In the fifth century, the King of Persia realised the poor could not afford to enjoy music so he asked the King of India to send ten thousand musicians, men and women, so the story goes .... When they arrived, they were given provisions to support themselves and play music for the poor but had soon wasted their resources and returned to ask for more. The King, furious, ordered them to pack their bags and leave the place at once. They had no choice but to wander, finding work wherever they could .... and so 'Flamenco' was born.
'Flamencologists' believe the dance originated in Rajasthan, Northern India, migrating with the first gypsies into Europe and North Africa. When they arrived in Andalusia, the dance was further influenced by the Roman tradition of uninhibited female dance.
Spanish gypsy music persisted through the centuries, soaking up influences from the Moors and the Jews and a seventeenth-century wave of Irish immigrants contributed percussive footwork. African influences soon followed from the Colonies. Flamenco is fusion.
In the late eighteenth century, encouraged by visitors from abroad, the genre began to acquire an identity and by the end of the nineteenth century, Flamenco was a thriving, commercial art form providing employment for groups of travelling performers, who might otherwise have starved on the land.
Under the Franco regime, women were discouraged from playing guitar and channelled into the more ‘feminine’ pursuit of dance. The shawl-whirling, castanet-clicking 'Señorita' became a stereotype.
As to the varying claims of ‘authenticity' of gypsies and non-gypsies, professionals and aficionados .... these matters remains hotly debated but Flamenco remains an important feature of Andalusian culture and most towns have their own Peña Flamenca (Flamenco club). Flamenco runs in families, with children learning it from an early age (often before they can speak) and in 2011, the art form was recognised by UNESCO as part of the intangible heritage of mankind.