The Roma (or "Gypsies") of Spain have made significant cultural contributions to the Iberian peninsula, particularly with respect to music and dance. Indeed, the flamenco, an art form synonymous with Spanish culture, was a gift from these mysterious, nomadic people who migrated to Europe from northwestern India in the Middle Ages.
Now, Spain’s oldest and most prominent flamenco festival will return the favor – by visiting India next year.
The Cante de las Minas (Song of the Mines) festival will make its first appearance in India next March in Jodhpur, in the province of Rajasthan, the ancient homeland of Spain’s Gypsies.
“We were inspired by the search for the common origins of flamenco and the music of Rajasthan,” said Francisco Bernabe, director of the flamenco festival and mayor of La Union, a city in the southeastern region of Murcia, according to Agence France Presse.
“They say that the Gypsies from Rajasthan who emigrated to Europe centuries ago brought with them their traditions, culture and music, and this music evolved in Spain into what is now flamenco.”
“Cante de las Minas” refers to a particular kind of flamenco that was brought by mineworkers from Andalusia (the Gypsy heartland of Spain) to Murcia in the latter part of the 19th century.
“The songs of the mines are a special branch of flamenco unique to this area,” said Bernabe.
“They are among the hardest, most serious and most intense and difficult songs.”
It is unclear how many Roma currently live in Spain -- estimates run from 500,000 to as high as 1 million. As in virtually all other parts of Europe, the Roma faced intense persecution and discrimination throughout their centuries of residence in Spain.
Since 1983, however, the Madrid government has established social service and welfare programs to help the Roma.
Moreover, unlike France and some other European states, Spain has attempted to integrate the Roma with the general population and even celebrate their culture rather than marginalize them.
In late 2010, in the wake of moves by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to deport hundreds of Romanian gypsies from his country (a measure that was condemned by the European Union), a Gypsy in Madrid named Antonio Moreno told Time Magazine that such a thing would never happen in Spain.
“We are integrated. I'm first Spanish, then Gypsy, and I'm proud to be both," he said.
"Of course there is racism, but it's better here than anywhere else I've seen. Spain has helped Gypsies a lot."
And it is indeed the art of flamenco – the very heart and soul of Roma culture – that Spain promotes as a quintessential part of its own cultural identity.
Flamenco is also big business in Spain, especially in the southern part of the country, where many flamenco schools have popped up to attract foreigners who want to learn the dance.
José Ruiz Navarro, a professor of entrepreneurship at Cádiz University, told the New York Times that foreigners who move to Andalusia to learn flamenco contributed some $980 million into the local economy in 2011.