During my trip to Seville, Spain, last winter, I found myself in a recording studio. The engineer, Isidro, is a successful musician and works as a sideman for a big-name singer. Experimenting in the recording studio is play for him, and does an amazing job of it. He has several kids, who came to the studio with a playmate while we were recording on the weekend. The first interesting thing was that all the kids, aged 5, 8, 10 & 12, played together and everyone was included.
We were there all day Saturday; it was a very long day. In that time the kids were not ‘plugged in’ at all – no texting or gaming, not for the whole day! Instead, they played with the instruments there (guitar, hand drums, drum set) and watched their father with real curiosity, observing everything that was going on.
We decided to include the kids in the recording. Part of the song we were recording was in English, and the Spaniards struggled with pronunciation. I wanted the kids to sing one of the English lines; Paco (the guitar master I was studying with) started to say it was too difficult, but before he could finish his sentence, they were already successfully doing it!
At the end of the day the adults were standing around outside talking while the kids sat in the back seat of Isidro’s car with the doors open. Suddenly, something caught my ear: Isidro had mixed an electronic back track with a complex rhythm in with the recording we had made. It had been playing all day as he worked on the recording. The kids had replicated it exactly and were clapping the rhythms in perfect time, dividing the parts between them. I pointed this out to the others, who seemed almost as amazed as I was.
Later, when I asked Paco about it, I was marveling that the kids hadn’t been plugged into electronic devices for the entire day. He said proudly, ‘Not the gypsy kids. Once they start playing music, that’s it. They don’t take an interest in those other things.’
This is what makes the gypsies so proficient: Music is part of their world from a young age as part of their lifestyle, included in their community. Imagine an entire culture consisting of both children and adults that pursues music as play with the same enthusiasm as children using their devices. That’s flamenco for you!