HONDURA AND DELIRIO:
LESSONS FROM THE FLAMENCO-REBETIKA MEETING HELD IN
by Gerhard Steingress [
I. The ethnicitarian bias of Orientalism
On the occasion of the previous Hydra Conference in 2004, I was invited to talk about the sociological similarities between Andalusian flamenco and Greek-oriental rebetika. In that case I tried to emphasize a series of social and cultural elements and tendencies that characterised both musical styles since their appearance towards the end of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century. The phenomenology I offered by then was based on two main elements or processes.
– The first element refers to the transition from traditional agrarian to urban society and its social and cultural consequences. These consisted mainly in the rise of a modern social class structure and culture with its ethnic peculiarities, that means, the emergence of a certainly marginalised subcultural and suburban underground with its peculiar related life style, poetry and music. Due to the social dynamics induced by social mobility, migration and ethnic entanglement, these music styles not only received the influence of different regional musical traditions, they also became the expression of a peculiar idiosyncrasy of the new lower class urban environment, mainly represented by the taverns, cafes, prisons and brothels, where tradition and nostalgic sentiments were melted with the traumatic experience of cultural eradication and social exclusion as consequences of modernization. The social and cultural changes led to the forced and precipitated de-territorialisation and de-traditionalisation of the musical heritage and these became important factors what to the social construction of flamenco and rebetika as new musical genres refers to.
– The second element I mentioned last year refers to the ethnicitarian, that means, identity-making aspects of both music styles: “Unlike the traditional ethnic culture resigned to be a ‘natural’, ritualized expression of the everyday’s life of the popular classes, modern ethnicitarian music-styles turned into an element of symbolic identity-construction of the lower classes within a society exposed to social change and mobility.”
It is surprising to what extent certain of these music styles became related with nationalism and the identification either with the Orient or the Occident. What to the amanedhes as the most distinguished style of the café-aman songs refers to, Gail Holst has underlined the importance of this song-style in the debates on the “double descended” character of Greekness since the 19th century (Holst, 1998: 113-115). In the case of flamenco, it was quite similar (Steingress, 1998a, 1998b). From today’s perspective we could say, that neither flamenco nor rebetika are still identified exclusively with its lower-class origin. They became part of each of their representative national culture that emerged as the consequence of modern self-identity, as it was constructed in spite of the projective view of the cultural “others”.  As highly emotional loaded national music-styles both flamenco and rebetika became objects of artistic interpretation. Notwithstanding, this peculiar ideological peculiarity is not only an effect of the efforts that artists and intellectuals have made in order to dignify the former marginalised music-styles, ascribed to delinquents, scamps, pimps, or simply gypsies and Turks as the idealized “others”. It is not only the appearance of modern mass culture, music industry, leisure society and the trend towards democratic cultural standards and habits in music. Both music-styles refer to a common musical evolution, to a shared social and cultural context.
But, are these similarities really related to the historical, cultural and musicological connections of both implicated music-styles, or are we simple victims of a series of false conclusions as the consequence of a mere spontaneous and “epidermic” impression, our listening to the Greek-oriental rebetika and Andalusian flamenco has seduced us?  There is no doubt that on this subjective level any affirmative or negative evaluation of its similarities must be admitted. For that reason it is necessary to strengthen our comparative analysis by a more elaborated and abstract proceeding that takes into account the complexity of these music-styles. That means, in spite of a point of view based on the semblance of rebetika and flamenco, we have to strengthen the scientific aspect in order to contrast our subjective perception as it is determined by our more or less qualified musical experience and to replace the intuitive understanding by an objective examination that bears in mind the complex character of musical influences and cultural conditions, both music-styles have been exposed to in their evolution. 
As the consequence of these circumstances, our hypothesis says, that even if on the subjective level of perception both music-styles may be associated by any occidental listener as “oriental-ones”, the scientific analysis might lead to the contrary in the sense that even if the structures of the mentioned music-styles are based on the same repertoire of the Byzantine liturgy, this would not bring about necessarily a similar melodic outward shape. Quite as well it has to be taken into account that the influences of the Arabic, Moresque or Ottoman repertoires might be based on similar musical structures, but at the same time demonstrate important differences.
Hence, the musical and semantic complexity of what is commonly called “Byzantine” and “Oriental” does not allow its unreflected application to the analysis of rebetika and flamenco. For that reason, our comparative proceeding claims for a structural analysis of “Oriental” style music from a historical and geographical point of view.
Independently of the multiple musical influences
from “outside”, flamenco and rebetika represent musical traditions deeply and
firmly established in the historical musical traditions of the
First – Music always is an individual and local aesthetic
and cultural expression of what men feel and think independently of the place
they live. In the case of rebetika and flamenco, this universal dimension is
narrowly related with the historical and cultural background of the
French ethnomusicologist Bernard Lortat-Jacob, from the University of Paris-Sorbonne, writes that albeit the reasonable doubt referring to any Mediterranean identity, there do exist some singular characteristics of what he calls “Mediterranean voice”, that is, first, the strength of the voice close to the cry; second, the nasalisation which allows its harmonic enrichment and the hoarse, broken voice without any over-exertion; third, the capacity of an extensive ornamentation and melismata; and, fourth, the register that allows to strengthen the voice until close to its rupture (Léothaud/ Lortat, 2002: 11-12). And, as Holst-Warhaft remembers, rebetika singers use to start their songs with an improvised introduction, the taximia (Holst-Warhaft, 1994: 2), the same like in flamenco. From this point of view, rebetika and flamenco could be considered two singular voices sharing the same techniques, voices that sound from both extreme parts of the Mediterranean, two manifestations of the grief, the pain and the sorrow, but also those of happiness and delirious excitation; in other words: a vital sensuality that always – as far as we know – has characterised popular music. The following two songs are good examples:
Manolo Caracol: Cuando yo me muera (siguiriya)
“Whenever I’ll dy,
do it for my sake
and with the plaits of your dark hair
tie my hands together.”
Rita Abadzi: Gazeli Nevá Sabáh (amané)
“Let each man stop and think
of how the hour of death grows near,
into the deep black earth he’ll sink;
his name will disappear.”
Manolo Caracol (1910-1973).
Famous cantaor from Sevilla. As a child, he participated in the Concurso de
Cante Jondo in
That means that the common background of Mediterranean
culture consists in its capacity do express in a very sensual way the vital
experience of men, at the same time as it is the place of the aesthetic
construction of that experience by means of musical fusion. For that reason,
the musical encounter in
Rita Abadzi (1913-1969). Famous rebetissa
Second – Both music-styles share a series of structural characteristics that invite to its comparative analysis within the frame-work of Mediterranean culture and the social change that enabled the transformation of the type of traditional, agrarian society into modern, urban and industrial society. Both music-styles were the results of fusion, and its musical peculiarities and ideological connotations within the culture of the Nation-State in order to respond to the need for cultural identity permitted its aesthetic diversification as local manifestations with a high degree of universal value and recognition. Today we can say: neither flamenco nor rebetika are only and exclusive national manifestations since they became part of the global musical patrimony shared by an international audience. Today, both music-styles belong to a legacy firmly established in their own culture, but due to their universal expressiveness they represent an artistic link of social and cultural connection that demonstrates the still existing and resisting capacity of integration of the Mediterranean culture in the era of globalization. For the moment, flamenco has been able to preserve its musical descent marked by the influence of early Christian, Jewish and Arabic music, of the so called “música andalusí”, that emerged all these musical traditions spread all over the Mediterranean, from Morocco to Israel, due to the continuing expulsion of the Muslim and Jewish population of Andalusia between 1492 and the first decades of the 17th century. As we see also in the case of the Smyrnaic school of rebetika, in many cases the historic tragedies of man produce non-intended cultural effects, and the History of the Mediterranean is full of them.
resuming our argument of transcultural hybridisation of ethnic music styles,
The second combination of flamencos and rebetes consisted of the performance of two stars: Mariza Koch and Enrique Morente. Independently of their incredible capacity as singers, and despite of their strong personality, they were not able to synthesize their music and voices. But the musical parallelism they demonstrated did allow a comparative view of both styles, and when Enrique Morente finished his part with a combination of saeta and toná, accompanied by Niño Josele, which in this case changed his guitar for a bouzouki, the entire Auditorio Manuel de Falla, situated right beside the Alhambra, was stirred by an incredible tension that made the goose-pimples grow.
