Thursday, January 20, 2005

Tracing the Rajasthani link to Flamenco

It’s not often that as a journalist you expect more questions to be flung at you than what you can possibly ask. But expect Eva Santiago and her Flamenco troupe to turn the table on you. Here to perform in the ongoing Jaipur Heritage International Festival, the team from Barcelona is as curious as we are to learn about the links between gypsies in Spain and those in Rajasthan. Perhaps more!

While no conclusive proof has yet been found and the connections, many critics would say, are vague, the “prevalent theory” does accept that the gypsies there have a definite link to Rajasthan. “The roots of Flamenco, though somewhat mysterious, seem to lie in the Roma migration from Rajasthan to Spain between the 9th and 14th century,” says Encyclopaedia Britannica. These tribes, it is believed, moved westwards, via Afghanistan and Iran towards east Europe and finally reached Spain. Obviously, over time and along the route these people bartered influences and created the richness of Flamenco as we know it today.

Eva Santiago, the lead dancer of the group, waxed eloquent about the links. “The movement of the hands and the hips in dances here is similar. Even the rhythm of the music sounds alike,” she said. On the other hand, Jose Santiago, another dancer, was struck by the likeness between the features of Ram in a painting at City Palace and his folks in Spain. And for Raul Amador, the singer, it’s the kind of jewels worn by men. “It’s just been four days here and we have found so many similarities,” added Flo Guerin, the manager of the group.

Even Fernando Perez, a Spanish musician and an ethnomusicologist who is in Jaipur at the moment, is upbeat about the connection. “The language that I have heard here and what is spoken by the gypsies back home has the same melodic curve. The way they intonate the sentences is very similar,” he said. “It becomes even easier to catch the melody for someone like me who does not know the two languages,” Perez added.

Despite these subtle similarities, the differences are stark as many gypsies have integrated and established themselves in the mainstream Spanish society. “What I see here seems like photographs during my grandfather’s time,” Jose said. While on this trip, the troupe hopes to gather as much evidence as they can that would support the belief that the gypsies originated from Rajasthan. “Most back home have no clue that we could be from here. So, we must take back as much as possible from here,” he added. The troupe performs at Ravindra Manch on Thursday evening.

One of my reports for Hindustan Times


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