The gitano duende in Spain

//Tete el Gitano

"I started playing with an ever cool beer beside and a guitar out of tune. I was a kid but I knew that the 'ventilador' could save any chord." While talking in a bar of Barcelona's Gothic Barrio, Tete el Gitano[1] has already fueled. After a series of chupitos, he has reached from the counter to a whole bottle of tequila that "serves to soften the narrative". Tete the musician has gitano blood from his father's side. Born in Huelva, Andalusia, he moved to Barcelona at the age of ten with his mother: "I grew up among the sounds of flamenco festivals in Andalusia but here in Catalonia rumba is played in the gitano community. It did not take much to get the party started, what we call the jorgorio. Some guitar to trigger rhythms that start the dancing, and that still we make moving our fingers on the strings as if we were imitating the speed and flutter of a ventilator. And when there is the base everyone can participate, with a syncopated clapping, with spoons or pots. Fundamental, then, are the dance and the rhythm of the dancers with the heels. Unlike the flamenco, which is much more ritual, in rumba there are no rules nor limits."

Through these words, too, passes the awareness of the importance of the ancient gitano traditions in cultural enrichment in Spain. It is palpably perceived in the country that when artists with gitano blood enters the scene, famous or not, party is guaranteed. "I arrive with my art - Tete says - and the audience breathes an immediate feeling of joy. I do not know what racism is and I say this with pride. Maybe in the past our relatives have suffered, but it's a kind of contempt that I do not know. " Tete's awareness is the result of long course with obstacles made by a people that have always been rejected. And this pride is shared by many gitano artists such as Los Tarantos, who say: "If you are really curious about who we are, come and see us play. A night of flamenco will tell all about us."[2]

Those charming rhythms help you understand what is meant by duende, a difficult concept to define that expresses a kind of magic, authentic and charismatic alchemy in flamenco. Who owns the duende has a soul, say the great gitano artists. This idea had also fascinated Garcia Lorca who tried to explain it reporting the words of a senior guitarist: "The duende is not expressed in song through the throat. It is a spirit that runs through the body starting from the soles of the feet. "

But, apart from the duende that surrounds this world with a veil of mystery of a thousand interpretations, in their long history marked by suffering and isolation, Spanish Romany groups have also always been stigmatized by the widespread prejudice present also in other countries of settlement.

 "On the one hand they are considered [...] culturally predisposed to be excluded from society, as thieves or beggars - says Professor Sergio Rodriguez[3] - or are perceived as people who 'have a gift for artistic expression innate in their blood'. Both statements are false but, while the former is not part of the gitano culture, the arts, ranging from music to literature, is an integral part of it [...] starting from early childhood. But it is a cultural, and not natural, disposition, - continues Sergio Rodríguez - that leads gitanos to transform their very existence into a work of art. If ethics can be defined as "the art of knowing how to live", we see that throughout history the Gypsies have shown the ability to overcome the lack of material with great dignity even in extremely difficult conditions."


The Flamenco

duende2 350But in this art of surviving, the gitano culture has had to open up to society and leave behind its obscurity to show the world, in exchange for money, its most valuable aspects. Gitano music began to be played in public since the sixteenth century during religious celebrations or banquets at the courts of the noble classes. The two centuries of persecution of the gitano community in Spain have subsequently led to the illegal birth of flamenco, a musical genre originated, according to most reports, from the meeting of the rhythms and tones of Indian origin and melodies related to the Islamic culture. The word "flamenco", according to research by writer and politician Blas Infante[4] comes from the Andalusian expression "fellah mingueirard” meaning "landless peasant" or "fellah-mangu" which in Arabic spoken in Morocco meant "farmer's song". According to this version, the gitano and Arab communities allied themselves against the repression exercised by the Spanish royals.

The two peoples shared, in fact, the same ethnic minority status and lived on the margins of the dominant culture. From this proximity flamenco was born and developed in the lower Andalusia (the triangle formed by the provinces of Jerez de la Frontera, Cordoba and Seville) as an expression of the pain of oppression. "Flamenco is a primordial scream - said the poet and writer Ricardo Molina[5] - of a people constrained to poverty."

"How sad are my meals," complains an old gitano song, "lemons in the morning, lemons at midday."[6]Born around the second half of 1700, flamenco would abandon the semi-clandestine conditions only after 1840 to conquer the stages in café chantant. From this moment on, despite the die-hard racist prejudices, the gitano communities became an indispensable point of reference for culture in Spain, and a slow but relentless process of integration was achieved through artistic expression.


Women, artists, revolutionaries

//Carmen AmayaWomen also have an important role in flamenco, not only in song and dance but also in the history of the classical guitar. Among the most important figures stands Anilla de la Ronda, native of one of the Andalusian cities that has mostly preserved its Arab structure. With the stage name Aniya la Gitana, and armed with her guitar, she trod the boards of major premises of Malaga in 1890, such as the Café de Chinitas, until getting to perform in the Spanish Theatre of Ronda and later at the court of Queen Victoria Eugenia. She was also cited along with other gitano musicians in the conference of Garcia Lorca on the flamenco culture[7]. These women are considered the pioneers and have left an important legacy for those who still today dedicate themselves to flamenco: "There are many women who have struggled to get their own space in this exclusive world", stresses Lorraine Chuse[8], professor of ethnomusicology. "They were strong women, dedicated to music and teaching, who have enriched flamenco with their creative art. This does not mean that today there are no obstacles: the macho attitude persists, but the commitment to break down the access doors is really great. "

One of the revolutionaries in these terms was Carmen Amaya. Born in Barcelona in 1915, in the slums of Somorrostro, the gitano quarter which now became Vila Olimpica, she learnt the first steps of flamenco in the community. But, adapting them to her slim and dry physique, she began to "imitate the waves of the sea", as she herself confessed. With a strong rhythm of a machine gun, Carmen began a career that would take her to Hollywood. On about a thousand stages that she captivated with her magic dance that radiated a unique power of seduction, Carmen performed wearing pants and using steps of flamenco hitherto reserved for men. She was invited at a very young age to the most important tablaos in Catalonia and Andalusia where is renamed La Capitana. Until debuting in Madrid at the Palacio de la Musica. Vicente Escuder[9], an important bailaor, said of her: "This gitanillawill revolutionize the baile flamenco, because she is the brilliant synthesis of two great styles: that of bailaoraantigua, from the belt to the head, with a amazing braceo and a rare light in her eyes, and the eager style of the bailaor in her prodigious zapateado".

The ultimate expression of gitano culture achieves, thus, global recognition and allows the Spanish society to establish a new brotherhood between the gitano and the non-gitano (los payos) communities in the name of art. "Paco de Lucia[10] - tells Tete el Gitano - undoubtedly the most virtuoso guitar player in the world, was considered to be one of us, even though he didn't have gitano blood. But he was immersed in the culture of the south where above all passion for the duende[11] in flamenco is shared".

Irene Bazzini, a young Italian from Pavia, also found a place to stay in Seville: "From 2009 - she says - I am part of the flamenco troupe of the Farruco family, one of the most important ones. I was welcomed and can even renamed Irene la Sentìo[12]. La Farruca, daughter of the legendary Antonio Montoya Farruco[13], told me at a lesson: "It is not normal what you have: you move like you have a sixth sense." And in that case she was referring to the sense of rhythm, the musicality, the ability to capture the essence of what is taking place during a dance. In fact, I feel that the stage name that they gave me also reflects me also on a personal level." Irene, as a child, was fascinated after seeing some flamenco dancers with a folk flavor during a party in Voghera: "They danced flamenco and rumba. When I saw them I was out of breath and I realized that this would be my way. Now I know you may be a gitano even without being born directly within a community. The essential thing is to share a way of feeling life intensely and savoring the moments. This also is a way of being a gitano. This is not the usual cliché about 'the gitano who lives by the day', but rather being a person who relishes existence with passion. Here in Spain the gitanos are considered the absolute masters, especially in the artistic field. I, with the Farruco family, learned to fly through flamenco and now I know that sometimes it makes no sense to rationalize. There are things that do not go explained but 'felt' to preserve their magic."


