• Spain's news in English

Flamenco flashmob: how the dance became a form of protest in Spain

The Local · 6 Nov 2015, 13:03

Published: 06 Nov 2015 13:03 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Flamenco is perhaps Spain’s most alluring cultural phenomenon, characterised by the stereotypes of sun, passion and tumbling black hair. Political protest and social activism are less likely to come to mind when thinking of flamenco, but for some performers it has always been a powerful tool for voicing political protest.

Never more so than today. Spain has suffered immensely in the global economic crisis – especially Andalusia, the southernmost region of the country most associated with flamenco. Neoliberalism has taken its toll on the Spanish people, who are suffering one of the highest levels of unemployment in Europe. In 2011, this led to the infamous 15M (indignados) protest movement that mobilised millions of citizens across the country to challenge policies of austerity following the banking crisis.

On the back of this movement, the flashmob group Flo6x8 has rebranded flamenco as a powerful political weapon. This anti-capitalist group has been well publicised for its political performances that have taken place in banks and even the Andalusian parliament. Using the body and voice as political tools, the group carries out carefully choreographed acciones (actions) in front of bemused bank staff and customers. These performances are recorded and then posted online, attracting a huge number of views.

Through explicitly political lyrics, Flo6x8 denounces the banking crisis and the austerity measures resulting from European bailouts. By claiming public, capitalist spaces the performers give a powerful political message that challenges the status quo. But these performances also break with typical gendered stereotypes in flamenco. The exotic, seductive and “oriental” image of the female dancer is turned on its head. Instead the female dancers in these performances become powerful, political figures.

The group believes it is repoliticising flamenco, returning to its historical origins. Nowadays flamenco is closely associated with the world music industry and tourism. Yet the origins of flamenco tell a different story. Flamenco was born among socially marginalised communities such as Gypsies, miners and other disadvantaged Andalusian groups. Lyrics from the 18th and 19th centuries tell tales of poverty and social hardship.

True, the flamenco we know today owes much of its legacy to the commercial theatres (cafés cantantes) of mid-19th century Spain. But its political side has come out during times of social upheaval. Republicans during the Spanish Civil War sang ideological messages. And singers of the 1960/70s such as Manuel Gerena and José Menese challenged the Franco regime in pursuit of democracy and equality.

I want to say with passion, this fandango that I sing, Spain is Republican. And this is from the heart, down with the law and tyranny.

Flo6x8 see themselves as the continuation of this political legacy, where flamenco becomes a catalyst for social change as can be seen by this anti-austerity flashmob in the Andalusian parliament in June 2014.

The controversial new gag law introduced by the Spanish government in 2015 has restricted the activities of Flo6x8. Yet members remain committed to flamenco as a political weapon against continued social and economic inequalities in Spain.

Confronting racism

The history of flamenco has also been used to promote tolerance. Flamenco is said to have links to Spain’s Islamic past a period when Christians, Jews and Muslims allegedly coexisted in peace (convivencia). Although criticised by some as a utopian myth, convivencia carries a message of tolerance for today. Many argue that flamenco emerged from an amalgamation of cultural influences in southern Spain: Arabs, Jews, Gypsies, African slaves, Andalusian underclasses and so on. The belief, then, is that flamenco is born of intercultural dialogue.

However, Spain’s relationship with its Islamic past is problematic. In some quarters it is celebrated – in others it is shunned. Since the 1980s, increasing immigration into Spain, particularly from Morocco, has complicated matters. Like in many countries across Europe, racial tensions and Islamophobia have increased. Here flamenco has been used to confront racial tensions and promote tolerance.

In 2003, the dancer Ángeles Gabaldón and her company premiered the show Inmigración (Immigration), which was also broadcast online to more than 50,000 people. Inmigración raised awareness of the humanitarian issues surrounding migration across the Strait of Gibraltar: human trafficking, migrant deaths, immigrant sex work and racism.

The show, which featured a multiracial cast, sought to raise awareness of the social reality of immigration – and, interestingly, also presented Spain’s own history of emigration before it became a country of immigration. But the most powerful element of Inmigración was how the past and the present were joined together in musical performance. Flamenco was combined with musical styles believed to have originated in Islamic Spain that now exist in North Africa.

The cast included Jalal Chekara, a Moroccan performer who has lived in Spain for many years. He is known for his collaborations with flamenco musicians, promoting tolerance through the musical re-imagining of a shared cultural history.

Since 2003, the situation across Spain and Europe has deteriorated. The current migrant crisis is maybe the most difficult challenge facing Europe and Inmigración is perhaps even more relevant today than when it was first performed. It shows the capacity of flamenco as a form of social criticism that can give power to the powerless and voice to the voiceless.

Story continues below…

By Matthew Machin-Autenrieth, University of Cambridge

Joshua Brown, a lecturer in Ethnomusicology at Chapman University and Juan Pinilla, flamenco singer and writer in Granada, assisted with research for this article. The author will be appearing at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.

Matthew Machin-Autenrieth, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, University of Cambridge

This article was based on a talk given at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. You can watch the full talk here

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.es)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Southern Spain will become a desert with global warming
Photo: Steven Stralton / Flickr

Southern Spain will become a desert if global warning continues, scientists have warned.

Eight Spanish films to truely terrify you this Halloween
Photo: Corie Howell / Flickr Creative Commons.

Looking for something to give you goosebumps this Halloween? The Local looks at eight Spanish films that are sure to have you cowering beneath the covers.

Spain's Socialists refuse to go easy on Rajoy once in power
Photo: AFP

Spain's Socialists may have reluctantly decided to let Mariano Rajoy govern again but they will not go easy on the acting conservative premier once he re-takes power, they warned on Thursday.

Spain's Podemos sees golden opportunity in Socialist woes
Pablo Iglesias is ready to step up in opposition. Photo: AFP

As Spain's conservatives prepare to re-take power after 10 months of political limbo, anti-austerity party Podemos has set its sights on replacing the divided Socialists as the main opposition force.

Wildlife ranger accused over decapitated bison in Valencia
The headless corpse of Sauro was found last month. Photo: Carlos Alamo / Reserva de Valdeserrillas

The case of the beheaded bison at a wildlife reserve in Valencia just got a whole lot weirder.

Spain jobless drops below 20% for first time in six years
The unemployed queuing up outside a Madrid job centre. Photo: AFP

Spain's unemployment fell below 20 percent for the first time in six years, official figures showed on Thursday.

'Saints not ghouls' insists Spanish church for Halloween
Suggested outfits from the Bishopric of Cadiz and Ceuta. Photo: Shower of Roses

Spanish bishops are urging good Christian children to forgo zombie, ghost and devil outfits and instead dress up as "saints, virgins and apostles".

Tough road ahead, Spain PM warns before return to power
Rajoy will try and form a government this week. Photo: AFP

Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned on Wednesday of a tough road ahead as he prepares to take power again at the head of a minority government with little support.

Russia withdraws request to refuel warships in Ceuta
The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was due to dock in Ceuta

Russia has withdrawn a request for its aircraft carrier group to be refuelled at the Spanish port of Ceuta, authorities confirmed.

Bulls replace guard dogs at scrap yard in Valencia
Two bulls will be patrolling the scrap yard in eastern Spain. Archive photo: AFP

Guard dogs were not proving enough of a deterrent to thieves at a car breakers yard in eastern Spain so the owner has brought in a pair of fighting bulls.

Analysis & Opinion
Out of the dark: Five years on from Eta ceasefire
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Spanish 'La Mafia' restaurants banned after Italian complaint
Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Hunt launched for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Napflix: Spaniards launch very boring TV channel for siestas
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
jobs available