Flamenco and the 1922 Spanish Woodstock
As the audience emerged at the end of the second night, much soaked after a thunderstorm, most were more than satisfied. It had been an exuberant event. But, as the last stragglers hurried away from the grand Nasrid Palace, the debate over the larger meaning of the concert – and ultimately the meaning of flamenco – was just beginning.
These days, it’s hard to choose a book on flamenco that doesn’t acknowledge the influence – good and bad – of the Concurso de Cante Jondo. The legacy of the event in the world of flamenco weighs heavily in the same way that the 1969 Woodstock festival preoccupies rock historians. Although the two events were markedly different in size and tone, both helped define their eras, spawned a cavalcade of similar events, but in some ways failed to deliver on their most ambitious promises.
Like Woodstock, much of the Concurso’s enduring fame lay in who was there.
“The power of 1922 lies in the weight of the great names who led and supported it, above all Falla and a very young Lorca”, explains José Javier León, writer and professor, and author of a 2021 book on the Concurso entitled Burlas and Veras from 22.
Saved from extinction
As for its positive fallout, the 1922 concert inspired a number of competition throughout Spain, notably the Concurso de Córdoba in 1956, and others in Seville, Huelva and Madrid. The Falla event was also successful in discovering new talent (including the flamenco legend that would become El Caracol) and in rescuing several old flamenco styles – notably the Martinette and liviana – almost certain to become extinct.
“I think the Concurso has set a precedent for competitions in the profession that has definitely changed the way we perceive flamenco and to some extent how we enjoy it,” says school-trained flamenco dancer Magdalena Mannion. Amor de Dios dance hall in Madrid. . “Was he successful in his attempt to preserve the purity of the art? I don’t think – I think what he did was start a process in which to quantify and compare something so personal that should be hard to judge by numbers.”
Modern observers today are inclined to question some of Falla and Lorca’s historical assumptions, particularly that flamenco in the 1920s was decadent and dying.
“Flamenco in its origins was an urban manifestation”, says León, “Not rural and secretive, as the promoters of the Concurso believed, not an artisanal product of an aficionado, but a complex artistic discipline. They split the tree flamenco in two, on one side jondo song with only positive connotations, and on the other hand “flamenco” – derivative, adulterated and commercialized. This division was pernicious.”