The demographic and socioeconomic makeup of large industrial(izing) centers in Europe were rapidly changing during late 19th, early 20th C. Population growth and rural-to-urban migration led to rising levels of crime, poverty, and epidemics. In Madrid, measures to control these issues were largely and consistently inefficient, partly due to the general mistrust in the central governing body, itself undergoing many transitions in a relatively short time. Animating the author’s arguments in this book is the hypothesis that the failure or success of such reforms depended largely on the authorities’ capacity to mobilize public opinion—the authorities, therefore, participated in a constant mutual exchange with the economic, bourgeoise, and aristocratic classes, taking into account the interests of these populations and thus granting them a certain level of de facto authoritarian power.

These upper classes held a general animosity for the inrush of immigrants coming from rural areas across regions of the peninsula, loathing, specially, their social and cultural practices. Llano argues that music, sound, and noise were central to all of these tensions: “Musical practices in the public space expressed the ambitions and anxieties of different social groups, who used music to negotiate their position in society” (1). The case studies in this book include organ grinders, flamenco, and “workhouse bands” and are done through a mix of methodologies that speak to my (ever shapeshifting) project beyond the interest in flamenco: sound studies and cultural studies in particular, with particular attention to the social and aesthetic valences of the music/noise binary.

A locus of negotiations between social dynamics and music/noise is the phenomenon of flamenquismo. The first chapter of this book has been tremendously illuminating in the area of the social history of flamenco, which by another name could be said to be simply the history of the rise and fall of flamenquismo, its causes and effects, may easily be another name.

Flamenquismo was strictly a Madrid phenomenon—born of the clash between the Spanish elites and the working class migrants whom, despite a stounding 92% being non-Andalusians, at a point in time became (all migrant workers, that is) associated with Andalusia, flamenco, and flamenquismo, regardless of their cultural background. That is: they were homogenized and scapegoated as the social ill that was plaguing Madrileños (a class category),  and contaminating the raza—also a highly classist term that is nonetheless also racialized in its own way. Geographically, then, flamenquismo is tied to Madrid, but it arose as a history of movement and dispossession: arrived in Madrid in the 1840s with the first waves of Andalusian immigration provoked by the 1836 expropriation of land or disentailment (Cruces Roldán 2003, 52). By the 1880s, flamenco was Madrid’s favorite entertainment, together with genero chico (13).

Flamenco and the Spanish Gypsy Community

The roots of flamenco being nothing short of untraceable, it is nonetheless often the case that flamenco is uncritically associated with Spanish Gypsies, and viceversa. This may be problematic, perhaps, but truth is, the Gypsy community in Spain embraces flamenco as their cultural heritage and is by and large proud of the association. Llano gives four historical reasons for the existence of this confluence:

  1. The exploitation of flamencos and Gypsies as the image of Spain at historical points where this was convenient, most notably during the Franco regime
  2. The international fame garnered by the image of the female Gypsy dancer, on whose persona flamenco and Gypsiness have solidified almost to become synonymous
  3. The anti-Spanish propaganda that began with the black legend and that cast Spain as a retrograde, primitive nation, and that was easily recyclable through the stereotyped Gypsy, leading to an exaggerated emphasis on Spanish Gypsies as the reflection of Spain’s otherness
  4. Gitanismo: from the 1950, the view or movement that advocated for strengthening the attribution of flamenco to Gypsy communities in reaction to the thread of appropriation


Llano attributes the emergence of flamenquismo to the attempt, on the part of the social elites, to theorize, so to speak, about what they perceived to be the social ills of the Spain of the time. It seems particularly important to keep in mind the scientific impulse behind flamenqusimo, for not only did it put flamenco culture at the epicenter of all social issues, but it did so drawing from rhetoric from “criminology, anthropology, psychiatry, and other social sciences,” creating a corpus of “texts aimed to establish a clear-cut distinction between norm and deviance and to regulate public behavior” (14).

