During my recent trip to Granada, Spain for a writing workshop, I spent time — along with a group of fellow writers and authors — exploring the Spanish artistic concept of Duende, which can be translated as a physical and emotional response to art, or an elevated state of authentic emotions, that is often associated with Flamenco. We learned that music and poetry which evokes Duende shares common roots of love, and suffering, and death.
Spanish poet, playwright, and theatre director, Federico García Lorca, first developed the aesthetics of Duende in 1933.
Behind the art of Duende, lurks a terrible question that has no answer. I read about Duende — and a pain so strong that it supersedes death almost — and thought about myself, and my inability to dawdle in pain, my need to move beyond it, through it, into inspiration. Russian stories about my father came to mind: Stories, rituals, and music.
While reading Lorca, and about deep song — songs heard in the distance — I came back to my childhood and to Russian songs. To gypsy music. To songs of love and yearning and an ache for a country that is gone. It is all wrapped into music.
Although I rejected religion, I love the music of my church. Church singing always makes me cry. I found myself in San Gregorio church in Granada, where nuns were chanting, and the experience helped me remember how the music from my father's side can transport me.
I know very little of the culture of my mother’s land, even though I was born there. Yes, I am steeped in the music and culture of my father’s land, even though he left it 30 years before I was born.
I only need to hear a tune, or a poem, or a line of a song and I am transported. I only need to smell the wafting of incense from the priests and I am transported. I only need to imagine the raucous laughter of a vodka-sated crowd and I am transported.
Could this, too, be Duende?