Now, the encounter was organised in
In order to
understand the significance of the event in 1922, we must understand the
cultural and ideological background of the attempt to reveal the origins of
what was considered the soul of the Andalusian music. Towards the end of the
19th century, and particularly after the loss of
To be brief: In my investigations I applied the so called Byzantine-hypothesis, but one thing is to insist on the important influence of the Byzantine music in cante flamenco and the other is to demonstrate how byzantine music, that means, a music-style that flourished between the 4th and 11th century, influenced in Spanish flamenco, that appeared in the second half of the 19th century. It was a problem, I would say, of the missing link between both traditions in music.
Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922). Spanish composer and musicologist.
The point of view of Pedrell, Falla and Turina seems not to be wrong, but sudden. Let me quote the essential part of their hypothesis: Pedrell considers the personalized version of the popular song as the quintessence of modern composition, as it is expressed in the Lied and the romanzas as manifestations of the lyrical national drama. He also insists in the importance of the harmonization of the former ancient music of the Greek and Roman liturgy, represented particularly by the canto llano, with its diatonic and chromatic oriental origins. With respect to these, he wrote in his famous Cancionero Musical Español: “The fact that in Spain persists in certain folk songs the musical orientalism is the consequence of the deep-rooted influences in our nation of the very ancient byzantine civilization which was assimilated by the Spanish Church since it became Christian until the 11th century, when the proper Roman liturgy was introduced.” (Pedrell, 1958) This influence is manifest above all in its enharmonic structure, the lack of metric rhythm and a rich modulation, reinforced later on by the influence of the Arab and Moorish music, and converted after the 15th century by the Gypsies in the emblematic siguiriya. It was Falla who continued in this sense, saying that the elements of the chant of Byzantine liturgy are still present in the siguiriya as the most essential style of cante jondo.
Well, we must take into account, that –similar like in the case of Greekness and its relation with the Turkish influence– the search for a new Spanish identity had very important ideological and political implications: to defend the Byzantine-thesis against those who claimed an Arabic and/or Jewish origin of cante jondo as the supposed soul of the Andalusian music, was to defend the Christian character of Spain against those (for example, Blas Infante) who were dreaming of a kind of New Andalusia (that included even the Northern Maghreb), reconstructed with the help of its multicultural elements ascribed in a romantic manner to the ancient Al-Andalus that had definitely disappeared in 1492 after the conquest of Granada. To accept the Byzantine origin of cante jondo meant to accept the Christian or even Catholic character of the Spanish culture and geography.
Falla and the other musicologists could not and would not deny the importance of the influence of the Muslim and Hebrew elements in Spanish cante jondo, but they only accepted them as additional influences, as intervening variables that transformed the original model in the sense of its diversification until the Spanish gypsies, they said, made themselves familiar with this “oriental” music and transformed it to their own one, the cante gitano. Concluding: Pedrell and Falla offered an evolutionist explication of cante jondo as a kind of historical acumulation in Andalusian music that began with the Byzantine chant and ended with the gypsy-siguiriya.
