The Catalan rumba started with the Romani gypsy community in Barcelona in the 1950s. | P. BERGAS

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In 2010, Unesco made three declarations of world intangible cultural heritage that applied to Spain. One was the Cant de la Sibil·la, the Song of the Sybil, in Mallorca. Another was human towers, a phenomenon of Catalan culture in particular. The third was flamenco, most obviously associated with Andalusia.

There is a connection between these latter two in that a proposal has been on the table for several years for a further declaration that links Catalan culture to flamenco.

In March 2015, a meeting of representatives of various musical associations, musicologists and the European Commission was held in Barcelona. It was to consider the claims of Catalan rumba to be given Unesco status. As well as support at a European level, there was backing from France’s culture ministry and Catalonia’s National Council for Culture and the Arts. In July of that year, the Catalonia parliament approved the declaration of rumba as being in the cultural and musical heritage interest of Catalonia.

A good deal of attention was therefore paid to Catalan rumba and to the seeking of the Unesco declaration. Since then, and apart from reminders of the proposal, such as further support expressed at the likes of the National Catalan Rumba Symposium in 2017, there has been no official word. Why not? Has the Spanish government not been supportive? Why ever would it not be, regardless of political complexion? No, I can’t believe that is the case. Perhaps the necessary documentation hasn’t been prepared.

The case has to be made for recognition in the form of a declaration. Uniqueness, or a strong sense of it, is usually needed. The Sibil·la wasn’t unique to Majorca, but it was Majorca (and Alghero in Sardinia) that kept it alive, hence the claim for recognition. The Sibil·la is also old. Centuries old. Antiquity does help when making a Unesco request.

A group called La Rumbañera performed at Palma’s CaixaForum earlier this week, their concert being one on a tour to introduce the historical and geographical evolution of the Catalan rumba genre. A review referred to the “broad genre”, and this breadth may just be what holds it back where Unesco is concerned - its breadth and its relative recency.

In 1933, the Andalusian historian Blas Infante wrote that the first stage of development of flamenco was in the second quarter of the sixteenth century. He insisted that the word flamenco came from Arabic. This connection is quite important in the story of flamenco because it represented the allying of Muslim Andalusians with the Romani. As such, it firmly establishes the Andalusian origin of flamenco and dismisses a theory that flamenco had something to do with Flanders; the word flamenco can mean Flemish.

So, flamenco is old; its roots anyway. It is Andalusian, and unfortunately for advocates of the Catalan rumba, the Andalusian flamenco connection does dispute some of what can be said to be its authenticity. In his book ‘A Poet in New York’, written between 1929 and 1930, Federico García Lorca observed that “la Habana” of Cuba contained rhythms typical of “the great Andalusian people”.

La Habana was the music of Cuba, and rumba originated there, though strictly speaking its origins were African. A hybrid of Afro-Cuban music (rumba) became popular in Cuba in the first half of the nineteenth century. The associated dance was so wild that the authorities banned it. This prohibition didn’t really stick and by the 1920s rumba had become hugely popular once more, so they tried banning it again.

The crossover in Spain was to come at the end of the nineteenth century, and it occurred in Andalusia with flamenco rumba. The popularity of Cuban music in Spain was first evident in Andalusia, and it was this “rumba flamenca”, it is argued, which led to a derivative - “rumba catalana”. And what García Lorca may have heard in Cuba was an imported influence from Andalusia.

The Catalan rumba started with the Romani gypsy community in Barcelona in the 1950s. It developed into a distinctive genre, but the breadth of its origins influence claims as to a certain singularity. There was little disputing this with either flamenco or the Sibil·la.

Catalan rumba is less clear-cut, an example of this being that La Rumbañera’s concert featured ‘La Paloma’, taken as being the original ‘havanera’ from Cuba, even though it was written by Sebastián de Iradier from the Basque Country around 1863. The havaneres are immensely popular in Mallorca, but might they not be said to be a specific genre?

A Unesco declaration was being sought in 2015 in order that the original Catalan rumba was recognised and therefore afforded some protection. But defining the original has not been straightforward. It was derivative and its comparative newness in the 1950s has meant that almost from the word go it has been exposed to a dynamic of alteration and experimentation.