The other night, we had a master flamenco guitarist H,  and his nineteen year old son  G, to dinner.  The son, born to flamenco, has inherited his father’s incredible music and is well on the way to mastering the instrument.  He plays with the hunger and ferocity that only a young man can.  I have the great fortune to dance to G’s guitar every Tuesday, and I know one day I’ll be saying, “you know, I used to dance to that guy if you can believe it… look at him now,” and he’ll be in Jerez or New York or wherever flamenco is loved.  But first, in order that he become a truly great player of depth, he has to live. 
One of the great things about flamenco is that it is a lifelong study, and that age doesn’t determine greatness.  I heard a story the other day, about an 80 year old woman in Jerez (the cradle of flamenco in southern Spain), who was awarded the big prize in a flamenco competition simply because of the way she held up her arms and stood up.  If I understand correctly, she wasn’t even in the competition, she was a member of the audience.  How great is that?
As a flamenca, a writer, a human being, I am a student of duende- a presence, an acknowledgement of the temporal, the dark seam that gives depth to the light.  Lorca writes about it in his famous essay.  There’s also a great essay by Keith Sagar in his book, The Achievement of Ted Hughes, that discusses Ted Hughes and the duende of his poetry.
Here then is an excerpt from Lorca, 
“So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.
“Everything that has black sounds in it, has duende.”
“This ‘mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained’ is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched Nietzsche’s heart as he searched for its outer form on the Rialto Bridge and in Bizet’s music, without finding it—“
“The arrival of the duende presupposes a radical change to all the old kinds of form, brings totally unknown and fresh sensations, with the qualities of a newly created rose, miraculous, generating an almost religious enthusiasm.”
“All the arts are capable of duende, but where it naturally creates most space, as in music, dance and spoken poetry, the living flesh is needed to interpret them, since they have forms that are born and die, perpetually, and raise their contours above the precise present.” 
García Lorca, Theory and Play of the Duende

One thought on “duende

  1. I saw some flamenco on the learning channel last week. A woman sang and clapped, a man played guitar, and another woman clapped. After she sang, the woman danced. The performance was quite captivating.

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