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Danza Mora: North Africa in Flamenco, and Flamenco in North Africa

Abstract of paper to be presented by Walter Clark, University of California, Riverside at the conference "Fez, Morocco, Crossroads of Knowledge and Power: Celebrating 1,200 Years of Urban Life"

The Moorish invasion and occupation of the Iberian Peninsula for several centuries during the Middle Ages left a deep imprint on virtually every aspect of Spanish culture, including its traditional music.  Insofar as this occupation lasted longest in the south, Andalusia, it is there that one finds the most profound influence. 

This paper examines the impact of Moorish music and dance on flamenco, the traditional art form of marginalized social groups in Andalusia, particularly Gypsies.  Of the many types of song and dance in the flamenco repertoire that exhibit North African traits, e.g., zambra, taranto, and rondeña, one genre in particular stands out:  the danza mora, or “Moorish dance.”  This is one of the lesser-known flamenco numbers, but it is also one of the most intriguing in the way that it departs from all other genres in terms not only of the music itself but the costume and movements of the dancer. 

In recent times, influence has begun to flow in the opposite direction.  North African musicians have begun to adopt elements of flamenco in their music, particularly of the so-called nuevo flamenco, or “new flamenco,” originated by guitarist Paco de Lucia in the 1970s and later popularized by the Gipsy Kings.  The rumba flamenca that is a staple of nuevo flamenco has found its way into North Africa, partly as a result of the collaborations of Spanish and North African musicians, both attempting to invigorate their own styles by reviving the historical links between Andalusian and North African traditions. 

The transnational nature of this exchange thus exhibits a certain irony, in that modernization results in a revival of tradition, though in hybridized forms that have found currency in the globalized marketplace of "world music."

Center for Near Eastern Studies