Un poquito de flamencology 1 - Fandangos
‘Yes I can hear you Clem Fandango!’ (‘Toast of London’) The word ‘Fandango’ has gained popularity in pop culture, from Queen’s song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to a sitcom ‘Toast of London’. Maybe the word sounds exotic, attractive or even funny to English speakers - but do you really know what it is?
The basis of flamenco
Fandango as a folkloric couple dance originated in Spain and Portugal, probably before the 18th century, and has also been localised in South America including Mexico. Probably the most famous one as a folk dance is Fandangos de Málaga, aka Verdiales, which is still proudly preserved and performed in and around Málaga, Southern Spain. I’ve briefly learnt it before - it’s a very lively, communicative dance using castanets and other preps.
Those folkloric Fandangos are said to have contributed to the development of current flamenco palos such as Malagueña, Granaías, Tarantas, etc. Mayte Martin’s interpretation of Malagueña entitled ‘Serenoke’ shows the influence of an eastern-Andalusian variation of Fandango called Abandolao.
While Soleá is known as ‘mother of palos' despite the fact that it’s not the oldest in flamenco, Fandangos actually impacted on the birth and development of many other flamenco palos. Even without a direct relation, many flamenco palos somewhat have Fandango-like elements especially in terms of rhythm. For instance, the escobilla part (where a singer rests and a dancer performs footwork) in Alegrias, Soleá, Guajiras, etc., is often easier to understand in the Fandango rhythm of six or three beats rather than the standard twelve beats.
Fandangos de Huelva
Talking of Fandango in the context of flamenco, most people would think of ‘Fandangos de Huelva’, the version from the place called Huelva. It’s located in West Andalusia, near the border to Portugal, implying the origin of Fandangos. ‘Fandangos de Huelva’ is a collective noun encompassing local variations and personally arranged styles.
The letras (lyrics) are mainly about the significance and beauty of places in and around Huelva, sometimes expressing sentimental feelings towards the town. Though I’m obviously not from there, I often feel nostalgic by listening to Fandangos de Huelva, probably because what we feel for one’s hometown is universal.
Although it’s usually categorised as Cante Intermedio or Cante Chico (light-hearted songs), Fandangos de Huelva can actually be as moving as Cante Jondo (deep, profound songs). The most significant singer is Paco Tronjo who was from Alosno, a place frequently featured in the letras of Fandangos de Huelva. Some flamenco fans would recognise him in Carlos Saura’s film ‘Flamenco’ in 1995. He is the person who formed this palo as of today, and has been respected by modern singers, including Arcángel who is also from Huelva.
‘Will you do the fandango?’ (‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen)
For flamenco students, Fandangos de Huelva is usually taught at beginner level for both dancers and guitarists, as it’s not too fast or complicated musically. However, it doesn't mean it’s easy to interpret. It has a certain depth in its own style.
Unlike the folkloric Fandangos, you don’t always have to use castanets or dance in a partner in Fandangos de Huelva. It can be a solo dance or instrumental guitar music without singing. In whatever arrangement, we should note that each palo of flamenco has unique richness, different flavours and sentiments. When you learn or create a choreography to it, it’s worth remembering the history and richness of Fandangos, so that we can more appreciate this legacy.
Verdiales de Málaga (Fiesta Mayor) - Viaja Málaga
‘Serenoke - Malagueña’ by Mayte Martin (from the album ‘Querencia’)
Fandangos. Paco Toronjo. 1991