Well, the “Byzantine-hypothesis” – independently of its ideological background – is commonly accepted today by part of the experts, and there is no peculiar reason to reject it. But there are doubts:
First: the term “Byzantine music” or “Byzantine chant” is
very inexact and puffy as it refers to a widely unknown because undocumented
music that existed in different forms between the 4th and the 11th century,
when the Roman liturgy was definitely imposed in
Second: There was not only one Byzantine liturgy that served
as a general musical pattern of chanting in the Christian hemisphere. The
Byzantine chant was, thus, only one peculiar style within a broad spectrum of
Early Christian chant. In
There is no
doubt that the existence of the Mozarabic chant helped much to conserve the
former traditions of the early, oriental Christian liturgy  due to the relative isolation of the Christian
community in Muslim Spain, and it only became substituted towards the end of
the 11th century, when the Gregorian chant was finally introduced into the
Southern parts of Spain in accordance with the roll-back strategy of the
Catholic Kings. In other words: in many parts of Spain, the chants of the early
Christian liturgy, fused with the music from the Maghreb and Masreq, became the
musical basis of the secularized popular music that was preserved until the
19th century when it became the object of the reinterpretation and reinvention
of the musical heritage. This was the moment, when cante flamenco was born as a
modern urban music-style, as it was the smyrnaica and rebetika in
Third: the “Byzantine-hypothesis” only can be considered as
an explanatory model if it is possible to find the missing link, that is to
explain the evolution of it into the cante jondo. It seems reasonable,
that the same doubts can be formulated with respect to the Byzantine character
of the Greek-Oriental rebetika. In the case of the smyrnaica, the songs
of Smyrna (Izmir), it is evident that the music of Byzantium received multiple
influences, mainly form the Turkish (ottoman) music, but also from other music
styles from the Near East and even Western Europe. It seems also quite obvious
that the music related with
I shall demonstrate this in the case of flamenco and with the help of some musical examples that allow to follow the steps of hybridisation as they were based on different musical influences, until the most essential expression in flamenco: the siguiriya .
In order to
demonstrate the Byzantine influence in cante jondo, my point of departure is
the peculiar situation of
Mayer wrote in his History of Music, these liturgies were sung by the
chorus using the original simple melodies. Only the priests acted like
solo-singers enriching the melodic line with colourful ornamental figures.
Later, the blind singers and finally the cantaores in flamenco would
make use of this technique of virtuosity and, in this way, maintain the
tradition. Now, we have to take into account the following facts: in
Let me demonstrate my hypothesis of the Byzantine origin of cante jondo in the secularization of the former Mozarabic chant with the help of a short musical demonstration. 
First step: The primitive saeta. This early form
of today’s modern, popular urban saeta, as it is sung during the
processions of the Holy Week, especially in
It is the primitive saeta
which preserved these musical traditions, and the most surprising fact is, that
there still exists some examples of this music in today's Semana Santa. Not in
the city of
My opinion is, that during the period between the 17th and 19th century this primitive, popular religious saeta, originated in the early Christian liturgy and the Byzantine chant, became the musical structure of the toná, which is one important base of cante jondo, that is: flamenco.
Second step: The toná. Now, let me show that there really exists a clear relation between the evolution of the traditional and popular, urban saeta on the one side, and the toná and its derivations on the other side – that means, the “carceleras”, “martinetes” and the “siguiriya”. For that reason, I will also try to demonstrate that the supposedly “mysterious origin” of flamenco-music is not “mysterious” at all, once given up the persuasive but erroneous hypothesis of Molina/Mairena of the “hermetic period”, the “gypsies home” or “camp-fire parties”.
My central hypothesis with regard to the toná is, that it was the main result of the transformation of the traditional saeta, as it was sung by the friars and monks during their processions and missions of penitence, into a popular kind of song used by the plain people during the Holy Week in order to express their deepest religious feelings in view of the statues of Mary and Jesus carried through the streets.
In the case of the primitive, traditional saeta we still recognize not only its narrow cultural and aesthetic relation with the old romance-style of the “blind singers”, but particularly its proximity to the tonás and derivations, especially the “carceleras”. In other words: the “toná flamenca” and especially the “carcel-eras” seem to be derivations and artistic re-elaborations of the traditional saeta, whose religious contents related to the passionate devotion of the Holy Week were replaced by profane ones, expressing mens pain and sorrow in a hostile society. With respect to the transformation of the religious saeta into the mournful “carcelera”, it was Emilio Lafuente y Alcántara which gave us an impressive description of the Holy Week in Archidona in the years before 1865 in his collection of popular songs. He writes:
“In Archidona, my home-town, during the Holy Week almost five processions pass through the streets near the jail where they stop for a moment so that the prisoners can see it. There is always one of them who, with sonorous and most sorrowful music, would sing three or four saetas dedicated to the Passion of Christ, and I remember having heard them before in different occasions.” 