Important to note that “flamenco culture” in the context of 19-20 c Madrid meant the clash between Andalusi/Gitano culture and Madrileña society, which is to say, 1) that the cultural practices now thriving in the Capital had first migrated from the south, and 2) that this uprooting and subsequent movement changed its form, as did the new context in which it was now being practiced. In sum: that flamenco culture isn’t fixed, that it takes shape as the result of its many interactions with shifting socioeconomic and geographic elements. (Read Stuart Hall? Bourdieu?)

Flamenquismo had two peak moments at the beginning of the 20th century: the 1902 Fuencarral Street murder (the victim was Luciana Borcino, a wealthy widow. It’s a long story, involving suspects from a lower/Gitano class and illicit sexual relations), and the social noise provoked by an amalgam of writings, lead by the notorious Eugenio Noel, to whom Llano dedicates an entire chapter. Both of these will have important repercussions in the long run more so than at the time of their emergence. About Noel, Llano states that “Although he is largely forgotten, the imprint of his rhetoric can nonetheless be traced in flamenco scholarship of the 1990s.”

It is hard to say what flamenquismo is, even after reading this chapter. It is all and none of the following: a textual corpus; a class struggle; an antihegemonic social movement; a pseudo-science/pseudo-discipline; a disciplining apparatus; an anti-modernism of sorts; and of course, a cultural practice. Flamenquismo is both the migrant’s class “wayward lives” and the social reactions it prompted, both a dissident cultural practice and its opposition. But it is also a negotiating filed—a site of social discourse where Spain’s national identity was being formed through its constructed agons, in the face of a multileveled social crisis. Yet in contemporary times, the word flamenquismo refers to the mass of critiques aimed at the social and cultural practices of migrant workers associated with Gitano communities and flamenco, especially as regards to nightlife. Hence that anti-flamenquismo is pretty much used interchangeably with flamenqusimo.

And though social critics were adamant, it is also, in truth, hard to say who exactly was being accused of practicing flamenquismo, or rather, who may be exempt of it, other than the critics themselves. By the turn of the century, flamenco in general had become “a trope of otherness through which Madrileños perceived immigration and groups that did not fit into mainstream conduct codes and were also seen as strangers” (26). And though it was mainly the southern, Andalusian and/or Gitano transplants (specifically the well-off families, heirs of southern landowners, who’d migrated to Madrid in the wake of the Restoration (1874) “when nightlife and the opening of cafés boomed” (23)) flamenquismo actors include but is not limited to Gitanos.

Similar generalizations, misconceptions, and associations apply to the activities, practices, and aesthetics attributed to flamenqusimo. As the name implies, a strong association holds with flamenco music, but it was everything else taking place around performances that spoke loudest.

But we must look at where, when, and how flamenco music was being performed and consumed to understand the larger network of associations that became flamenco’s second names. Juergas are central here: a word that in contemporary times denotes simply partying till wee hours of the night, in this context it referred to the quintessential activity of flamenquismo practitioners. Llano defines them as “lavish private parties […] in the back rooms of cafés, known as reservados [reserved rooms], and for bringing to these parties abundant alcohol and prostitutes to accompany the performance of flamenco” (23).

The aim of the writings condemning flamenquismo was to establish a “social orthodoxy” by scapegoating the culture of the Andalusians (/Gypsies/migrant workers), whose manifestations in late 19th c Madrid were used to fix the “boundaries between the notions of right and wrong […], norm and deviance, and to regulate social behavior” (14). So, in essence, flamenquismo is about Spain’s anxieties about their standing as a society and national identity.

Chapter 3 centers one of flamenquismo’s founding fathers, Rafael Salillas. Salillas didn’t have to reinvent the wheel when it came to incriminating Gitanos on the basis of racialized stereotypes—there’s consensus among all the texts I’m reading that Gitano representation has focused exclusively on recycling the same three or four racist tropes whose origins are as old as the presence of the Roma in Europe. But Salilla’s impact owes to the fact that he gave voice to the anxieties of the dominant group, what Coleman (qtd in the text) called exercising “a normalising judgement carried out by emergent professional groups armed with a new scientific knowledge,” giving, for the first time in Spain according to Llano, “a scientific rhetoric that gave currency to [ages old] anti-Gypsy biases.” It also owed to the audience he was able to garner due to his profession as criminologist, a then emerging field. According to Llano, Salillas’ most famous work (Hampa: El delincuente español. Antropología picaresca (1898)), despite its claims to anthropological method, was more a literary analysis, blurring fact and fiction—very much in the vein of Orientalism, as Llano notes.

Other loud anti-flamenquismo voices include Eugenio Noel. Like Salillas, Noel believed that flamenquismo was Spain’s deepest social ill and wrote extensively to prove it. He also made use of scientific methods, drawing especially from European and Spanish criminologists and other emerging social sciences, among them Italian criminologist Lombroso (whom he “assimilated […] eclectically, putting together theories of atavism and degeneration”). One of his most influential books, Senoritos Chulos, was a direct attack on the class of the “senoritos”—mostly young men of the migrating families who had come to Madrid with significant wealth, which they spent lavishly on juergas and were therefore seen as their engine. To Noel, that means senoritos were the engine of Spain’s (self-)destruction. He warned of the fact that within the circle of senoritos, where juergas and flamenquismo in general throve, Madrilenos and other otherwise proper Spaniards were too liberally mixing up with Gitanos. This provoked great fear (also expressed by Salillas) that “flamenquismo could blur the distinction between the cultural codes of the upper and the working classes”.

Flamenquismo and Colonialism

Anti-flamenquismo critics often attributed the colonial desastre of 1898 to the spread of social customs associated with the phenomenon of flamenquismo. Some of the arguments defended that flamenquismo, as a set of practices that lured everybody in, ultimately weakened the Spanish race by its inherent lack of morality, implying that it was the once-pure character of the nation that was able to create the Empire that was now all but gone. Flamenquismo critics were often of the view that mass culture’s job was to educate the masses in matters of civility and politics. This view “claimed that the flamenquismo entertainment industry had no educational value and that it had a deleterious moral influence in society by driving the public’s attention away from politics and social problems.”

Return to Castilian Roots: It is likely that Noel’s views were influenced by the Generation of ’98’s “decrying of Spain straying from its alleged imperial fate.” This degeneracionistas, as they used to go by, argued that the 1898 desastre had diverted Spain from its Imperial manifest destiny, toward the presently unfolding degeneration. The solution was to return the Spanish populous to the roots of the nation which lay, importantly, not in Andalusia or flamenco or flamenquismo, but in Castille (that is, in the “grandeur” of (proto)Spain in medieval times). But Noel was a dedicated critic—his writings didn’t offer “solutions” as much as they simply attacked flamenquismo and the people associated with it.

Lorca, Cante Jondo, and Flamenquismo

Llana’s contextualization of Falla and Lorca’s support of flamenco in this social climate (ie, as a reaction to anti-flamenquismo), has challenged my views on Lorca’s works Poema del Cante Jondo and Teoria y Juego del Duende. Llano notes, first of all, how Lorca/Falla’s endeavors to revitalize cante jondo relies and fortifies a set of binary oppositions that square up, rhetorically if not ideologically, with anti-flamenquismo: “According to Falla and Lorca, cante jondo had been spared from the degenerative effects of the tavern and urban culture, and, unlike flamenco, it had a regenerative effect on society” (78). This creates an idea of cante jondo as a hermetically sealed form of music, and positions L/F as one more strand of anti-flamenquismo critics. Regardless of the plausibility of the notion of musical purity of cante jondo, it may perhaps be productive to judge L/F’s efforts not on their faithfulness to the messy nature of musical practices, but to their intentions and perhaps the effects of their efforts. This seems to be Llana’s position, as he concludes:

In sum, Lorca’s focus on Andalusian culture and Gypsies, although it relied on cultural stereotypes similar to the ones that had been circulated by Europeans keen on exoticism in the nineteenth century, had a different intention and meaning. The emphasis of the competition on the distinction between flamenco and cante jondo shows that, at least according to Falla and Lorca, there is an Andalusia that lay beyond the reach of European exoticism.

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