Mi Bodeguita del Medio

While my blog is named after a restaurant in Havana I hope to someday visit, here you will find musings, rants, political incorrectness, thoughts on Indian Nationalism, strong straight-forward opinions and tid-bits.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Kathak-Flamenco Fusion

Beautiful choreography between Kathak, the classical dance of Northern India, and Flamenco, folk dance from Andalusia, Spain. I can't wait to watch a fusion performance here in Barcelona.

The other day after flamenco class, a classmate asked me if I was from India. I said yes. She said she had recently seen an Indian dance performance that highly resembled Flamenco. She was referring to Kathak, the centuries old classical North Indian dance. She is convinced that Flamenco came from India.

Ofcourse something like that got me thinking. Many years ago, when I first heard flamenco and became obsessed with it, and moved to Spain with the aim of becoming a flamenco dancer (hahaha), parellel to that, I also became obsessed with the whole gypsy trail and the part they play in this art-form. As a child I learned Kathak dance for a few years. As an adult, I've chosen to dance flamenco. Anyway, in case anyone's interested in this subject, please visit "Indialucia". Here is an extract that explains nicely the relationship between the two art forms.


Indian music does not exhibit harmony, counterpoint or chords, but it is very distinctively based upon melody and rhythm. The musical tradition of India, which in spite of its long existence has never developed those elements, typical of European music, generated extremely complicated rhythms and hundreds of scales unknown to the musicians from Europe. Rhythmic schemas of this music are probably as difficult to learn for a European as baroque polyphony or jazz harmony for an Indian. However, a characteristic feature of both jazz and classical Indian music is improvisation, which constitutes 90 % of an artist's concert. An ever-returning theme and its improvised variations are present in creating music of both those styles. In terms of rhythm and expression, Indian music resembles flamenco a great deal. The rhythm, which next to the melody constitutes a basis of a composition, is also a theme for improvisation. Unevenly distributed stresses in cycles in the Indian music as well as in flamenco, require a great sense of rhythm from an artist. Extremely dynamic rhythmic parts in dialogues between the melodic and the percussion instruments resemble dialogues between the guitar and tapping of a dancer or cajón player. In this case the artist makes use of ready-made patterns or points in which they both interrupt the phrase in an ideally synchronised way. Such rhythmic mastery makes a great impression upon listeners who express their admiration with shouts like "kya baat hai", "waah" or "allah" (direct equivalents of the flamenco "ole"), cheering the performing artists. An extremely dynamic form of flamenco, bulerías contains elements such as expression, instrumental virtuosity and a sense of rhythm, which in Indian music are present in the faster parts of ragas. Free forms of flamenco, deprived of rhythm, such as martinete, tarantas, granainas or saeta resemble aalap, which is the first part of a raga, performed ad libitum, with a very mystic character.

One of the oldest rhythms established in Indian music was ektal - with a structure of 12 beats. In flamenco, the basic compás, a basis of the majority of forms, exhibits the same structure. The only things that make it different from the Indian rhythm are stresses and a way of phrasing. An Indian musician usually begins and finishes his improvisation together with the first beat of a cycle, stressing it and thus giving a listener a point where he can catch up with the rhythm. In flamenco, and especially more modern performance, the syncopated phrase or stresses lie between the beats in a bar and it is an artist's intention to surprise the listener who enjoys it very much.

Flamenco singing, being of an Oriental origin, is based mostly upon three scales, which are popular also in Indian music. For example, seguiryias, bulerías, tarantas, soleares or tangos are based upon the ragas bhairavi, bhairav or basant mukhari. The melismata and portamento used in Indian music are very close to flamenco but are much more complicated. The melodic range in flamenco seldom crosses the limits of a sixth, whereas in Indian singing the range depends on how much the singer can span and sometimes covers even three octaves. Similarities with flamenco song could be noticed also in qawwali singing from Pakistan, where an artist almost shouts out verses of a song in a husky voice.

In the present form of flamenco dance we can trace certain similarities to the kathak style from the north of India. The elements that resemble the dance of Andalusian Gypsies are the movements of arms, palms and fingers as well as tapping, typical for this kind of dance. In both styles the dance is usually performed by one person and it is closely connected to the music and rhythm. In flamenco a dancer is accompanied by a guitar, singing, clapping and a cajón, whereas in kathak apart from singing it can be tabla, pakhawaj, sitar or sarangi. In this case kathak is barefoot, and the tapping rhythm is dictated by bells hung at the dancer's ankles and by a loud "clapping" with his foot against the floor. Flamenco, however, is much more dynamic, sometimes even aggressive, or with an erotic character. In flamenco a dancer does not tell any story and his gestures do not bear any meaning: his movements and gestures express emotions or they emphasise the meaning of lyrics and character of the melody accompanying them.

We cannot say for sure that flamenco has its roots in India. However we know, that the Gypsies left India ages ago. One could wonder: had they arrived from China, would flamenco develop in the form we know today? Even if both those extremely interesting genres of music are not directly related, one can state that what is common to Indian and flamenco music is their emotionality, expression, rhythm, depth and sensitivity.


This is where the article ends. I can't talk much about the technical aspects of music. Although, like many many others, I can't help but notice similarities between Kathak and Flamenco, something tells me they share a centuries old bond.

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