Thursday, July 12, 2012

Alma Flamenca

In the southern Spanish peninsula of Iberia is the autonomous community of Andalusia. The name traces back to the Arabic word, Al-Andalus. This part of Spain was settled by Muslims, Romani, Carthaginians, Greeks, Roman, Phoenicians, Iberians, Sephardic Jews and other diverse groups.

The art of lutherie or stringed instrument building has long been associated with Spain. The luthiers of Andalusia made instruments in a wide range of prices, largely based on the materials used, and the amount of decoration. The cheapest guitars were often simple, basic instruments made from the less expensive local woods such as cypress, rather than imported rosewood.

It was here that a style of playing known as Flamenco flourished. Flamenco is dance music. In addition to playing the strings, Flamenco guitar utilizes percussive tapping of the guitars body.

A friend once said, “Nothing really changes, everything remains the same.” In the beginning, most musicians were not getting rich, as is the case today. Most could only afford and inexpensive guitar. Which might be good for Flamenco music since the instruments have a very short life span due to all the tapping and slapping of the guitars body.

So less expensive woods were used on Flamenco guitars. The tops were generally made of cypress. Sycamore was used for the back and sides. On a really good instrument the maker used rosewood.

These were hard woods and produced an increase in volume and a brighter tone that could be heard over the dancers’ shoes that had nails in the soles. Flamenco guitars are lighter than Classical guitars.

Some come with a type of celluloid pickguard known as a golpeador that protects the guitars body from the tapping and striking.

The following short film is about the making of a Flamenco guitar. It is called The Making of Alma Flamenca, which roughly translates to Soul of Flamenco.

The luthier is Vassilis Lazarides, who is a well respected Greek builder, in business since 1990. Mr. Lazarides started by constructing traditional instruments such as bouzoukis, oud, pontic and Istanbul liras and renaissance lutes.

In 1995 he began creating Flamenco and Classical guitars.

The film condenses into three minutes a job that took Lazarides 299 hours to complete. For those of you doing the math, if Lazarides spent 9 hours a day working on the guitar, it would have taken him a little over a month to complete, assuming he worked weekends.

I found the film fascinating, since you can see how the craftsman doesn’t just work with the wood, he listens to it, feels it and determines how much vibration will occur.

The film features the incredible playing of guitarist Edsart Udo De Haes.