Another contemporary observer, Benito Mas y Prat (1846-1892), gave us some examples of such a “jail-house-song” in the mode of a saeta:
“Pressed against the bars of the jail,
when the one
I shouted at him: Jesus of my soul!
and immediately I was free of guilt.” 
As we can see, both flamenco and rebetika share a very peculiar characteristic: the songs are based on the lyrical Me that expresses individual attitudes, feelings and sentiments towards other persons, situations and facts – they are highly biographical but in an abstract way. Nevertheless, in the case of the amané, sung by Rita Abadzi (see above), the kind of lyrics remembers of that of the primitive saeta: it is an almost philosophical, at least a moralizing reflection on death, more appropriate of religious penitence.
Third step: Derivations from the primitive saeta:
We have to distinguish between the earlier saeta carcelera and the tonás with a religious content at the one hand, and the latter carcelera flamenca and the tonás in general, at the other one. In the case of the carcelera flamenca (also called “martinete” = song of the blacksmith), the religious background has disappeared and been substituted by the lament of the prisoner and his personal tragedy. In the case of the tonás flamencas, there only has been conserved few of them an only one of them demonstrates its connection with the religious content of the saeta, like for example the following one, called the “toná of Christ”, taken out of the “Magna Antología del Cante Flamenco”:
“Oh, Father of the souls
and servant of Christ,
pillar of our
and tree of
Others, like the one ascribed to the legendary figure of Tío Luis el de la Juliana, the supposed first cantaor in flamenco-history (beginning of the 19th century), expresses the tragedy of human existence:
“I am like that good old man
that is left on the street;
I won’t pick a quarrel with anybody,
and let nobody do so with me.”
The first toná is full of religious ardour and hope, the second one is a manifestation of abandonment and solitude, both sung in the same “Byzantine” style...
Another derivation from the primitive saeta is the saeta aflamencada, that is, the saeta that is interpreted in the way of the flamenco-songs. The difference is astonishing and demonstrates the evolution of Andalusian music since the Medieval, although in both cases we are confronted with the same musical tradition: whilst the first one maintain the psalmodic, monotonous technique that claims for a precise repetition of the basic model, the second one allows a rich and flourishing melismatic interpretation and high degree of virtuosity of the flamenco singer.
The Spanish musical tradition is rich of
romances an popular songs from the rural area (villancicos), which in
many cases are based on the plain-chant. Whilst the mostly epic romances are
sung like psalms, that is, without musical accompaniment and in a one-tone
style, many of the rural folk-songs are interpreted with melismatic
flourishing. This is the case, for example, of the thresh-song (canto de
trilla), the song of the shepherd in
The fourth step: The siguiriya.
The siguiriya is considered today as the
most emblematic style within cante jondo and narrowly related to the
world and idiosyncrasy of the Andalusian gypsies. Beside that, Falla insisted
in its value as the most important and essential manifestation of Andalusian
cante jondo, that is, as the result of the historical evolution of the
traditional music of the region and the influences that its primitive music has
been exposed to along its history. Actually, its repertoire has become very
differentiated in accordance to its geographical origin. One of them is the
so-called “siguiriya from Triana”, the famous former gypsy quarter of
“What a pain
I have in my heart,
everybody has a door where to knock
only me found them closed.
Why don’t you give
a charity to the poor,
do it for God’s sake, the beggar comes
sick for love.
Another, very famous example of siguiriya is one ascribed to Antonio Chacón, called “Always at the corners” (sung by Enrique Morente), whose words are:
“Always at the corners
I find you crying,
I won’t have freedom in my life
if I treat you badly.”
Now, in the case of the Spanish cante jondo,
I think, I have given some reasonable arguments which allow to establish an
explanatory model of musical evolution from the peculiar kind of early
Christian music to modern, oriental-like singing. As in the case of rebetika,
in flamenco the resort to the gypsies and their supposed gypsy-songs justified
the re-orientalisation of the folk-song-repertoire in view of the growing
demand by the music-industry and/or the necessity of a reconstruction of the
cultural identity of
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1. Ed Emery, in his “Introduction” to the
English translation of Elias Petropoulos Songs of the Greek Underworld. The
Rebetika Tradition (Emery 2000), speaks of
2. It is not difficult to “discover” the Phrygian mode and the melismatic character of many rebetika and flamenco songs. But, are these elements really exclusive in oriental music?
