History and Characteristics
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When the word "flamenco" is mentioned, the image of a Spanish woman in an elaborate, ethnic-looking dress dancing to the melody of a lively, finger-picked guitar, comes up first and foremost in one's mind.

This is most likely because Flamenco has three different elements: dance (baile), song (cante) and, of course, the intense guitar (guitarra). The playing is known for being fast and acoustic, sometimes accompanied on percussion by a dancer playing castanets (a small rhythm instrument "clapped" in the palms of one's hand).

According to musical history, Flamenco was first mentioned in print around the mid-1700's, and generally became a style common in southern Spain. Particularly in the late 1800's to early 1900's (known as the "Golden Age" of Flamenco), the music and dancing was a common sight and sound in cafés. As the genre grew more serious and well-known, so did the songwriting and musicianship -- the songs started expressing deep themes and Flamenco guitarists started becoming known as virtuosos.

Some Flamenco contains elements of a Latin American influence, which sometimes irked purists. Today, it is very common for Flamenco artists to incorporate Jazz, Bossa Nova, Salsa, and other Spanish, Latin and Western styles. Guitarists such as Canadian Jesse Cook and German Otmar Liebert have brought Flamenco to a worldwide contemporary audience. Indeed, Flamenco guitar has the connotation of mastery, always acoustic, with fast-paced finger-picking. The dance form too has evolved, growing more artistic.

But the focus remains on the music. Mostly instrumental now and accompanied with a full band, Flamenco is sometimes thought as the definition of Spanish music. Like Latin American music, many World Fusion artists incorporate elements of Flamenco in their music because of its popularity and recognizable quality.

However, "traditional" Flamenco is that which is still performed in the south of Spain, with only guitar, voice and dance. You most likely will not hear it unless you take a trip over to that part of the World, or are lucky enough to discover some very early recordings. But the flavor and excitement of contemporary Flamenco, or its use in World Fusion, is definitely worth a listen -- and a dance!