in my life. Little by little I fell in love. First with the dancers, having seen shows of Sara Baras, Mercedes Ruíz, Rocío Molina. Secondly, with the singers, having listened to everything old and new I could find: La Paquera de Jerez, El Torta, José Mercé. Next came the guitarists, having listened to Paco de Lucía, Santiago Lara and Sabicas. And finally, the clappers, having seen in action Carlos Grilo and Jerónimo Utrera.
The first few years I spent watching, listening, searching. I suddenly loved flamenco so much, but didn’t know anything about it, so I felt I had to know everyone, in case someone asks me: “Oh, you like flamenco, so who is your favourite?” or “Oh, you like flamenco, so what do you think about X?”
I felt the urge of knowing EVERY SINGLE flamenco artist who has EVER existed. Impossible challenge, but I tried. Years of research online, in libraries, attending shows, concerts, to be able to have an opinion, and say who is my favourite.
Only years later did I realise how silly I was, searching for my one and only favourite dancer, singer, guitarist. Only years later did I realise that each one of the flamencos is a colour on the flamenco palette of paint. Not even a colour, rather a shade. The more shades, the more beautiful the rainbow. Every shade adds something to flamenco, and makes it richer. Diversity is a value, not an obstacle. So the question is then: does it exist in flamenco?
Flamenco has come a long way since the ’70s movement claiming only gypsy artists are authentic flamencos, but one can still argue if it’s a truly diverse community today.
Male – female, religious – aethist, old – young, gypsy – non-gypsy(caló), Spanish – foreigner(guiri), with flamenco roots – or not, with musical education – or not. We have it all these days. Is that enough? Does that make flamenco a diverse community?
It is hard to define diversity in flamenco; there may not even be one single definition, but I know that the royals and aristocrats marrying among themselves for centuries has not ended too well, so by having diverse artists with different backgrounds, I believe that flamenco will always be able to be re-born, reinvent itself and provide new and fresh within its tradition.
And what about inclusion? I heard once that diversity means having different people waiting to dance around the dance floor and inclusion means actually asking them to join in the dance. I think it describes really well the difference and the relationship between the two.
Inclusion is starting to gain particular importance in the western societies, and I am incredibly happy to see it in flamenco too. Not only because artists from all backgrounds are accepted and encouraged to participate in flamenco, but because the flamenco palette is much more diverse now than 10 or 20 years ago, thanks to this inclusive culture. There are young and old artists, gypsy and non-gypsy, men and women with different sexual orientation coming from various places, all united in their love of flamenco, all representing flamenco in their own unique style under the universal umbrella of this art. This to me means that flamenco has been able to keep up with our ever changing times and has not stayed behind.
A great example was the Flamenco Bienal of Seville in 2018, which was specifically dedicated to Inclusion – with the primary focus on disabilities. In the flashmob choreographed by José Galán, professional dancers and aficionados with different disabilities danced alongside José, showing the world that flamenco is for everyone, and can be represented by everyone.
Here I would like to give a shout out to David Palomar and his wife Anabel Rivera from Cádiz, who created a creative flamenco space in their hometown, and invited José Galán, an advocate of inclusive flamenco, to organise classes for people with disabilities. Congratulations, truly inspiring!
One can always argue what is genuine diversity and inclusion, especially in such a traditional form of art as flamenco, but I think that once we get started, the details can be sorted out along the way.
The world moves on and anyone who cannot keep up with change, will stay behind. The sooner you realise this, the better for you. No need to worry though, flamenco has already made a good start!