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299 Hours, 1 Guitar: This Video Shows How a Flamenco Guitar Is Made

The sound of the flamenco guitar has an incomparable way of communicating pathos, sorrow, and celebration. It is at the heart of most contemporary flamenco performances — but its unique sound is not so easy to come by. In fact, in the video above, you'll learn that it takes 299 hours to build just one flamenco guitar.

As we explain in our article on the story of flamenco, flamenco is an art form combining singing, dance, and guitar. It dates to at least the 18th century, and has origins in Romani (colloquially called "gypsy") culture.

A hand-made flamenco guitar is crafted with incredible care. Every piece of wood is hand-carved and -sanded. Every measurement must be precise. Heat is applied to delicately curve the sides of the guitar. The lacquer is hand-melted. This is the height of the guitar-making craft.

This video, which shows the process step-by-step, was produced by the Deep Green Sea filmmaking team. The filmmakers spent three full days in the studio of one of the best flamenco–guitar-makers (properly called "luthiers") in the world. Surprisingly enough, Vasillis Lazarides is Greek, and his lab is in Athens.

The video is punctuated by the stunning guitar-playing of Edsart Udo De Haes. It's well worth a watch, and a powerful introduction to the long tradition of flamenco.
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Flamenco is one of the most recognizable art forms that has ever come out of Spain. Performers such as Paco de Lucía have incorporated international musical elements to reinvigorate it and bring it to a larger public. During your visit to Spain, seeing a flamenco show is simply a must. 

It's important to learn to appreciate the Spanish guitar and the many sides of this complicated musical form before you go to a show. Flamenco is rooted in a history of struggle and tragedy: the Romani people have faced discrimination throughout Europe for centuries, and this continues to today. 

If you'd like to learn more about flamenco guitar, consider attending one of the many guitar festivals throughout Spain, especially in Andalusia.

The Story of Flamenco

The history of flamenco begins with its Romani roots. Learn how to identify and appreciate the many facets of Spain's most recognizable art form.

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The Story of Flamenco: Origins of an Andalusian-Romani Art Form

Carmen Madrid flamenco performance dancer

Night is falling in Sacromonte, and yellow lamps are lighting up along the slope, illuminating the painted white houses. Outside the Zambra María la Canastera, two flamenco guitarists play a few licks back and forth while a dancer—polka-dotted scarf around her neck, red flower in her hair—waits for the show to start. 

In a few minutes, they'll follow the gathering crowd—myself among them—inside, where a long, narrow cave carved out of the soft rock of the hillside is hung festively with bright brass pots and pans. This is a cueva, or cave, an underground home characteristic of Sacromonte, the traditionally Romani (commonly known as "gypsy") neighborhood of Granada, Spain. 

Earlier today, I've walked along these steep streets and footpaths, many too narrow for cars, and as the sun beat down, the houses were shut and hushed. Now, a few have opened their doors for evening performances. The Alhambra, lit up with spotlights, is just a stone's toss away.

Cuevas such as this one are common dwelling-places all over the Andalusian region. They offer respite from the unforgiving summer heat, but have generally been home to southern Spain's poorer and marginalized classes, Romani among them. The gypsy, or Romani, people are originally from India. They arrived in Spain in the 15th century, and have been among the country's most persecuted peoples ever since. Yet at the same time, one of Spain's most famous art forms—flamenco—originated among the Romani of Andalusia, influenced also by other occupants of the region. To tell the story of flamenco, then, you must tell the story of the Romani and of Andalusia.

Flamenco guitarists dancer Granada gypsy
Flamenco guitarists and a dancer wait for the show to start outside a traditional cave-house in Granada. | Photo by Erin L. McCoy

The Art of Flamenco

The Zambra María la Canastera and other venues like it in Sacromonte are among the most authentic settings in Spain to see a flamenco performance. A tablao is a stage or performance space where you can see flamenco performed, but a zambra is a party or, these days, a performance in one of these traditional cuevas, especially in Sacromonte. It was in caves such as these that the Romani people developed and performed flamenco among themselves, before the flood of tourists, before the demand for performances in more formal settings. 

I feel like an intruder. This is a private space. It was once a home—perhaps it still is. The zambra was a safe space for the Roma people for centuries, where they could express themselves and develop this complex art form without the intrusion of the outside world—a world that racially profiled them, that barred them from economic opportunities and segregated them, that spread disparaging stereotypes about them throughout Europe. A world that still commits all of these crimes. 

