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The Guitar Family Tree

A quiz. Fill in the blank: The … Guitar. Right! ‘Spanish’ is the correct answer. This marvelously versatile instrument which has (with the piano) become geographically and stylistically ubiquitous in the contemporary world is indeed from Spain. But its forefathers are from the Middle East. The Arabs brought stringed instruments to the Iberian Peninsula when they arrived in 711CE. Most important among these instruments was the oud (pronounced like ‘dude’ without the first ‘d’). To this day the oud is kind of like the guitar or the piano for the Arabic world. Composers use the oud when fashioning their melodies. Vocalists use the oud to accompany themselves when the band in not availab

Olé and Divine Possession

It’s well known that many Spanish words come from Arabic: azúcar (sugar), aciete (oil), naranja (orange) ... Of course, many place names in Spain are Arabic or adapted from Arabic: Almeria, Guadalajara, Jaèn … the list runs into the thousands. But what about that most common of flamenco jaleos the word ‘olé’? A jaleo is a word or phrase shouted out during a flamenco performance to encourage the dancer or musician. You might for example hear, ‘Agua!’ (which means ‘water!’) or ‘Que bailas bien!’ (‘you dance so well!’). But a flamenco performance just wouldn’t be a flamenco performance without an ‘olé’ or two. The word doesn’t seem to mean anything in Spanish. Where does it come from? If