One of the great things about music is that it's always changing. Always evolving. Incorporating influences from other musical styles, to morph into something new and unique. Nowhere is this more apparent today than with new Spanish Flamenco guitar music.
"Flamenco" is the name most widely associated with Spanish music. And although it is definitely part of that country's culture, it's native only to the Southern region of Andalucia. However this does'nt mean that if you're not born in Andalucia, you can't be a "genuine" Flamenco artist! There have been, and continue to be, many contributors from other regions and other countries. Most notably Latin America and Cuba.
Originally, Flamenco was the music of the Andalucian gypsies. And, understandably, those who grew up around them were called "Flamencos."
Just as this style of Spanish music was result of centuries of influence and "cross pollination" by and from Byzantine and Moorish influences, the same is true for the evolution of the Spanish Guitar.
After the Islamic invasion of Spain in 711, the region of what we today know as Cordoba, became a center for Islamic musicians. Who were obviously influenced by the local music. The first phase of the guitars' evolution was the addition of a fifth string to the Islamic Oud. The resulting instrument was the Andalucian "Nuba." More commonly referred to as the "Moorish Guitar."
Centuries later, elements of this instrument combined with the European Lute and the Guitar Latina created the Vihuela. This became the basis for the Baroque guitar, which, in turn, morphed into the Classical guitar. Finally, the Flamenco guitar was born.
A Quantum Leap
Although it's always difficult to say exactly when a particular style or from of music "began" - it's safe to say that that the arrival of Carlos Montoya was a significant milestone. Montoya, a gypsy, who couldn't read or write music, began performing in cafes when he was only 14 years old. At that time, the guitar was regarded solely as an accompanying instrument. It was Montoya's talent, both as a performer and a composer that would elevate the guitar, and it's music to foreground status.
Durng the 20's and 30's Montoya toured the World, often accompanying famous dancers, such as La Argentina. After the Second World War, now based in New York, Montoya continued to fill concert halls(including the Houston Astrodome!) expanding his repertoire(and that of new Spanish Flamenco music) to include jazz, folk and blues.
Passing the Torch
Montoya's accomplishments paved the way for all future Flamenco guitarists. The most celebrated modern one being, of course, Paco de Lucia. Like, Montoya, Paco also began his professional career at an early age, and also by accompanying dancers and singers. His first major professional accomplishment was accompanying the Legendary Flamenco singer Carmen De La Istra for eight years. Paco continues to contribute to the evolution of Spanish music with his performances and compositions which, like Montoya, freely incorporate jazz, pop, rock, folk, blues and classical influences.
The Modern Scene
Today, it is Paco, the inheritor of Montoya's tradition, who is the inspiration and reference for the present generation of Spanish Flamenco guitarists. Jesse Cook, the energetic Canadian. Oscar Lopez. Lawson Rollins. Miguel de La Bastide. Jose Encinas. And, of course, Santiago Cortez. Like Paco, Santiago seamlessly blends the music of many cultures and traditions, in a way that is always familiar, but never derivative. His two great strengths are the quality of his compositions, and his impressive gift for melody. Santiago's incredible technique is always complimenting, never overpowering it. This is what makes his style of "Flamenco Fusion" so unique and listenable.