Thursday, May 27, 2010

Flamenco and Kathak

I love all music and all dance but one of the dances I absolutley love is the Spanish flamenco. The passionate dance accompanied by lusty primal singing is enthralling. There was a time not so long ago when I was determined to join a flamenco class in Seattle, but the thought of making a complete fool of myself stopped me....! Now I wish I had persevered!
A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to see a flamenco dance in Barcelona, and I was struck at the similarity in the footwork between flamenco, and Kathak, a centuries old classical dance from North India. Curious at this, I did some reading and was amazed to find the similarity was no coincidence. Read on.....
Around the ninth century, for some unknown reasons, thousands of inhabitants of the north-western part of India began to emigrate west, taking along with them their culture of music and dance including the age old temple dance Kathak. They set out from the territories presently occupied by the Punjab and Pakistan. In Persia they split, and one part went via Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and through the Gibraltar Strait, finally arriving, already known as Gypsies, in the south of Moorish Spain. In this region, known as Al-Andalus, various cultures co-existed for hundreds of years. It was the only place where Gypsies, Jews, Catholic's and Muslims lived together for a long time. Each group had its own customs, music and instruments. After many years, in the beginning of the 19th Century, due to mutual influences and the mingling of all these elements, a mysterious and expressive type of music emerged. Today we know it as Flamenco.

There are many striking similarities between Kathak - a dance popular in North India -  and the Flamenco dance of the Spanish gitanos, most notably in the percussive footwork, and dependence on (sometimes complex) rhythmic cycles. 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.

You can see for yourself the similarity between both these dance styles in this video.

And here is a video showing a wonderful fusion of the sounds of the  flamenco guitar, and the sitar:


GB said...

Love fusion music. one of my best experiences was sitting in the front row for a jugalbandi between the bansuri and western flute. heaven. I wish I could have recorded it.

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