A group of singing styles that have been well-known since the middle of the nineteenth century and are flamenco treatments of folk music from the Caribbean and central and south America are known as Cantes de Ida y Vuelta (Ida y vuelta means round-trip). This name comes from the fact that these styles originated from the music that traveled to the Americas with the Conquistadores, which was adapted to the styles of the region and then came back to Spain in the voices of the soldiers and sailors returning to Andalusia and later courtesy of the Flamenco artists that visited these countries. This week we are going to take a look at some of the styles that found their way back from Cuba.
The Guajira is a flamenco style based on certain popular Cuban tunes, the name derives from the guajiros or Cuban country people (and is not as some would like to think a corruption of the term War Hero during the Cuban war of Independence – the term predates the war by at least a century). These songs arrived in Spain in the latter half of the nineteenth century with the soldiers returning from the war and were rapidly integrated into the flamenco canon.
The Andalusian form, which coincides only tangentially with Flamenco, is a hybrid of this popular folk song strongly influenced by the rhythm of the Cadiz tango. The lyrics can be both cheerful and melancholy, with a light racy, picaresque vein.
Here is José Menese, one of the very best Cantaores currently on the scene, taking time out from the deeper flamenco styles to give us a splendid Guajira.
This form can also be danced. Usually as a fan dance, either individually or in groups. Here is Merche Esmeralda dancing a beautiful Guajira with her group. The singer is Pepe de Lucía, Paco de Lucía’s brother.
The Guajira is a beautiful group dance but it is not very common these days as it requires a lot of coordination between the dancers and is very slow, which makes it difficult. It is normally staged as a representation of a stroll in the town square, with little groups forming to chat and gossip. The fan plays an important part both in the choreography and the imagery. In nineteenth century Spanish culture the fan was an accessory with a language all of its own. The movements a woman made with her fan were often messages to suitors as to whether she was interested, it was safe to chat, etc. Fortunately, it is still popular in the Dance Schools and here is a link to a really great choreography. Please follow it!
Here we find a process of mutual cultural influence between Afro-Caribbean, Creole and Hispanic elements. There is a strong link between the rhythms of the habanera, the tango, the bordoneo, the Argentinean milonga, the conga and the Mexican huapango. The habanera probably evolved in the nineteenth century in the theatres of Cuba and the ballrooms of the Caribbean from popular Cuban line and square dances, one of the styles favoured by Antillean society.
The habanera and the tango still had some distance to travel, arriving in Spain towards the middle of the century. Here they would take their current form, impregnated with a sensual and exotic air. A breath of fresh air for ballroom music not only in Spain but throughout Europe. The form was adapted for the piano and the guitar. Thus the habanera and the tango, both originating in America, ended up being seen as an exotic, idealised musical vision of Spain in concert halls across Europe, the former even being used by Bizet in his opera Carmen.
And here is the last true maestro of the form, Carlos Cano, who sadly passed away at far too young an age (54) in 2000. The video references Cadiz, comparing the city to Havana, with images of Havana fading in and out of images of Cadiz. The song speaks of the similarities between the two cities. A fact not lost on the producers of a recent Bond film. Notice the use of son cubano rhythms in the chorus.
Next week: more from Cuba