The performance begins with music, two guitarists accompanied by the claps, stomps, and calls of the dancers: "¡Olé! ¡Hala!" They are calls of encouragement, but they are also a fundamental part of the music. Flamenco is first and foremost an art form rooted in the human body: the voice, the feet, the torso and arms. It can exist without the accompaniment of the guitar. The guitar, however, cannot traditionally deliver the heart and soul of flamenco on its own—it needs the singer, the dancer.  

The singer, a woman with long, dark hair blotted with flowers, opens her mouth and begins. Her voice wavers in a husky alto. It does not try to deliver clear or operatic tones. Instead it wavers on a real life lived, a life of struggle, twinged at times with pain. 

Flamenco dancer singer Sacromonte Spain
A flamenco singer joins two dancers in a performance in a traditional Romani cave, or cueva, in the neighborhood of Sacromonte in Granada, Spain. | Photo by Erin L. McCoy

"In flamenco, we value age and experience, the traces—the sediment—that life leaves in your voice over time," explains flamenco singer Rosalía. Born in 1993, she is relatively young for the art form. She says one of the greatest complements she has received has been from guitarist Pepe Habichuela, who told her: "You sing like an old woman." 

Finally, the first dancer comes forward. Her feet tap and stomp to the rhythm at lightning speeds as she drifts forward along the length of the cueva. Her arms raise above her head, a model of control, as her hands twist at the wrist, fingers poised as though they were the petals of two more flowers, turning to find the sun. 

The next dancer embodies the duende that must be present in every great flamenco artist's performance. "Duende" is a difficult word to translate. The Real Academia Española (RAE), the definitive resource on the Spanish language, defines it as a "mysterious and ineffable charm." But the word also connotes an expression of suffering, that inevitable pain that accompanies living. That she is channeling her own experience into her dance is evident in her face. The audience is enrapt. I feel like I'm holding my breath for her entire performance. 

Gypsy cave flamenco dancer Spain
A flamenco dancer performs in a traditional Romani cueva, or cave, in the Sacromonte neighborhood of Granada, Spain. | Photo by Erin L. McCoy
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The Romani in Europe and Spain

The Romani people are an ethnic group colloquially known as gypsies or Roma. Spanish Roma are often referred to as calé. The Romani originally came from modern-day Pakistan and northern India, but arrived in Europe around a thousand years ago and have lived throughout the continent ever since. Today, large populations also live in the Americas, primarily in the United States and Brazil. 

Many Romani are traditionally nomadic traders, traveling in wagons or groups of wagons. Their societal traditions are often related to Hindu purity laws, which dictate which parts of the body are considered clean and unclean and define both birth and burial practices. Many have adopted the religion of the country where they live. 

From the moment the Romani arrived in Europe, they have faced persecution. They have been repeatedly expelled from different regions. In the 1500s, any Romani in Switzerland were put to death by official orders, and similar rules existed in England and Denmark. Portugal would deport Romani to its colonies. 

In the late 1600s, they were integrated as forced labor into the French and Dutch armies. By the 1700s, they were being attacked and killed with impunity all over Holland in an attempt to eradicate them as a part of heidenjachten, which translates as "heathen hunt." 

The Romani are believed to have arrived in Spain around the 15th century. In 1695, a royal edict restricted them to living in particular towns. Another ruling 20 years later placed even tighter restrictions, and was designed to ensure they weren't concentrated in any single place. In 1749, many were arrested and imprisoned during the Great Gypsy Round-Up. 

Discrimination against the Romani has continued into the 20th century. They faced genocide at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. In Czechoslovakia, the state forcibly sterilized Romani women in an attempt to reduce their population. And today, in 2018, one definition of the word "gitano" (gypsy) in the dictionary of the RAE is "trapacero"—crook. The dictionary notes that this is an offensive usage. 

Many Romani consider the English word "gypsy" a racial slur. The verb "to gyp" is based on racist stereotypes of the Romani people. 

Carmen Madrid flamenco performance dancer
A flamenco-style rendition of the opera "Carmen" is performed on a Madrid stage. "Carmen" tells the story of a gypsy in Seville around the 1820s. | Photo by Erin L. McCoy

The Origins of Flamenco Music and Dance

The earliest mention of flamenco in a historical source dates to 1774. While this musical and dance style was influenced by the Romani, it is unique to the region of Andalusia in southern Spain. For this reason, it also draws upon influences from all the ethnic groups that have historically occupied the area, especially from Muslims and Jews. Moriscos—Muslims forcibly converted to Christianity after the Reconquista—are said to have had a particular influence on flamenco, whose singing style indeed evokes the Muslim call to prayer. Seeds of flamenco, then, probably existed in Andalusia long before 1774. 

