and Saints days. Many forms of music and dance
are enjoyed here, but perhaps the music most often
associated with Spain is Flamenco. Originating in
Andalucia in Southern Spain, it has spread throughout
the country and can be found in most regions.
There is a lot of argument about the development of Flamenco. The vibrant
rhythms suggest a strong Moorish influence although the music is clearly a fusion of Arab
and Jewish elements too. No-one argues about its gypsy roots though: the very word
"Flamenco" is thought to be a combination of the Arabic words felag
(fugitive) and mengu (peasant).
What is certain is that this music has thrived since the fifteenth century. It has been
handed down through oral tradition, performed live in bars and clubs, and now it has
developed into a rare art form. Flamenco artists do more than just perform and entertain:
the real experts actually engage with the audience, creating an emotional response.
There are 60 classic Flamenco songs (cantes) and dances (danzas)
which are grouped, according to beat cycles and rhythms, into soleares, tonas, tangos,
and seguiriyas. The variations are numerous and often differ according to region.
The very first Flamenco score to be written down was The Lucky Mask (Neri), found
in an eighteenth century Italian opera. Until then it Flamenco had just survived through
traditional live performances.
Castanets (castañuelas) have long been part of the great Flamenco tradition,
but like every other musical instrument, there is an art to playing them. Worn on the
thumb of each hand, the strings have to be perfectly adjusted to make sure that there is
enough pressure to achieve the right sound. The little finger is the most important: it
begins the sequence pressing the castanets together to create the clap. This has to be
repeated as quickly and evenly as possible: right hand, then left, then right hand, and so
on in quick succession. The best Flamenco dancers are the ones who can move their feet to
the exact beat of the castanets.
Cultural events and feast days are celebrated all over Spain and are colourful
reminders of ancestry and tradition. Although many are religious occasions, there is a
strong pagan influence too. Some consist of carnival-style parades and processions with
entire communities dressing up and disguising themselves with masks. Over 200 festivals
take place annually; they are gaining an international following as more and more tourists
attend them. Many are specific to certain towns, and each town has its own Saints
In the month of March, Valencia celebrates Las Fallas with a week of all-night
dancing and firework displays. Many people dress up for the occasion; in particular, women
dress up in traditional Valencian clothes. The city is decorated with gigantic comic
papier-mâché sculptures of TV personalities and local celebrities. Seville also has a
big cultural event in April called Feria de Abril where fairgrounds with music
displays, dance-spectaculars, firecrackers, flags, and feasts are set up all over the
city. The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, in July, is one of Spains most
elaborate and famous festivals. Those who are brave enough risk their lives by running
through the streets with the beasts charging behind them. Semanta Santa is the
Easter procession of Holy Week which takes place every year throughout Spain and is one of
the most important events in the Christian calendar. Men known as penitents carry a huge
statue of the Virgin Mary through the streets, followed by musicians and children.