On Duende: From Spain to Russia

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.

Nuns chanting in San Gregorio church, Granada, Spain

Nuns chanting in San Gregorio church, Granada, Spain

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