With the rise of a sense of Spanish pride after the War of Spanish Independence (1808–1812) against the French, the Romani emerged as models of this individualism and national pride. European Romantics likewise grew fascinated with Andalusian culture and style. Los cafés cantantes, singing cafés, emerged in the mid-1800s as places where flamenco was performed.  

Flamenco performers historical Seville Spain
A café cantante, or singing café, of flamenco performers is photographed ca. 1888 in Seville, Spain. | Photo by Emilio Beauchy

The popularization of flamenco in public and the professionalization of its performers changed the musical form considerably from what it had been. It nonetheless retains some of the popular character that makes it a music of the people, rather than a high-brow genre, inaccessible to most. 

Flamenco in Modern-Day Spain

Even as flamenco emerged as a uniquely Spanish style, it continued to face resistance. Many artists of the Generación del 98 (Generation of 1898) looked down upon it, among them the writer Eugenio Noel, who considered flamenco and bullfighting to be the sources of everything bad about Spain. 

Still other artists embraced the art form, including the renowned poet and playwright Federico García Lorca. Born in the Granada region of Andalusia, Lorca celebrated traditional art forms such as flamenco and the Romancero, a traditional ballad form that had been passed down orally for centuries. 

Granada Sacromonte Romani neighborhood
The Sacromonte neighborhood in Granada, Spain, is a traditionally Romani area. | Photo by Erin L. McCoy

After the Spanish Civil War and the installation of a brutal dictatorship under Francisco Franco, flamenco was at first looked upon with suspicion. Franco advocated a purely Spanish "race" based on a tradition of Catholicism and the Castilian Spanish language.

The regime would eventually allow flamenco to flourish, adopting it as a model Spanish art form. However, starting in the mid-1960s until the death of Franco in 1975, many flamencos (flamenco artists), especially cantaores (singers), emerged who would oppose the regime through their lyrics. Flamenco became, in many corners, a space for political activism.

During Spain's transition to democracy in the 1970s, flamenco underwent a transition, too. It became internationally known and celebrated. It also, in some cases, underwent a fusion with other art forms, for example with the emergence of Andalusian rock group Smash. Famous guitarist Paco de Lucía incorporated such influences as jazz and Arabic and Brazilian music, and introduced the Peruvian cajón, or box drum. 

Other notable flamenco stars in the last fifty years have been Camarón de la Isla, Lola Flores, Juan Peña El Lebrijano, Enrique Morente, Tomatito, and Rocío Jurado. 

In 2010, UNESCO declared flamenco an Intangible Cultural Heritage of the World.

Flamenco dance museum Seville Spain
A dance is performed in the Flamenco Museum in Seville, Spain. | Photo by Schnobby, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Schnobby

Types of Flamenco

palo is a type of traditional flamenco singing. Palos are categorized based on their tempo, their geographic origin, or their style—be it festive or serious. A number of other factors can also determine the type of flamenco you're hearing. 

There are dozens of styles of flamenco and it could take a lifetime to learn the history and characteristics of each one. Here are just a few of the most popular types you might encounter. 

Alegrías: A festive style in octosyllabic verses, used to incite dancing; origins in Cádiz

Bulerías: Festive and fast-paced, often accompanied by palmas (stylized clapping) 

Fandangos: A fundamental palo dating from the 19th century

Malagueñas: With origins in fandangos malagueños, this is a traditional style from Malaga with its own dance and a particular style of dress

Tangos: Among the most basic flamenco styles 

Flamenco dancer footwork Sacromonte Granada
Male flamenco dancers focus more predominantly on footwork. | Photo by Erin L. McCoy
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Your Visit to Andalusia

During any visit to Spain, and especially to Andalusia, a flamenco show is certain to be a highlight of the trip. Flamenco is stunning, guttural, moving, unforgettable.

Flamenco Lorca Granada Alhambra SpainKeep in mind the history of this art form and its many manifestations as you decide what type of show to see. A zambra will have a fundamentally different character than a show on a big stage in Madrid or Granada. Both types of performance are well worth seeing. 

