~tener duende~

December 27th, 2008


Parque Natural de Alcornocales (Cork Oak Trees). Notice the numbers on the trees, which are stripped at the base. A five-man gang traveling the forest in a nine-year cycle carefully harvests the cork. Once loaded, a tap on the back sends their burros unaccompanied to the factory.

We had been traveling in Portugal in what turned out to be a less than perfect season, and our own lack of flexibility (read:funds) was an influential factor, however, never were two people so pleased to return to Spanish soil. My hypothesis as to why: Duende.


I mentioned in the Porto post the Portuguese concept of Suadade: a longing for that which will never return. Often used in describing the music and dance of Flamenco, Spanish Duende is similar to Saudade, but subtly distinguished. The difference is clear when comparing Fado to Flamenco— the music and dance of the of Moors, Jews, Gypsies and Spanish who have lived in Andalusia.


Both are described as being non-translatable, but I will plunge in and say unlike the to the marrow of your bones sorrow of Suadade, Duende is about soul, soul that recognizes the sorrow and joy that are inextricably linked in life. It’s about recognizing and embracing the full spectrum of human experience, piercingly painful, heart-explodingly luscious. You can’t have one without the other, and really, you wouldn’t want it. The thing about life is it will give you the opportunity to experience the full spectrum whether you want it or not, but if you dig on the Duende, you don’t run. You dance. You sing. You maybe howl to the heavens. Or that’s my personal perspective.


In Buenos Aires in 1933 Federico García Lorca parsed out the aspects of Duende in a lecture he gave, Juego y Teoria del Duende (“Play and Theory of the Duende”): irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical.

Lorca writes: The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.

All that has dark sound has duende, that mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher can explain.


Nick Cave made reference to duende in his lecture on the nature of the love song (Vienna, 1999):
All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right to be sad and the air-waves are littered with them. The love song must resonate with the susurration of sorrow, the tintinnabulation of grief.

The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgment of its capacity for suffering.


And below, three women who in my opinion know all about it.

Carmen Amaya

Manuela Carrasco

Sara Baras

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