3. With respect to some methodological clarifications, I would like to express my gratitude to the musicologist Georg Fredo Erber with whom I maintained a very productive correspondence on that matter during this year.
4. In Social Sciences, this coincidence of the global and the local has become called “glocalization” (see Robertson, 1994; also 1998). Nederveen Pieterse, referring himself to the plural character of globalization, speaks of “global melange” (Nederveen, 1998).
5. From musta'rib, (“would-be Arab”).
6. Its denomination still is ambiguous: “Andalusian music”, “Arabic-Andalusian music”, “Arabic-Muslim music”, “Hispano-Arabic music” (see Poché, 1997: 13-26).
7. The first document of Spanish liturgical
music is the Libellus Orationem, written in west-gothic codes probably
towards the end of the 7th century in
8. For the rebetika, Holst-Warhaft (2001) has shown, to what extent the revival of the rebetika, introduced to it mainly by Vassilis Tsitsanis during the 1940s and '50s, was due to its orientalisation in combination with the emphasis of the exotic and erotic female imaginary: “Whatever is oriental about such songs is carefully distanced from reality” (ibid.: 3). As she writes, the following nostalgia for the old rebetika songs was a reaction against this ephemeral distortion by the so-called archondorebetiko (elafrolaiko) and favoured the Turko-gypsy-style rebetiko, considered as a “true” manifestation of the Eastern rebetika tradition. The same happened in the case of flamenco: after the years of the so-called flamenco-opera (a kind of commercialized, “light” version of flamenco made for the growing mass-consumption), in the 1950s a serious effort was made, mainly by Antonio Mairena, to reinvent “pure” flamenco or “gypsy-flamenco” (“cante gitano”). As we can see, the mostly female, erotic interpretation of the Orient was substituted by its more male, tough “gypsy” version, with (see Washabaugh 1996: also Steingress 1993: 96-98).
9. The term siguiriya is a linguistic derivation from seguidilla, a very popular style of the Spanish choral dance. During the 19th century, it became adopted to a peculiar song-style ascribed to the Andalusian gypsies and considered the most emblematic manifestation of “cante gitano” (“gypsy-chant”). Notwithstanding, their musical and poetic background is very different and the denomination quite casual. The metric form of the siguiriya seems to be a derivation of the medieval romances and normally consists of four verses of six syllables, except the third one which has eleven syllabus (6,6,5+6,6). Its mostly tragic content is sung in Dorian mode with a very expressive, painful voice, with melodic freedom and rhythmic accompaniment. That is why Hugo Schuchardt, in 1881, considered it in its origins as a kind of funeral song (span.:”plañidera”, “endecha”) (Schuchardt, 1990: 81), and Hipólito Rossy described it as a “lament without metric rhythm - similar to the toná, the martinete and other chants ad libitum” (Rossy, 1966: 161). In general, the siguiriya has much of the characteristics of the amané in the rebetika tradition.
10 This distinction needs to be specified,
as it is also well known that the Hellenic culture expanded across the whole
11. Each one of the following musical examples can be listened, using the links introduced in the scheme at the end of this article.
12. This affirmation is also accepted by Edwar MacDowell: “The hymns sung by the Christians were mainly Hebrew temple songs, strangely changed into an uncouth imitation of the ancient Greek drama or worship of Dionysus” (MacDowell, 1912: 95-96).
13. This kind of recitation is based on one tone and indicates the punctuations of the verses by a raising or lowering of the voice (see Naumann, 1908: 29).
14. Emilio Lafuente y Alcántara: Cancionero popular. Colección escogida de seguidillas y coplas. Vol I, “Seguidillas”, Madrid, 1865, pp. XXII f. (footnote).
15. Mas y Prat, Benito: La tierra de María Santísima. Cuadros flamencos. Sevilla, 1988, p. 77.
 The first document
of Spanish liturgical music is the Libellus Orationem, written in west-gothic
codes probably towards the end of the 7th century in