Duende like art itself has faces that are both appealing and dangerous. It can be dark and hard to pin down.
Coming from southern Spain, “Duende” has only recently migrated to English. Dictionaries give meanings sometimes at odds with each other.
The New Oxford English Dictionary gives:
1. A ghost, an evil spirit; 2. Inspiration, magic, fire.
The Random House Dictionary gives:
1. A goblin, demon, spirit; 2. Charm, magnetism.
The Larousse Spanish-English Dictionary translates duende as Goblin, elf, imp/Magic. It gives the usages: los duendes del Flamenco, the Magic of Flamenco; tener duende, to have a certain magic.
We take our cue from the great Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca. He gave a famous lecture on La Teoria y Juego del Duende – The Theory and Function of Duende. Lorca says:
All through Andalusia . . . people speak constantly of duende, and recognize it with unfailing instinct when it appears. The wonderful flamenco singer El Lebrijano said: ‘When I sing with duende, no one can equal me.’ . . . Manuel Torres, a man with more culture in his veins than anybody I have known, when listening to Falla play his own ‘Nocturno del Genaralife,’ made his splendid pronouncement: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’ And there is no greater truth.
These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art. . . .
Thus duende is a power and not a behavior, it is a struggle and not a concept. I have heard an old master guitarist say: ‘Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet.’ Which means it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture; of creative action.
So we have taken the name DUENDE in order to honor Lorca’s dark creative force. Duende is there to challenge us to keep our ears open to the ‘dark sounds,’ to keep our touch with the earth and with the ghosts of those who have come before, to never refuse the struggle which is needed to keep the spirits working on the side of truth.
See also: Rick Foster’s blog post, Duende: The Origin Myth.