International Flamenco Day, or Internal Flamenco Day
Celebration and Reflection
16th November used to be one of those normal days, until in the year 2010 when UNESCO officially declared flamenco as one of the Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Now established as the International Flamenco Day, it’s the occasion when many flamenco-related groups and artists would decorate social media with celebrated messages for this art form.
As well as enjoying the festive atmosphere, I’d like to spend this day quietly reflecting in what way flamenco is a heritage for us. After all, the lockdown is the best time for reflections.
Identity and Diversity
If you watch the video submitted to UNESCO (the link below), you can overview how Instituto Andaluz del Flamenco wanted to represent flamenco: world-famous guitarists such as Paco de Lucía and Vicente Amigo, traditional female dancers in bata de cola (tailed skirt), a collaboration with an orchestra, singing in a fiesta, a contemporary performance by Israel Galván, Soléa by Eva Yerbabuena, a modern arrangement of the music, etc…
This visual presentation already demonstrates a certain diversity of this genre. Now 10 years has passed, we know that the range of flamenco has expanded even further - nowadays it’s not unusual to see a male dancer dancing in bata de cola or have a commercialised fusion with pop music like Rosalía.
In short, flamenco as of today has such diversities within one body, or rather, doesn't have a rigid one body. Often, flamenco fans don’t agree on what should be called flamenco and what should be excluded. Although UNESCO accepted Israel Galván as flamenco 10 years ago (and I personally think he’s muy flamenco), some conservative fans might still disagree.
We can’t trace back how the official decision by UNESCO was actually made, but I suppose we should regard flamenco, a world heritage, not as a solid cultural identity but as a source of cultural diversity.
Personal and cultural
Being diverse means that this world heritage can branch out to various expressional forms (hence easy to make fusions), but it also means that flamenco can be defined and interpreted differently according to who experiences it. ‘International’ implies that the appreciators can have different nationalities, despite the emphasis on its root in Andalusia. Whatever background or tendency we have, those who practise flamenco are on constant journeys through different routes, searching for what the shared value of flamenco is.
While it’s a part of everyday life to someone, it’s an escapism from everyday life to someone else. Some think it’s fierce, some prefer its elegance, some appreciate both. Flamenco is always in the process of being learnt, experienced, consumed, produced, re-discovered and re-defined by different individuals. Although there may not be a single, ultimate, universal definition to it, flamenco tends to lead us to a search for what it really is - it’s a never-ending journey, not an entity. We can only be responsible for what flamenco would mean to us at our personal level.
Taking the International Flamenco Day as an opportunity, why not look back at your own flamenco journey - how you encountered it, who influenced you, how your preference has changed, what you’d like to explore further, etc… Regardless of your current stage, you’d re-discover that flamenco has become a part of your life, your personal heritage in your own way. Flamenco is shared through our individual experiences - in fact, that’s where flamenco exists and how flamenco has become the cultural heritage.
Or, stop thinking, and let’s simply spend the day watching some archives of internationally famous flamenco artists over Spanish beer. I might do so.
El Flamenco, Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial de la Humanidad
(the video sent to UNESCO, based on which flamenco was listed in the Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity)