Flamenco Britannica – ‘This is my culture too’: The impact of the individual driver in the appropriation and transmission of UK Flamenco
Lecture Theatre 1, School of Music
The speaker is Tenley Martin (University of Leeds)
Around the UK there exist small pockets of flamenco aficionados consisting primarily of relocated Spanish performers and British enthusiasts. These groups, operating mostly independently of one another in a growing number of locales across the country, represent a faction devoted to the practice and preservation of a passionate and emotionally intense art persisting independent of its Andalucían homeland. Despite their primarily-autonomous existences, these groups consistently share several common characteristics. Firstly, they are predominantly focused around a particular dance class, which is the main source of interactions (via performances or workshops) with flamenco. Secondly, these classes are mainly composed of non-Spanish participants who approach the complex artform as an exotic hobby to be engaged with on a superficial, once-a-week level. Finally, in each locale there are individuals that have, for whatever reason, become infatuated with flamenco, to the extent that they have made it a way of life, often quitting jobs for periods of time because they have recognised that the best way to understand the artform is to spend time studying it in Andalucía. These individuals become viewed as local experts, and more times than not, become the drivers of the individual flamenco scenes, which would often cease to exist without them. However, given that a large part of flamenco’s meaning emanates from a history of collective suffering felt by the Gitanos and Andalucíans who practice it, it is important to consider the impact that an outsider cultural broker, such as these revered individual drivers, can have on perception and appropriation in the UK.
This paper explores flamenco localisation in the context of the UK and critically examines the role of these individual drivers in this process via their individual flamenco scenes. Using case studies from Chester and Hebden Bridge, I will discuss not only the necessity of these individual drivers and their relationship with the community group, but also the positives and negatives of having a single driver as a cultural broker for appropriating a complex musical culture. It addresses not only flamenco’s adaptation to fit within British cultural sensibilities but also how the music itself aids non-Spanish participants to connect with what they claim as the original Andalucían meaning behind the artform. Ultimately, this paper provides insight into the individual’s role in the appropriation and transmission of the UK’s interpretation of flamenco and the impact that this has on the perception of a rhythmically and socially complex musical culture outside of its homeland.