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  • Hannah Fielding - Romance Novelist

guitar

In my new book, Legacy, the male protagonist Ruy is of mixed heritage – he is part gentleman, part gypsy. His gypsy roots are very important to him, and one of the ways in which he connects to these roots and participates in the gypsy community is through music: he is a flamenco musician.

Here is the heroine’s first glimpse of Ruy:

The gypsy stood up, came forward and murmured an announcement of the next song, making a fresh thrill ripple up Luna’s spine at the husky, masculine sound of his voice. He started the rhythmic clapping of a toca de mano, and the waiter went round refilling glasses while the audience joined in, working up to a crescendo of hand-claps until the whole tavern shook with cries of ‘olé’ and ‘anda’.

The muscles of his arms flexed as this time he picked up a guitar and strummed a rapid cascade of chords. He gazed down into her eyes. The dazzling white smile he gave her almost stopped her heart and she lowered her head to hide her confusion.

As the rhythmic clapping subsided, he began to sing. His voice was rich and mellow, warm with vibrant tones and tingling with emotion, beguiling and beckoning like a filtre d’amour that scram-bled her thoughts and stirred primitive and alarming desires within her. The music was plaintive and feverish, and as Luna watched his long fingers alternately strum and flick across the strings of his guitar, first lightly and then harder at lightning speed, she found herself wondering how those hands would feel on her skin. His songs were in Caló so she could not understand the words, but she could sense the intensity of feeling that went into the full, vigorous notes and although he sang to the audience, she knew from the sensuous intimacy in his eyes that he was singing for her alone.

Ruy’s instrument here is a guitar, but not just any guitar: he is a flamenco musician. Today, I thought I would share with you what is so special about that emblem of passionate, fiery Spain: the flamenco guitar.

The history

Flamenco dates back around two hundred years in Andalucía. Originally, flamenco was song – the distinctive raw and primal cry – and rhythm created by pounding on the floor (the palo seco or dry style). Over the years, as the art form gained popularity, it evolved to include four parts: the voice, the dance, the guitar and the jaleo (clapping, stamping, shouting – it translates to raising hell).

During the café cantante period, from 1850 to 1910, flamenco clubs were opened in major cities, and out of this was born the solo flamenco guitarist.

The instrument

Traditionally, the flamenco guitar is crafted from Spanish woods: spruce or cedar on top and cypress, sycamore or rosewood on the back. It is a lot like the classical guitar (indeed, luthiers – those who make guitars – did not always differentiate between the two), but it is lighter with a thinner top, which makes the sound produced bright and punchy and percussive, and loud enough to be heard over stamping feet and clapping. It also has a golpeador, a laminated plate that protects the instrument from the tapping fingers (called golpes) that are part of flamenco guitar playing.

The techniques

A flamenco guitarist (a tocaor) plays differently to a classical guitarist:

* He plays in the apoyando style, which means striking, rather than pulling, the strings (apoyar is the verb for support, and the next string supports the finger that strikes, causing vibrations to the fret and a percussive tone).

* Often, he holds the guitar parallel to the floor, giving him a wide range of motion in his arms.

* He uses a capo, which attaches to the neck, to sharpen the sound and heighten the pitch.

* He employs a range of flamenco-specific playing techniques. My favourite is the rasgueado, which is strumming with outward flicks of the fingers that is meant to echo the sound of the dancer’s feet and her castanets.

The music

Flamenco is a style of music that comes from the heart. Improvisation is common, and traditional music is rarely transposed into music books and learned by rote, but is passed from player to player. In this way, a piece can alter subtly with each passing, so that it is always changing, growing; a work in progress. Toque gitano o flamenco is a soulful, expressive style of Spanish music; it is incredibly stirring.

I will leave you with this video of one the greatest and most influential flamenco guitarists, Paco de Lucia, and the hope that you can find time to watch even just a minute of this and be transported to the world of my characters in the Andalucían Nights trilogy.

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