The Zambra Gitana: Origen and Evolution
The Zambra Gitana is part of flamenco culture. However, the origin of flamenco as we know it today is a mystery resulting from the mix of cultures that have existed in Andalusia, along with the fact that the Romani (Gypsies) were a nomadic people that originally came here from India.
The word Zambra comes from the Arabic word zamra (meaning flute) or zamara (meaning musicians) in Classical Arabic, both of which provide sufficient context to know what it could be. The zambra originated and lives in Sacromonte, in the Gypsy caves. This flamenco song and dance was inspired by Muslim weddings in Granada. During the persecution of the Moors, they joined together with the Gypsy people and passed along their art. Over time the influence of the zambra in Muslim weddings was passed on to the Gypsy people of Sacromonte, becoming a part of their wedding celebrations. Gypsy weddings are divided into three main dances: la alboreá, la cachucha and la mosca. Each of these symbolises a chapter of the wedding.
The main characteristics of the zambra are that dances are performed barefoot, wearing a blouse knotted beneath the bosom and a long fluted skirt with many folds that is tied across at the hip. This skirt is designed to appear to float while the bailaora (flamenco dancer) dances (as can be seen in the video provided below).
Some of the first zambras created, and which are renowned, are the Cujón, Manolo Amaya and María la Canastera
The fall and rise of the Zambra Gitana
During the Spanish Inquisition, in the 16th century, the Zambra Gitana was prohibited for being considered an indecent dance. However, people continued to dance in hiding.
Despite this, instead of declining, flamenco as music and an art started to become truly relevant in the 18th century, and it was an important part of the culture of the Generation of ´27 (a group of avant-garde Spanish poets). The turning point came at the historic 1922 Flamenco Vocals Festival (Concurso de Cante Jondo) organised by Manuel de Falla, Federico García Lorca and other members of La tertulia del Rinconcillo (a group of cultural icons who chatted about their projects in art, music, literature, politics and life over a glass of wine). The likes of Fernando de los Ríos, Adolfo Salazar and Juan Ramón Jiménez performed at this event, and it became such a hit on a national level that it gave rise to a new type of culture.
On another note, the romantic writers extol this stereotypical image of the Gypsies of Sacromonte in their works, dancing flamenco at all hours of the day. The so-called romantic travellers consequently have this image of gypsies constantly singing and dancing flamenco which was reinforced by gypsies being in flamenco dress all day in order to be the first to put on a show and charge the tourists to watch. And that´s how the Gypsy Caves of Sacromonte became a famous and important part of Spanish culture.
The Zambra as Intangible Cultural Heritage
In February 2019, Granada City Council started the application process for the Zambra to be recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage. This action was backed by all currently active zambras: Los Tarantos, La Rocío, María La Canastera, Venta del Gallo, as well as important figures in flamenco such as Marina Heredia and Salvadora Maya, in addition to others.
The initiative´s promoter, Gabriel Medina Vílchez, a Tourism Development Agent has started a petition on Change.org you can sign by following this link: http://zambragitana.org
To illustrate all of these ideas, we’re leaving you with a video by a famous bailaora, Estrella Morente: