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Christina Zanfagna

Santa Clara University
Associate Professor
Berkeley, CA
Flamenco Fusion and Ethnic Confusion: Rosalía at the Crossroads of Blackness, “Gypsy-ness,” and Latinidad

Rosalía, the rising Spanish pop star, brought a unique brand of nuevo-flamenco music and dance to the international popular music stage at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards. It was the first time a Spanish-speaking artist had been nominated for the category Best New Artist. Her long, bedazzled silver nails rose like daggers to meet the crescendos of her voice, enshrining the microphone. Then she danced, transitioning from flamenco body percussion to the undulating hip grinds and pop and lock movements of hip hop. Rosalía’s fusion of flamenco and pop music forms such as hip-hop, R&B, reggaeton and electronic music has evoked unprecedented controversy. As a young Spanish woman in her 20s from a town just north of Barcelona—a city far removed geographically and culturally from the Andalusia region which gave rise to flamenco—critiques of cultural appropriation have clouded her skyrocketing journey to fame. Rosalía’s use of Gitano language, music, dance and imagery as a non-Gitana, Catalonian woman, echoes the continued silencing of the Gitano experience in Spain. The Association of Feminist Gitanas for Diversity condemned Rosalía for her simultaneous profiting off of flamenco and refusal to credit Gitanos for their “fundamental contribution” to flamenco. Questioning her claim to Latinidad, reggaetón artists boycotted the Latin GRAMMYS for “whitewashing” after Rosalía took home numerous awards in 2019. Meanwhile, certain traditional flamenco artists and aficionados (fans) have denounced her music as meaningless bubblegum pop even as she embodies the self-ownership, power, and eroticism—weapons of survival born of struggle—that are inherent to flamenco. What is Rosalía telling the world about flamenco, ethnic affiliation, and cultural mixing? In this multimedia, read presentation, I will explore Rosalía’s complicated connections to blackness, “gypsy-ness,” and Latinidad in relation to flamenco as a tradition born of movement and mixture—a tradition in flux.

Christina Zanfagna is an Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and the Co-Director of the Center for Arts and Humanities at Santa Clara University. Her book, Holy Hip Hop in the City of Angels, explores the intersections of religion, race, and geography in Los Angeles gospel rap. Zanfagna has written on topics such as digital DJing practices, South African jazz, flamenco, and Harlem’s musical diasporas. She is also a flamenco dancer.