A literature transmitted orally

An essential contribution in shedding light on the gitano community was given by the poet Federico Garcia Lorca[14] when, without exotic excesses, he spoke of their role in the Andalusian culture. In the 1920s Garcia Lorca was one of the first contemporary writers to become aware of the claims on which expressive gitano arts are based. With intuition and sensitivity, the Spanish poet and playwright published two of his most famous books on gitano world: "Poema del Cante Jondo" and "Romancero gitano" which transmits the mystery of duende and masterfully reproduces the essence of Andalusian-gitano. "Green, how I want you green/ Green wind/ Green branches/ The ship out on the sea and the horse on the mountain. [15]" Or on the suffering of the gitano people: "O city of gypsies!/ Banners in your corners!/The moon and the pumpkin candied with cherries/ O city of gypsies!/ Who can forget you?/ City of musk and sorrow/ with cinnamon towers."[16].

What emerges is a universal fresco, which refers to the long journey of an entire people jagged by centuries of forced wandering. And it is because of, or better as a reflection, of this imposed pilgrimage that other forms of art such as literature and poetry of the gitano world developed especially orally.

"As a result also of the importance of sound and music in the gitano culture - says Sergio Rodriguez - literature was for centuries inevitably confined to oral narration of stories and tales. Most gitano works of art began to be transcribed only in the mid-nineteenth century, by non-gitano experts and scholars". According to some, the nature of this oral tradition should also be looked for in the expressive character of gitano art, always subject to the will of the artist, as pointed out by the Italian painter Bruno Morelli: "The work should be accepted as a part of life. Far from any terrainal element or from the real life of its author, the work already lives another life and moves to a different state of mind."[17]

But also in contemporary literature there are steps forward that indicate the integration of "other" communities, such as the gitano, is possible in Spain. This is demonstrated by Nuria Leon de Santiago, who grew up in Barcelona and is the daughter of Chana, one of the largest bailaoras of all time. Grown up among great personalities of flamenco and rumba, like the musician Peret, Nuria is considered the first gitano writer in Spain. Her recently published work is a fictionalized biography dedicated to Gustav Mahler entitled "Mahler's Angel". "I was lucky - says Nuria - to grow up surrounded by the likes of Dali, Manolo Caracol or Paco de Lucia. Living in this environment made me realize that art does not belong to anyone, but it is a universal heritage. A symphony of Mahler unleashes in me the same emotions as a flamenco song or a fandango. They are different kinds of music but they all give you goose bumps and cause a lump in the throat with emotion." [18]



Cristina Artoni

Translated from Italian by Ovgu Pinar



With the support of:

Il "duende" gitano in Spagna | Barrio Gotico, Tete el Gitano, Andalusia, Los Tarantos, Sergio Rodriguez, Blas Infante, Aniya la Gitana, Somorrostro, Vicente Escuder, Carmen Amaya, Farruco, Federico Garcia Lorca, Nuria Leon de Santiago, Cristina Artoni, R.O.M. Rights of Minorities.



  1. From a concert of Tete el Gitano in Barcelona:  
  3. Clarín, 24/07/2005
  4. Professor of Political Science and Social Communication in Barcelona, currently director of the Cervantes Institute in Rome and author among others of "Gitanidad, otramanera de ver elmundo" Kairos editions.
  5. Author of the book "Origenes de lo flamenco y secreto del cante jondo"., Ediciones de la Consejeria de Cultura de la Junta de Andalucia.
  6. “Misterios del arte flamenco: ensayo de una interpretación antropológica” Sagitario editions, Barcelona, 1967

  7. “Duermete curro” interpreted by Perla de Cadiz, link:
  8. "Importancia Histórica y artística del primitivo cante andaluz llamado Cante Jondo" 1922 in Granada.
  9. Professor at Berkeley University, California, author of “La mujer y la guitarraflamenca” Jerez 2015.
  10. Conference by José de la Vega “Lo andrógino y lo arquitectónico del baile flamenco. Recordando a Carmen Amaya Vicente Escudero”, Barcelona, 23/5/2013
  11.   A mysterios spirit
  12. Irene la Sentìo:
  13. El Farruco:
  14. Federico Garcia Lorca , "Un poeta en Nueva York" (conferencia-recital).
  15. Federico Garcia Lorca “Romance sonambulo”, Romacero Gitano, 1928.
  16. Federico Garcia Lorca “Romance de la Guardia Civil Española”, Romacero Gitano, 1928.
  17. From Sergio Rodríguez's book “Gitanidad, ota manera de ver el mundo”, pag. 287.
  18. FundacionSegretariado Gitano: .