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Flamenco soy

October 28, 2010 – 1:49 pm

As we’re an Andalucian website, it would be a glaring omission not to talk about the campaign to have flamenco, the distinctive and wonderful form of musical and dance performance which originates in Spain’s south, recognised as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (I’ll just refer to it as Cultural Heritage, CH).

It was been accepted as a candidate last year (a previous submission in 2005 was rejected), and a decision as to whether it will be inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List (as opposed to Endangered List) of ICHH is expected in Nairobi next month.

This type of CH was added to the other, better-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites, in 2003. Before that, only tangible CH was included – natural features, buildings and monuments, or sometimes whole cities. Andalucia boasts many such sites: the celebrated monuments of Granada, Cordoba and Sevilla; also Ubeda and Baeza, Doñana National Park, and various cave paintings around the region.

I’m not normally one to quote politicians unless pointing out some flaw, but what the President of the Junta de Andalucia said (largely since it doesn’t involve economic incompetence) is worth mentioning: “From its birthplace in Andalucia, [flamenco] now has no borders.” Then of course he admitted that it generates considerable wealth for Andalucia and attracts many visitors in the region. Which he needs desperately.

Reports state that two million Andalucians have pledged their support for the proposal (ICH02), and that more than 18,000 people from over 40 countries have also joined in via the internet; if you live in Andalucia, youll probably have seen the TV ads. Three hundred groups and artists have sent letters of support. Many believe that flamenco should be taught in schools.

So what other types of CH are there already? Tango, which originated in Argentina; the Silbo Gomero, mentioned above, added last year; many others are oral, musical or artistic/craft traditions among ethnic groups, with Japan and China having the most. And what are flamenco’s competitors this year? Azerbaijani and Iranian carpet-weaving, Chinese acupuncture, Croatian gingerbread craft (I kid you not), French lace-making, and a hopping procession in Luxembourg. Another nomination worth mentioning is The Mediterranean Diet, proposed jointly by Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco, while Spain is also proposing the Human Towers (Castells) in Catalonia and the Chant of the Majorcan Sybil. It’s a shoo-in for flamenco, surely.

I’m not saying all this as any kind of aficionado. I like flamenco, but I don’t know my bulerias from my alegrias. I have a healthy respect for it, as someone who knows it’s another, more exotic foreign world, which they’ll never be a part of; one of passion, pain and amazing artistry; one that is mesmerising, but very much one which is observed and enjoyed and experienced from the outside. I have friends who learn flamenco, and who dance it very well. After seven years here, I can barely manage a sevillana at the Feria with a friend whispering each next move to me.

Who knows how important it is for flamenco to be put on “The List”, but if it draws publicity and raises the profile of Andalucia as the home of such an unique performance tradition – cante, baile y toque – with truly global appeal, well that’s no bad thing.

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