If you're in Granada, try to see both a zambra and a tablao in the Jardines del Generalife, in full view of the Alhambra as it's lit up at night. Recent flamenco shows have been inspired by the poetry and plays of Lorca, and locals who have likely seen their fair share of flamenco have told me that these are simply spectacular. 

After the show, I walk out into the hiss of crickets and yellow lights that engulf Sacromonte at nighttime. The Alhambra, aglow on a nearby hillside, is also a part of the show I've just seen: the Muslim caliphs who built it contributed their own long musical and artistic traditions to the region. All of these are still omnipresent in Andalusian culture. 

Sacromonte was once considered a slum, a place where the poorest Granadans lived. Now, though it is still a residential neighborhood, it has also become a tourist destination. Flamenco—its irresistible draw, its profound capacity for expressing human suffering, and its spirit of celebration and empowerment—has transformed Sacromonte on a fundamental level.

As responsible visitors, our role must be to know the history that has effected this transition. It helps us tap into all that flamenco means and communicates and feels and emotes. As I walk along the lowest wall on the Sacromonte hilltop, descending back into the most bustling tourist quarter, I wonder if I have been able to connect with these performers a little better for having known this history, even though I can never know their experience. Acknowledging it and listening, I hope, can be enough. 

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Ronda Hosts International Guitar Festival Every June

flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía

The city of Ronda is known as the "Eagle's Nest" for its precarious-looking perch above the El Tajo canyon in the mountains of Andalusia. Now, it's becoming known for an annual festival celebrating all things guitar. 

The International Guitar Festival

In 2015, Andalusian musician Paco Seco founded the International Guitar Festival alongside his wife, Lucy Stewart. The festival aims to be "a world ambassador of Spanish music," according to its home page

It features concerts every evening across a broad variety of musical styles, from flamenco and classical to jazz and contemporary. The day is punctuated by speakers and guitarists, along with an exhibition from master guitar makers. 

All events take place at the Santo Domingo Cultural Center in the heart of Ronda's old-town area. An all-festival pass is €60 while a day pass runs €15. Children get discounted tickets. Buy tickets to the International Guitar Festival here.

“The festival strives to highlight the versatility of styles that the guitar embraces: classical, romantic, flamenco, jazz and contemporary. Appealing to the musical tastes of a wide audience," Stewart told The Olive Press in 2018.

In 2018, the festival begins June 5 and lasts for five days. It is expected to attract guitarists from all over the world, including Italy, Holland, and Bulgaria. Guitars made by 10 master luthiers from as far as Canada and the United Kingdom will also be on display.

A Visit to Ronda

A visit to the International Guitar Festival offers the perfect opportunity to get to know one of Andalusia's most charming and historic small towns. Before you go, check out our definitive list of essential Spanish words and phrases. It will empower you to engage in a more meaningful way with locals—who will, by the way, be just plain delighted at your passion for Spanish guitar.

Once you get to Ronda, it's time to explore. You can start right out the door of the Santo Domingo Conference Center, where the Mirador de Aldehuela promises a stunning view of the Tajo canyon and the surrounding mountains. 

Ponte Nuevo extends over the Tajo gorge in Ronda, Spain.
The Ponte Nuevo extends over the Tajo gorge in Ronda, Spain. | Courtesy Christopher Down

While you're in Ronda, you can't miss the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge). The 34-year-long construction of this landmark began in 1759. A prison suspended over the central arch was used as a torture chamber during the Spanish Civil War, during which prisoners were tossed from the windows into the Tajo gorge extending 390 feet (120 meters) down. Such a scene was described in Ernest Hemingway's novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Also check out the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge) and Puente Viejo (Old Bridge), both of which span the canyon as well.

Some baños árabes (Arab baths) from the Al-Andalus period remain, and don't miss the chance to see the oldest bullfighting ring in all of Spain. If you're interested in Renaissance art, check out the Palacio of the Marqués de Salvatierra, but be warned that its hours can be irregular. 

You can get to Ronda by train from Córdoba or Algeciras. 

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What This Andalusian Art Form Tells Us About Spain Today

The image of two flamenco dancers locked in desperate embrace, the trill of a guitar behind them, has become most travelers' go-to image of Spain.

But how much do you really know about the Romani origins of this haunting and beautiful art form? And what does your association of this Andalusian art form with Spain as a whole have to do with Francisco Franco, Spain's most notorious dictator? A recent BBC documentary tells all.

To learn more about the history of the Romani people in Andalusia, and all the cultural influences that made flamenco possible, read our article on the story of flamenco.
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